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Allusion and Hidden Meaning Bring Beauty to Poetry

July 13, 2017



I have a bone to pick with poet Matthew Zapruder in the July 10 New York Times Book Review. In his article “Understanding Poetry is More Straightforward Than You Think,” Zapruder tries to champion the accessibility of poetry. I applaud his intent, but he refutes Harold Bloom, whom I consider one of the great intellectuals of our time, because Bloom held that allusiveness is essential to poetry.
As a rabbi, maybe it's my affection, respect and sometimes devotion to Hebrew sources, but that allusiveness – which I consider a masterful technique to include the "alluded to" or hidden meaning in a verse – is a technique that reaches into the heart with references rather than with absolute clarity. This allows us to continue to search for new insights in those few words. Case in point: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" An entire tractate by Rabbi Hillel on self-protection in a single phrase. "If I am for myself alone, what am I?" The very essence of what enables a society of humans to live together. All this in just a few "allusive" words.



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