Gershon Hepner

All Is Possible and Impeachable

We know subjectively that all

is possible after Hitler, Stalin, declared Auden,

and should not trust, after this Fall,

ourselves, expelled for fantasizing in our garden.

And yet there is one goal, called truth,

which very often seems as impossible to reach

as the demands of the phantom tollbooth,

and as ‘to dare’ to take the Eliotian peach—

a peach I think that Eliot identified as what

our parents chose to eat in Eden’s garden,

described this way by Milton, of course not

an apple, I think, begging Milton’s pardon—

as mistaken as the tollbooth’s heroes’ claim

that their opinions never coincided.

Though Stalin fought his foe, they share the same

and almost equal cause to be indicted.

In Episode 211 of his Jerusalem 365 podcasts, “1967 and Jerusalem of Gold,” Meir Soloveitchik discusses the song “Jerusalem of Gold,” by Naomi Shemer, who came from a kibbutz, Kinneret, whose founders disagreed about everything, like the two heroes of “The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo and Tock, who found that their decision to disagree about everything gave them a common cause.

The first two verses of this poem were inspired by lines of a poem, “The Cave of Making,” by W. H. Auden, a poem cited by Edward Mendelson in “The Secret Auden,” NYR, 3/20/14:

On one side are those who, like Auden, sense the furies hidden in themselves, evils they hope never to unleash, but which, they sometimes perceive, add force to their ordinary angers and resentments, especially those angers they prefer to think are righteous. On the other side are those who can say of themselves without irony, “I am a good person,” who perceive great evils only in other, evil people whose motives and actions are entirely different from their own. This view has dangerous consequences when a party or nation, having assured itself of its inherent goodness, assumes its actions are therefore justified, even when, in the eyes of everyone else, they seem murderous and oppressive.

One of many forms this argument takes is a dispute over the meaning of the great totalitarian evils of the twentieth century: whether they reveal something about all of humanity or only about the uniquely evil leaders, cultures, and nations that committed them. For Auden, those evils made manifest the kinds of evil that were potential in everyone. Looking out from the attic room in peaceful, rural Austria where he composed his poems, he wrote (in “The Cave of Making”):

                      More than ever
life-out-there is goodly, miraculous, loveable,
but we shan’t, not since Stalin and Hitler,
trust ourselves ever again: we know that, subjectively,
all is possible.

“We,” that is to say, know collectively what is possible “subjectively” in the mind of each individual person.

The third verse was inspired by “Nobody knows because the Hebrew Bible just says “fruit,”, 3 /27/21, which  reports that Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky, a professor of brain science at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told Live Science what is reported  in a comprehensive in

What’s the likely identity of the “forbidden fruit” described in the Bible’s Garden of Eden, which Eve is said to have eaten and then shared with Adam?……

,,,[T]he  possible path from fruit to apple began in Rome in A.D. 382., when Pope Damasus I asked a scholar named Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. As part of that project, Jerome translated the Hebrew “peri” into the Latin “malum,” according to Robert Appelbaum, a professor emeritus of English literature at Uppsala University in Sweden….

The word [“malum”] in Latin translates into a word in English, apple, which also stood for any fruit … with a core of seeds in the middle and flesh around it. But it was a generic term [for fruit] as well,” Appelbaum told Live Science. Apple had this generic meaning until the 17th century, according to the Online Etymological Dictionary. Jerome likely chose the word “malum” to mean fruit, because the very same word can also mean evil, Appelbaum said. So it’s a pun, referring to the fruit associated with humans’ first big mistake with a word that also means essentially that.

Meanwhile, paintings and other artistic recreations of the Garden of Eden have helped solidify the apple as the forbidden fruit. In art, unlike in writing, a fruit cannot be purely generic, Appelbaum said. “Artists, more than writers, had to show something,” he said. They didn’t always show an apple: Artistic renderings of the “Fall from Eden” depicted the fruit as a citron (“Ghent Altarpiece” by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 1432), as an apricot  (“Eve Tempted By the Serpent” by Defendente Ferrari, 1520-25), and as a pomegranate (“The Fall of Man” by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628-29), according to Appelbaum. —

Yet by the 16th century, the apple had also entered the proverbial fruit bowl. In 1504, an engraving by the German painter Albrecht Dürer and a 1533 painting by German painter, Lucas Cranach the Elder, depicted the fruit as an apple, according to NPR. Also according to NPR, in the epic poem “Paradise Lost,” first published in 1667, English poet John Milton uses the word “apple” twice to refer to the forbidden fruit.

But was the apple in “Paradise Lost” really the apple that we think of today, or was it some generic fleshy fruit with seeds in the middle? There’s at least some room for doubt about that, according to Appelbaum. Milton describes the “apple” once Eve takes a bite, “as being fuzzy on the outside, and extremely juicy and sweet and ambrosial. All words which are attached to peaches,” Appelbaum said.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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