Jewish mystical tradition once held that by reciting the visionary hymns known as the “Poems of the Palaces” (or Heikhalot)—of which the first two poems in this portfolio are examples—a man might, if he didn’t fall prey to any number of potentially fatal obstacles along the way, ascend through the seven heavens and approach the throne of God. There he could behold the Divine Glory and participate in the celestial liturgy. Experience in this circa second- to ninth-century ce literature is acoustic rather than psychological in the conventional sense—though this does not mean that emotional struggle and insight aren’t at the core of the work. Central to the quest of these poets who, as the tradition describes them, go down to the chariot, or vehicle of vision, is their verse’s ability to animate what we today would think of as “abstraction”—to set up a palpable, percussive current and timbre linking syllable to syllable and word to word in a progression toward heightened perception and, in some cases, ecstasy.
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This poem originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Poetry magazine