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Abraham Sutzkever: The Power in Poetry
September 10, 2014


Harut ale luah (Engraved on Stone), poems by A. Sutzkever. Tel-Aviv, 1949. YIVO Library.
Ruth Wisse, Professor Emerita, Harvard University

Click here to watch the video in our Program Archive.

Admission: Free | Reception at 5:30pm
RSVP Required: | (212) 294-8301 x5167

A dark violet plum,
the last one on the tree,
thin-skinned and delicate as the pupil of an eye,
that in the dew at night blots out
love, visions, shivering,
and then at the morning star the dew
grows weightless: That
is poetry. Touch it so lightly
that you don’t leave a fingerprint.

“Poetry” 1954, by Abraham Sutzkever
Translated by Chana Bloch

For Samson’s riddle—Out of the strong came something sweet—the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever substituted a riddle of his own: the power that emerges from rhyme and the permanence from what appears to be transitory. Sutzkever came of age in Vilna in the 1920s and 30s when Yiddish poetry was the favored creative outlet of its Jewish youth. For him, poetry—but only if good enough—was more than self-expression, more than beauty and truth: it was the endurance that is manifest in nature and in the Jewish people. In this talk, acclaimed literary scholar Ruth Wisse puts Sutzkever’s poetry to his own test. Professor David Roskies (Jewish Theological Seminary) delivers introductory remarks.

The Annual Naomi Prawer Kadar Memorial Lecture at YIVO Institute provides an opportunity for the public to explore topics of Yiddish language and linguistics, the history of Yiddish, Yiddish children’s literature, and education. The lecture is supported by the Naomi Prawer Kadar Foundation, Inc. The Naomi Foundation® is dedicated to reimagining education. As an extension of Naomi Prawer Kadar's life’s work, the foundation's goal is to empower educators and promote leadership in education in order to inspire and nurture the next generation. Through entrepreneurial and established channels and together with their partners and grantees, the Naomi Foundation drives innovation to create meaningful and lasting impact. The Naomi Foundation champions Yiddish, Naomi’s lifelong passion, as a vibrant, rich, and contemporary language. The Naomi Foundation advances the teaching and learning of Yiddish, particularly in academic and scholarly settings.

Interested in Yiddish literature? Take our class, "Modernism and the Yiddish Imagination" or Advanced Yiddish Seminar: "Yerusholayim d’lite: a kurs in kulturgeshikhte un literatur" this fall. For more information visit here.


Ruth R. Wisse is Research Professor of Yiddish literature and Comparative Literature at Harvard where she taught until earlier this year. Her books on literature include The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Literature and Culture (The University of Chicago Press) and No Joke: Making Jewish Humor (Princeton University Press). She writes on politics for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and elsewhere, and her most recent book on the subject is Jews and Power (Schocken). She is currently working on a literary biography of the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever.
Venue: YIVO Institute at the Center for Jewish History  |  15 West 16th Street - NYC   view map

For directions and parking information, click here.

All public programs are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of assistive listening devices are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals upon request.