Harold Schimmel’s Diasporic Poetry: Hebrew Literature as World Literature
Keywords:Hebrew Poetry, World literature, Multilingualism, Exile, Deterritorialization, Harold Schimmel, Uri Nissan Gnessin, Minor literature, Second Aliyah
In 1983, Israeli American poet Harold Schimmel published a Hebrew long poem entitled: ’Afra de-Ar’a: Uri Nisan Gnesin be-Erets-Yisra’el (1907-1908). This narrative poem, which Schimmel never included in any of his collections, focuses on the famed Hebrew modernist Uri Nissan Gnessin’s short-lived stay in Palestine, after which he returned to Europe. Initially, Schimmel had planned to write a scholarly essay on Gnessin, but ultimately, he synthesized the variegated materials he had gathered into a long poem, which he described as “an essay in short lines.” Despite its status as an apocryphal text in Schimmel’s oeuvre, this article proposes to read ’Afra de-Ar’a as a hermeneutical key for understanding his diasporic poetics. Schimmel does not implicate himself in this narrative poem, written as a fabric of quotations from Gnessin’s oeuvre and from texts Gnessin must have read. Yet Gnessin enables Schimmel to think anew about his own relationship with the Hebrew language. While Schimmel never reveals his motivation for writing this poem, it is read as a self-reflection on his own immigration to Israel and on his choice of Hebrew over his mother tongue.