Off the Pulpit

We Were Poets and We Were Young

How do we make the past come alive to a generation that did not live through it? Each person wishes their stories to live in the echoes of later generations. The 19th century English poet Flecker, addressing a poet who will read him 1,000 years later, wrote: “O friend unseen, unborn, unknown/ Student of our sweet English tongue/ Read out my words at night, alone/ I was a poet, I was young.”

Judaism carries memory through words and through ritual. The voices of those who have lived before us survive in the faith they lived and shaped. We remember them by carrying a piece of their lives into a new age, like a jewel refitted in a new setting.
Judaism is Janus-faced. It points toward both the past and future. The melody of lives long past contributes to our own. When a Jew sings, there is always a chorus of the ages. As with the English poet, our Judaism writes its tradition into the future. For we too were poets, and were young.