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Dan Pagis (poet) - Israel - Poetry International

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Dan Pagis
(Romania, 1930–1986)   
 
 
 
Dan Pagis

Dan Pagis was born into a German-speaking family in Radauti, Bukovina in Romania (now the Ukraine), in what was once a multi-cultural part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also the birthplace of poet Paul Celan and Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, among other well-known Jewish writers. Critic Robert Alter has said that Pagis “would probably have never known Hebrew, never have had any serious connections with Israel or the Jewish cultural heritage, had he not been expelled from Europe by [Nazism’s] ghastly spasm of historical violence and cast, for lack of any other haven, into the Middle East”.

Pagis reached Mandatory Palestine in 1946, after spending part of his adolescence in a Nazi concentration camp. He was at first a teacher on a kibbutz. He received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he later became professor of medieval Hebrew literature, the author of eight books of poetry and six volumes of scholarship.

There is a difficult family story embedded within the difficult historical one. In 1934, Pagis' father travelled to Palestine to prepare the family's immigration; Pagis's mother died that same year (see 'Ein Leben'), and his father left the boy in Europe with his grandparents. On a visit in 1939, Pagis' father declined to take the boy back with him to Tel Aviv. According to Pagis' biographer, Ada Pagis, no one imagined then that a man could raise a boy alone, and Pagis' grandparents believed that Bukovina was a safer place than the hot and sandy Middle East. They hoped that when he grew up, Pagis would leave Bukovina for America, where his uncle lived.

Alter notes that within a few years of his eventual arrival in Palestine, Pagis "was publishing poetry in his newly learned language" and guesses that "this rapid determination to become a poet in Hebrew . . . was not only a young person's willed act of adaptation but also the manifestation of a psychological need to seek expression in a medium that was itself a radical displacement of his native language". But Alter cautions that he does not mean to "suggest that Pagis is estranged in any way from the language in which he writes. In fact the revolution in Hebrew verse that he [. . . ] helped bring about was above all the perfection of a natural sounding colloquial norm for Hebrew poetry."

© Lisa Katz

Bibliography

In Hebrew


Poetry
Shaon Hatsel, Sifriat Poalim, Tel Aviv, 1959
Sheut Meuheret, Sifriat Poalim, Tel Aviv, 1964
Gilgul , Massada/Hebrew Writers Association, Tel Aviv, 1970
Moah, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1975
Milim Nirdafot, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1982
Shneim Asar Panim, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1984
Shirim Aharonim, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1987
Col Ha-Shirim, Hakibbutz Hameuchad/Bialik Institute, Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, 1991

For children
Ha-Beitzah She-Hithapsah, Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 1973; 1994

Non-fiction (on medieval Hebrew poetry)
Shirei Levi Ibn Alatabban, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1968
Shirat Ha-Hol Ve-Torat Ha-Shir Le-Moshe Eben Ezra U-Vnei Doro , Bialik Institute, Jerusalem, 1970
Hidush Umasoret Be-shirat Hahol, Keter, Jerualem, 1976
Ke-Hut Ha-Shani, [EDITOR], Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv, 1979
Al Sod Hatum, Magnes/Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1986
Ha-Shir Davur Al Ofanav, The Magnes Press/Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1993

In translation

Collections of Pagis' selected works have been published in English by:
Menard Press, London, 1972
Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1981
North Point Press, San Francisco, 1989
University of California Press, Berkeley, 1996

in German by: 
Straelener Manuskripte, Straelen, 1990
Surkhamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1993

and in Spanish by:
Univ. de Granada, Granada, 1994


Links 

Six additional poems in English translation
Bibliography (in English)
Complete Bibliography in Hebrew (includes articles in English)
A high school teacher's guide to several Holocaust poems by Pagis (in English) 
Robert Alter on Pagis's poetry of displacement 

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