Gershon Hepner

Not Losing the Power to Rejoice

What’s thought too long, said Yeats, can be no longer

thought. We lose the power to rejoice

while thinking, and are overcome by stronger

emotions that remove from us the choice

of finding beauty in what is not rational,

restrained by thought by which we have been captured,

without much chance that any passion will

make us rejoice while we are unenraptured.

Let us not crash, while falling into craters,

like Bembos, Empedocles’ imitators,

not discounting, after seven weeks of Omer,

what is icumen after them, the sumer.

Yet it’s a season in which we should not forget to worry,

like Israelites when leaving Egypt in a hurry.

During the war that began on Shemini Atseret 5784, I am now anticipating the festival of Shavuot, a festival regarding which Deut. 16:11 tells us we should celebrate with joy after we have finished counting seven weeks. During the seven weeks we nevertheless commemorate tragedies caused by antisemitic outrages like those inflicted on many Jewish communities during the Crusades.

The poem was inspired not only by “Sumer is icumen in,” the first line of a medieval English (not Sumerian) round, but by Yeats’s poem “The Gyres”:

The gyres! the gyres! Old Rocky Face, look forth;

Things thought too long can be no longer thought,

For beauty dies of beauty, worth of worth,

And ancient lineaments are blotted out.

Irrational streams of blood are staining earth;

Empedocles has thrown all things about;

Hector is dead and there’s a light in Troy;

We that look on but laugh in tragic joy.


What matter though numb nightmare ride on top,

And blood and mire the sensitive body stain?

What matter? Heave no sigh, let no tear drop,

A-greater, a more gracious time has gone;

For painted forms or boxes of make-up

In ancient tombs I sighed, but not again;

What matter? Out of cavern comes a voice,

And all it knows is that one word ‘Rejoice!’


Empedocles is said to hurled himself into the crater of Aetna, as Anthony Grafton pointed out in “Locum, Lacum, Lucum,” LRB, 9/13/18):

In 1496 Pietro Bembo, a young Venetian scholar, published a short book on a long walk he had taken with a friend. Their hike led them from Messina, where the two of them had been studying Greek with Constantine Lascaris, to the top of Mount Etna…. Even when they explored one of the craters, and smoke and burning stones appeared beneath their feet, they were ‘gripped by such enjoyment of the spectacle’, Bembo wrote, that they forgot to worry.

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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