Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kaddish, by Ginsberg

I guess I did get carried away by the kaddish thing. I wanted to understand better what I was doing, so I checked out a bunch of books from the New York Public Library with the word "kaddish" in the title. There was an awful book, The Mystery of the Kaddish. There was Ari Goldman's Living a Year of Kaddish.  Weiselteir's Kaddish I had on my bookshelf for a long time before my mother died, and during my kaddish year, I eventually read it (over a nearly 10 month period) from cover to cover.

So I figured I would read (or reread?) Alan Ginsberg's poem Kaddish. I went through my beat phase in my early 20's, gobbling up Kerouac, Corso, even Richard Brautigan (Trout Fishing in America anyone?). Of course, Ginsberg was the only Jew in the bunch and he was one of those Jews who runs away from his Jewishness yet never leaves it, a religious nonbeliever, embodying some the kinds of contradictions I find both pathetic and exciting.

He wrote one of his epic poems, called Kaddish, about the death of his mother, Naomi. As usual for Ginsberg, it's both a bitter lament yet bittersweet elegy. He even quotes the kaddish verbatim (ashkenazi accented, of course).

I would like to share these words from the poem, which I find moving and enigmatic:

"Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death. Tho I am not here for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I'm hymnless, I'm heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore. 
Thee, heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not light or darkness, Dayless Eternity-- 
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing--to praise Thee--but death. 
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Wonderer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping--page beyond Psalm--Last change of mine and Naomi--to God's perfect Darkness--Death, stay thy phantoms!" 
(Kaddish and Other Poems, pp 11-12).

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