Rosenberg, David. “A Life in a Poem”, Shearsman, 2019.
The Education of a Poet
When I first received a review copy of this book, I thought to myself that with a common name like David Rosenberg, I would probably remember if I had ever read anything by him. However, it was not until I began to read, “My Life in a Poem” that I realized that I had actually read a great deal of what he wrote and in fact his translation of the Hebrew Bible, his “The Literary Bible” is a one I look to for a different approach to the other translations that we commonly use in Torah study.
“A Life in a Poem” is not Rosenberg’s autobiography. Rather it is about how he became a writer of both Biblical interpretations and of modern literary texts that also show us where we as a species are headed. In fact, the more I read the guiltier I felt for not having recognized Rosenberg for the influence he had on me both biblically and philosophically. Interestingly enough, we are the same age and were both at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the same time and actually both worked at the same Israeli publishing house but at different times.
Rosenberg has been widely read as a Jewish poet of his time, rooted in the Hebrew of the Bible and the existential sublime of the New York School by Jews and non-Jews, mainly because of his experimental vision. He has been described as “an ancient Hebrew biblical poet as if writing today in the rhythms of the United States.” He is seen as a modern poet who faithful to the past, “reproducing an ancient, strange, uncanny vigor, bearing in mind American poetry’s struggle with natural speech.” It has also been said recently that Rosenberg is “replacing the doubtful miracle of divine inspiration with the genuine miracle of poetic inspiration” and we certainly see that here in this memoir. It takes a scholar to go back to the bible to find a way to write a biography today as it was written back then and this is just what Rosenberg has done with Abraham in “Abraham: The First Historical Biography” (2006) and with Moses and Jesus in “An Educated Man: A Dual Biography of Moses and Jesus” (2010). This is his layered memoir of a poet’s education in which he explains his writings and himself and I can tell you that it is a special treat.