Poetry and Poetic Theory in "Hameasef", the First Modern Periodical in Hebrew Haskalah

למנצח בנגינות משכיל' — מלאכת השיר ותופעת השירה ב'המאסף', כתב-העת הראשון של ההשכלה העברית


Haskalah poetry has generally been treated rather harshly by the critics and literary historians during the past century. The poems published in the ten volumes of Hameasef, the first modern Hebrew periodical, received such treatment, if any at all. The author proposes to revisit the subject of poetry in early Haskalah, as published in Hameasef, re-examine its phenomenology, and attempt to assess its poetic merits. Following an overview of the treatment of Haskalah poetry by the critics, the author traces the attitude of the journal's editors toward poetry and the place that they allocated to it in this publication. Subsequently, the various poetical theories offered by major Haskalah theoreticians, such as Moses Mendelssohn, Naphtali Herz Wessely (Weisel), Isaac Satanow, and Joel Brill, in their various writings, are reviewed. They were the source of inspiration for the rest of the Maskilim who wrote poetry as well as other types of belles lettres. The author goes on to delineate the revision of poetical thought in Hameasef and the kind of poetry the editors have espoused and the poetry they rejected. Poetry is said to have been the most popular of literary genres published in the Hebrew journal. The various categories of poetry published in the periodical are discussed and analyzed. They are: Nature and seasons poems, poems related to the prevailing 'Sturm und Drang' stream in German literature at that time, poems of friendship, as well as poems of rebuke, religious life, wine and festive occasions, and a biblical epos. Also present are translations and adaptations of poems by the German poets Haller, Ramler, Keist, and others, as well as poems of praise to personalities and kings, laments and dirges, and some other minor sub-groups. The article points out the diversity of subjects and the attempts to emulate literary sub-genres prevalent in German literature. Another trend was to follow established patterns in traditional Hebrew literature such as the piyyut. The Maskilim attempted a synthesis between basic Jewish concepts and Enlightenment ideas. Such was the Great Chain of Being, found also in the Hebrew poetry under review. Attuned to the tension between the two forces, Hebrew Haskalah is said to have carved its own path, which was typically Hebraic in essence yet adherent to European enlightenment. Knowledge and understanding of the prevailing literary conventions of Hebrew poetry on the contemporary literary scene help us reassess the value of this poetry and the role it played in the literature of its time.

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Dappim: Research in Literature /דפים למחקר בספרות

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