Autobiography (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“Autobiography,” a poem of twenty-six lines divided into six stanzas of four or five lines apiece, requires some knowledge of Dan Pagis’s biography. Pagis, a leading Israeli poet of his generation, was born in Radautz, in Romanian Bukovina (now Russia). A Jew, he was incarcerated for three years of his early adolescence in a Nazi concentration camp. At the age of sixteen, in 1946, Pagis, like many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, emigrated to Palestine. (The nation of Israel was officially established by the United Nations as a homeland for Jews in 1948.) His native tongue was German, and he learned Hebrew in order to assimilate into Israeli society. He began writing poetry in Hebrew in about four years; it is remarkable that he later became a preeminent poet—not to mention a respected scholar of the literature—in a language not native to him.
The first line of the poem establishes that the speaker is dead. Clearly, the poem cannot be an “autobiography” in a literal sense. When the reader considers the author’s biography, it begins to seem possible that the “I” who “died with the first blow” is collective rather than individual. The “I” in this poem symbolizes Jews murdered by the Third Reich’s diabolical “final solution” or perhaps, in a larger sense, all Jewish people who have endured persecution. The identification of the “I” with victimized Jews becomes stronger in the next stanza, in...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: World Poets)
Dan Pagis was born in Radautsi, Romania, and was brought up in Bukovina, speaking German in a Jewish home in what was once an eastern province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, from which he escaped in 1944. After he arrived in Palestine in 1946, Pagis began to publish poetry in his newly acquired Hebrew within only three or four years, and he became a schoolteacher on a kibbutz.
He settled in Jerusalem in 1956, where he earned his Ph.D. from Hebrew University and became a professor of medieval Hebrew literature. Pagis also taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Harvard University, and the University of California, at both San Diego and Berkeley. During his life, he was the foremost living authority on the poetics of Hebrew literature of the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He was married and had two children. Pagis died of cancer in Jerusalem in 1986.
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