Plutzik and Judaism
Although the son of a rabbi and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Plutzik himself was not particularly observant, yet it is clear that religion held an important place in his thinking. He would often attend synagogue in order to engage rabbis in discussions of ideas, and among the projects that were left unpublished at his death was a set of Jewish prayer translations. Themes of secular Jewish identity play as great a role in his poetry, in pieces such as "For T. S. E. Only" and "Portrait," as does Judaism itself—indeed, perhaps even greater.
Typescripts of two of Plutzik’s translations from the Hebrew of Jewish prayers ("Magen Avot" and "Kaddish") for the Jewish Prayer Book project – never published. 2pp.
Typed letter, signed, to Plutzik from Rabbi Jacob B. Agus of the Jewish Prayer Book Committee. October 12, 1953. 1p. (D.113, 1953, D 12)
"For T. S. E. Only"
(The Collected Poems, p. 109)
You who called me a name on such and such a day—
Do you remember?—you were speaking of Bleistein our brother,
The barbarian with the black cigar, and the pockets
Ringing with cash, and the eyes seeking Jerusalem,
Knowing they have been tricked. Come, brother Thomas,
We three must weep together for our exile.
I see the hunted look, the protestation,
The desperate seeking, the reticence and the brashness
Of the giver of laws to the worshippers of calves.
At times you speak as if the words were walls,
But your walls fell with mine to the torch of a Titus.
Come, let us weep together for our exile.
We, two, no doubt, could accommodate ourselves:
We’ve bother read Dante and we both dislike Chicago,
And both, you see, can be brutal—but you must bow down
To our brother Bleistein here, with the unaesthetic
Cigar and the somber look. Come, do so quickly,
For we must weep together for our exile.
O you may enwomb yourself in words or the Word
(The Word is a good refuge for people too proud
To swallow the milk of the mild Jesus’ teaching),
Or a garden in Hampshire with a magic bird, or an old
Quotation from the Reverend Andrewes, yet someone or
(Let us pause to weep together for our exile)
Will stick a needle in your balloon, Thomas.
Is it the shape that you saw upon the stair?
The four knights clanking toward the altar? the hidden
Card in the deck? the sinister man from Nippon?
The hordes on the eastern horizon? Come, brother Burbank,
And let us weep together for our exile.
In the time of sweet sighing you wept bitterly,
And now in the time of weeping you cannot weep.
Will you wait for the peace of the sailor with pearly bones?
Where is the refuge you thought you would find on the island
Where each man lives in his castle? O brother Thomas,
Come let us weep together for our exile.
You drew us first by your scorn, first by your wit;
Later for your own eloquent suffering.
We loved you first for the wicked things you wrote
Of those you acknowledged infinitely gentle.
Wit is the sin that you must expiate.
Bow down to them, and let us weep for our exile.
I see your words wrung out in pain, but never
The true compassion for creatures with you, that Dante
Knew in his nine hells. O eagle! master!
The eagle’s ways of pride and scorn will not save
Though the voice cries loud in humility. Thomas, Thomas,
Come, let us pray together for our exile.
You, hypocrite lecteur! mon semblable! mon frère!
“The Priest Ekranath”
(The Collected Poems, p. 102)
I who am sanctified—
Having lain with the holy harlots at Askelon
On the roof of the great temple under her visage
Who graces with splendor the night in the god-filled sky:
Mother, rich-wombed mistress, whose thighs are forever
Rising and falling like the tides in the roadstead of Gath,
To strike with fear the acrid and impotent damned
And assure the fruit of field and man and animal
With Adonis and her chosen, fortunate priests—
Must tell you of these barbarians from the mountains,
From the anarchic hills come to destroy us,
Recent siftings out of the east and south.
They call her the White One or the White Lady
But do not worship her not any mother-goddess.
I have seen them on the high days in Askelon
When the harlots dance naked through the gala streets
For the joy of Adonis and the blessed thirst of the loins
Turn away angry, cursing these holy bodies,
Crying, “Let them be stoned and their evil wombs ripped up.”
They hate delight. They have but a lone god
And he is their enemy. I met a certain one:
Sly as a jackal yet arrogant as a lion,
Rough-bearded, out of the desert, desperate
With his private phantoms, his eyes like an animal’s
(Fearful, and darting here and there, yet ready
To spring and rend), his hair and garments filthy
With the rot of caves, his skin flayed red by scorpions.
Though his nights are writhings of fire, he will not clasp
The salvation of sweet flesh, but for sustenance
Communes with this impossible imageless demon,
Stuff of a barren race, who has tainted him
With a sickness I cannot fathom, an evil spirit
Like the guilt which dogs a murderer. So always
He looks behind him, before, and within himself,
And the voice he hears becomes this maniacal thundering
On our sunlit streets and before our gleaming temples.
What I saw in the eyes of this vagrant (one of a tribe
Cultureless, without iron, art, or altar)
Was the whole world made somber, and man lonely
In a proud empty heaven like a hell,
Estranged from the field and the beast and his own body
And kin to the mothering earth only in death.
I cannot break this know, but I know he thought—
And I thought too in the wizardry of the moment—
Our sunwashed cities despicable and meaningless,
Our splendid artistic productions abominable,
Our majestic pantheon foul as kennel,
The harbor jostling with keen ships and mariners
From the farthest ocean, trivial as a sigh.
And joy unimportant too. The dignity of sorrow
Was the only blessing under the cloud of his god.
I say these are faces of stone no years can weather.
They scheme to take your ease. Listen, you nations:
They will lure you from your spontaneous ecstasies
And positive possessions and with themselves,
Carry you forth on arduous pilgrimages
Whose only triumph can be a bitter knowledge
Our of the suffering they make our worth.
The see the desert in the growing leaf:
That is their sickness. The sky will be darker then;
The White Lady of splendid thighs and bosom
Without a seedsman or a harvester,
A pallid virgin; and the lands beneath
Dark with this god and people. I who am wise
Through the sacred harlots’ embraces know the syllables
(Ah, they are powerful and barbarous!)
Of the secret incantation that gives them strength.
Hear how they thunder! Listen: Issachar
Levi simon reuben judah dan
Zebulun asher naphtali menassah ephraim.
Notice with what careful nonchalance
He tries to be a Jew casually,
To ignore the monster, the mountain—
A few thousand years of history.
Of course he personally remembers nothing,
And the world has forgotten the older objections—
The new ones not being socially acceptable:
Hangdogs, hiding in the privies and alleys of the mind.
It is agreed
That he of all men has gained the right to his soul
(Though like the others he no longer believes in one).
He lives in his own house under his oak.
He stands by his car, shod in decently-grained leather.
He is smiling. His hair is peacefully in place.
His suit is carefully pressed; his cravat harmonious.
Whose father, it is whispered, stubbornly cried old clothes
He of all men might yet be master of self, all self-possession,
Were it not (how gauche and incredible!) for the one
The historical oversight in the antique wardrobe—
The shirt, the borrowed shirt,
The Greek shirt.
Notice how even when at ease he is somehow anxious,
Like a horse who whiffs smoke somewhere nearby faintly.
Notice with what nonchalance,
The magazine in his hand and casual cigarette to his lips,
He wears a shirt by Nessus.