About the Author

Seymour Mayne

Seymour Mayne is the author, editor or translator of more than fifty books and monographs. His writings have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and Spanish. His latest collections include Light IndustryRicochet: Word Sonnets (Mosaic Press, 2004), September Rain (Mosaic Press, 2005) and Les pluies de septembre (Éditions du Noroît, 2008), his Selected Poems translated into French by Pierre DesRuisseaux. He serves as Professor of Canadian Literature, Canadian Studies, and Creative Writing at the University of Ottawa. --- Seymour Mayne a écrit, édité ou traduit plus de cinquante volumes et monographies. Ses écrits ont été traduits en plusieurs langues, dont le français, l’allemand, l’hébreu, le polonais, le russe et l’espagnol. Ses dernières publications comprennent Light Industry (Mosaic Press, 2000), Ricochet: Word Sonnets (Mosaic Press, 2004), September Rain (Mosaic Press, 2005); et Les pluies de septembre : poèmes choisis, traduit de l’anglais par Pierre DesRuisseaux (Éditions du Noroît, 2008). Il est professeur de littérature, de création littéraire et d’études canadiennes à l’Université d’Ottawa.

Books by this Author


Word Sonnets - Sonnets d'un mot
by Seymour Mayne
translated by Sabine Huynh
also available: eBook Paperback
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The Second Scroll

The Second Scroll

also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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For many years my father — may he dwell in a bright Eden! — refused to permit in his presence even the mention of that person’s name. The mere imminence of an allusion to my uncle soon brought my father to an oblique deliberative ominous knuckle-combing of his beard, a sombre knitting of his brow, and froze at last his face to the stony stare Semitic. The tabu was recognized, and the subject was dropped.

Not that my father was by nature a furious man; he was, as a matter of fact, kind and gentle and of a very forgiving disposition; but on this question he was adamant, as unappeasable, as zealous for the Law, as was the Bible’s fanatic Phineas. It was not necessary, he said, that in his house, which was by God’s grace a Jewish house, there should be jabber and gossip about “the renegade,” “that issuer to a bad end”; in our family we had names better distinguished with which to adorn conversation; we didn’t have to be reminded of the branch lopped from the tree; the children could attune their ears to seemlier discourse; and — let it be God who judged him.

At this everyone would fall into a reminiscent sad silence, particularly my mother, who would brood awhile on the fate of her younger brother, and then, banishing wilfully her unhappy thoughts, would fix the wisp of hair errant from beneath her perruque and would rise to serve tea, in glasses, each with its floating moon of sliced lemon.

My uncle’s name had not always been so unwelcome beneath my father’s roof. I remember well how important a part, a magic incantatory part, his name played in the early days of my childhood. I was making my first acquaintance with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet — the old Tannenbaum, round little pygmy of eighty, bearded to the breastbone, was my teacher — and I recall how it was his custom, as I struggled with the vowel signs — those beneath the letters, like prompters prompting, and those beside the letters, like nudgers nudging, and those on top, like whisperers whispering — how it was his custom to encourage me forward from each mystic block to the next with repeated promise of pennies from heaven. The angel who presided over my lesson, he would say, would drop down candy money if I did my lesson well. The angel kept his word, of course, and as his unseen coins suddenly hit and twirled on the big-lettered page, my mother would sigh, and exclaim: “Oh, that he might be like his uncle Melech, a scholar in Israel!”

I never saw my uncle Melech, but reports of his Talmudic exploits kept sounding in our house and there made a legend of his name. To Montreal, to our modest address on the Avenue de l’Hôtel de Ville, there came from Volhynia letter after letter, penned in the strange script of eastern Europe — all the sevens wore collars — letters twittering the praises of the young man who at the age of twenty had already astounded with his erudition the most learned rabbis of the Continent. Dubbed the Ilui — the prodigy of Ratno — it was in these epistles written of him, amidst a clucking of exclamation marks, that he had completely weathered the ocean of the Talmud, knew all its bays and inlets, had succeeded in quelling some of its most tempestuous commentators; that one had not imagined that in these latter days it were possible that such a giant of the Law should arise, one had not thought that one so young could possibly excel sages twice and thrice and four times his age; but the fact was none the less incontestable that the most venerable scholars, men as full of Torah as is the pomegranate of seeds, did time and again concede him the crown, declaring that he was indeed as his name indicated, Melech, king.

Nor was he, as are so many of the subtle-scholarly, any the less pious for his learning. The six hundred and thirteen injunctions of Holy Writ, or at least those that remained binding and observable in the lands of the Diaspora, he sedulously observed; punctilious he was in his ritual ablutions; and in his praying, a flame tonguing its way to the full fire of God. He was removed from worldly matters: not the least of his praises was that he knew not to identify the countenances on coins.

My parents were very proud of him. He represented a consoling contrast to the crass loutish life about us where piety was scorned as superstition, and learning reviled as hapless, and where Jews were not ashamed to wax rich selling pork. This last was a barb aimed by my father at his cousin, a man of religious pretensions, yet by trade a pork-vender, whom my father delighted to mimic, showing him in the act of removing an imaginary pork loin from its hook, slapping it onto its wrapping paper, and then, so as to wet the paper — this was the fat of the jest — licking his fingers enthusiastically. . . . Surrounded by such uncouthness, it was good to have the recollection of the young Talmudist cherishing Torah in its integrity, continuing a tradition that went back through the ages to Sura and Pumbeditha and back farther still and farther to get lost in the zigzag and lightning of Sinai.
Curious to know what this paragon worthy of my emulation looked like, I asked my mother one day whether she had a photograph of Uncle Melech. “A photograph!” My mother was shocked. “Don’t you know that Jews don’t make or permit themselves to be made into images? That’s the second commandment. Uncle Melech wouldn’t think of going to a photographer.” I had to content myself, aided by my mother’s sketchy generalities, with imagining Uncle Melech’s appearance. Throughout the decades that followed, this afforded me an interest ing pastime, for as the years went by and I myself changed from year to year, the image of Uncle Melech that I illegally carried in my mind also suffered its transformations.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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An Anthology of Canadian Jewish Poetry
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An anthology of diverse voices - Une anthologie des voix
also available: Paperback
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Selected Poems

Selected Poems

Collected Works of A.M. Klein
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : canadian
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