Dan Pagis Analysis

Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Although Dan Pagis (pah-GEE) is internationally known as a poet, he has written a children’s book in Hebrew, ha-Beitzah she-hithapsah (1973; the egg that tried to disguise itself). As a professor of medieval Hebrew literature at Hebrew University, he has published important studies on the aesthetics of medieval poetry, including expositions of Moses Ibn Ezra, Judah ha-Levi, Ibn Gabirol, and the other great poets of the eleventh and twelfth centuries who celebrated the colors and images of worldly existence in elegant, formal verse. Pagis’s own poems, more understated and conversational than the medieval texts he studied, have been translated into Afrikaans, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Swedish, Vietnamese, and Yiddish.


(World Poets and Poetry)

The first generation of Israeli poets often used a collective identity to write poetry of largely ideological content. However, the reaction to previous ideological values that arose in the late 1950’s and the 1960’s has been described by Hebrew critic Shimon Sandbank as“the withdrawal from certainty.” PoetsYehuda Amichai and Natan Zach were at the forefront of this avant-garde movement, a “new wave” that included Dan Pagis, Tuvia Ruebner, Dahlia Ravikovitch, and David Rokeah. These poets of the 1950’s turned away from the socially minded national poets, believing in the poet as an individual and using understatement, irony, prosaic diction, and free verse to express their own views.

Most of all, the revolution in Hebrew verse that Pagis, Amichai, and Zach brought about was the perfection of a colloquial norm for Hebrew poetry. Pagis and Amichai especially made efforts to incorporate elements of classical Hebrew into the colloquial diction, with Pagis often calling on a specific biblical or rabbinical text. His poems have appeared in major American magazines, including The New Yorker and Tikkun.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Alter, Robert. “Dan Pagis and the Poetry of Displacement.” Judaism 45, no. 80 (Fall, 1996). This article places the poet among his peers, primarily Yehuda Amichai and Natan Zach, illuminating Pagis’s similarities and differences.

_______. Introduction to The Selected Poetry of Dan Pagis. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Alter examines the life of Pagis and offers some literary criticism in this introduction to a translation of selected works. Originally published as Variable Directions in 1989.

Burnshaw, Stanley, T. Carmi, and Ezra Spicehandler, eds. The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1989. This book offers a stunning explication of Pagis’s poem “The Log Book” and an afterword covering Hebrew poetry from 1965 to 1988. Provides a detailed discussion of the literary world Pagis inhabited and places him securely in the poetic movement of his generation. Each poem is presented in the original Hebrew, in phonetic transcription, and in English translation.

Keller, Tsipi, ed. Poets on the Edge: An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry. Introduction by Aminadav Dykman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010. Contains a selection of poems by Pagis as well as a brief biography. The introduction discusses Pagis and Hebrew poetry in general, placing him among his fellows.

Omer-Sherman, Ranen. “In Place of the Absent God: The Reader in Dan Pagis’s ’Written in Pencil in a Sealed Railway Car.’” Cross Currents 54, no. 2 (Summer, 2004): 51-61. Discusses teaching Pagis’s well-known poem to students and their reactions and understandings. He also briefly outlines Pagis’s life and provides analysis of the poem itself.