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The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition (The Margellos World Republic of Letters) Hardcover – April 10, 2012

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Product Details

  • Series: The Margellos World Republic of Letters
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300169167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300169164
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Stunning. . . . Cole chooses poems that seem to hover between mysticism and earthliness . . . [and] virtuosically shows that the poetry [of Kabbalah] continues to retain its more earthly function.”—Haaretz

"Peter Cole offers a monumental view of the poetry of Kabbalah and honors the Kabbalistic reverence for song-as-knowledge by translating Hebrew into English song: his versions are graceful, clear, and most important, tuneful. They live in the ear and the heart, in English, with their own transformative power."—Rosanna Warren (Rosanna Warren)

"A groundbreaking work. Cole reveals and explores a subject that has hardly been noticed in previous scholarship or popular writing: the poetic aspect of Jewish mysticism. His translations are superb, his introductions to each section are clear and stimulating, and his notes are learned yet not intimidating, clarifying what would otherwise remain obscure. In short, he brings this material alive for a contemporary reader. This is a marvelous book."—Daniel Matt, author of The Essential Kabbalah and translator of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition (Daniel Matt)

“Resplendent. . . a dazzling treasury of verse spanning more than 1,500 years and accompanied by fascinating, illuminating commentary rich in history, biography, and literary expertise. . . . Cole has brilliantly preserved [the poems’] 'diverse prosodies' and ecstatic lyricism in his supple translations, allowing readers to fully appreciate how they grapple with ‘timeless concerns’.”—Booklist

“I’ve been reading and rereading. . . The Poetry of Kabbalah, an anthology of Jewish mystical verse translated by Peter Cole. This is ambitious poetry. It combines liturgical solemnity with outrageous flights of metaphor, and Cole’s versions match the originals step for step.”—Robyn Creswell, Paris Review Staff Picks
(Robyn Creswell Paris Review)

“A veritable banquet of poetry that gives resonant voice to the depths of religious longing and passionate devotion. . . . With its combination of poetic beauty, learned commentary and short introductory essays, The Poetry of Kabbalah offers the reader a substantial survey of Jewish mystical history and thought through the channel of richly textured lyric voices.”—Eitan Fishbane, The Forward
(Eitan Fishbane The Forward)

Won Honorable Mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival Poetry category, sponsored by the New York Book Festival
(Poetry Honorable Mention New York Book Festival 2012-06-12)

"The Poetry of Kabbalah is the crown of Peter Cole’s sublime achievement as a poet-translator. Kabbalah is the alternate center of Judaic spiritual culture, not so much esoteric as superbly metaphoric. As poet and as imaginative exegete, Cole illuminates Kabbalah in the mode of Gershom Scholem and Moshe Idel."—Harold Bloom
(Harold Bloom)

 Honorable Mention in the Poetry Category at the 2012 New England Book Festival.
(Poetry Category Honorable Mention New England Book Festival 2013-01-22)

Won a Honorable Mention for the 2012 Association of American Publishers PROSE Awards in the Literature Category.
(PROSE Association of American Publishers 2013-05-22)

Won honorable mention for the 2013 Lois Roth Award for a translation of a literary work. This award is given by the Modern Language Association.
(Lois Roth Award Modern Language Association 2013-12-03)

About the Author

Peter Cole is the author of three books of poetry and the translator of more than a dozen volumes from Hebrew and Arabic. His many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Jewish Book Award for Poetry, and the PEN Translation Award for Poetry. In 2007 he was named a MacArthur Fellow. Aminadav Dykman teaches comparative literature at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover

As Cole mentions in his introduction, academic opinion has not always rated highly the quality of Kabbalistic poetry. It is certainly arguable that the poems collated in this book seldom manifest the exquisite delicacy of the eroticism and oenophily so prevalent in the Sufi poetic corpus (although the book does contain a number of good examples which achieve such effect, e.g. "To the Shekhinah" and "From the Pool").

However, whilst the Sufi corpus, through its countless treatments of such staple themes as mystical inebriation and love, the tavern and the veil, realise a tone and effect on the reader which are largely (and palpably) emotional, this Kabbalistic florilegium provides the opportunity not only for an immediate emotional or devotional experience, but also (and more regularly than in Sufi poetry) for a deep intellectual or philosophical experience.

The intellectual experience derives from the poems' subtle (or cryptic) and often sophisticated treatments of and references to the complex doctrines of the theoretical Kabbalah, as well as various psychological, Biblical and historical elements. To get the greatest possible experience from the poems requires the reader to analyse and reflect on the poems with reference to the commentary (see further below) and in the light of his background knowledge.

This work might therefore present many readers with a steep climb, but there is a potentially magnificent view from the summit.

Aminadav Dykman in the book's afterword presents his case for the value of Kabbalistic poetry. It is well worth a read.


Cole's commentary (both chapter introductions and endnotes) is excellent.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ABK on April 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Peter Cole outdoes himself once more in this gorgeous translation of some of the world's most powerful poetry. Many of these poems would be deemed untranslatable by a lesser translator, but in Cole's hands (or more precisely, his ear), each poem seems somehow to become more itself, more luminous, than a first read of the Hebrew would ever imply possible. Replete with lively and informative notes on the genealogy of these poems and Jewish mysticism in general, this book will touch and interest anyone for whom the Kabbalah is Scholem, the Ari, the Zohar, or even Madonna, or anywhere in between.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater on October 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been reading and re-reading this book, mostly in chunks, since February (2013), and I finally feel up to reviewing it. Given that I am fairly familiar with the field, this is probably not a book for a complete novice in Jewish Studies, despite excellent supplementary material, unless such a reader is prepared to read the whole English text of the volume with considerable care, and to follow up a lot of the references.

"The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition" covers somewhat more than the Kabbalah proper, which, technically, is a movement in Judaism which first appeared in thirteenth-century Spain, and later subsumed earlier mystical (and magical) trends in Jewish religion; and it includes post-Kabbalistic compositions as well. It could almost serve as a companion reader to Gershom Scholem's aging, but magisterial, survey, "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" (1946), or his later, drier, "Kabbalah" (1974), made up of articles from "Encyclopedia Judaica."

For example, the volume begins with selections from the ecstatic hymns of the "Hekhalot" ("Palaces") literature, representing the songs of the mystics and angels before the Divine Throne, preserved in visionary texts, and from early liturgical literature -- overlapping categories in subject and style, as well as (probably) in time and place. Passages from the mystical/metaphysical/theurgical "Book of Creation" (Sefer Yetzirah) are offered as short poems -- which is certainly correct, although they have often been treated as prose.

It then moves on to some of the religious poetry of medieval Spain and the Rhineland, with their strains of philosophical (Neo-Platonic) and devotional mysticism, before turning to the Kabbalah proper.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mjstone on December 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is, by far, one of the most engaging, fascinating books about Kaballah or poetry I have ever read. I studied poetry in an academic setting and on my own for a number of years, and have lived in Israel and studied the works of its many great poets. In addition, I have spent years "studying" (I put that in quotes because I do not really understand what I am reading) Aryeh Kaplan's translations of Kaballistic texts such as the Sefer Yetzirah and Bahir. I cannot even describe how incredibly transformative of an experience it was to read this particular book. What truly strikes me about Peter Cole is his ability to seamlessly integrate his own creative force with sincere, artful, and well-researched translations of other (often obscure) writers. The amount of attention he gives to both craft and scholarship is truly humbling. This book is, as many describe it, sublime. In addition, it serves as a guide into many unknown worlds, physical and otherwise, that before seemed unreachable to a reader such as myself.
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