Gershon Hepner

The Germans Have a Word for our Perception of Reality

Artificial separation of perception, thought and passion,

absolutely necessary in philosophy, psychology and natural science,

leads to a disconnect that rarely for a poet are the fashion

he wants to follow, wearing all these mental hats, holistically of pedants in defiance.


For our perception of reality the Germans have a word,

Umwelt, describing all our personal perceptions on which we base our reliance

of our reality, which may to other people seem absurd,

disregarding our unwelcomed perceptions of our Umwelt with defiance.


The fringes of the Jewish Umwelt in a garment called a tallit

direct Jews to the Torah’s rationale, and help us to recall it.

Moreover, the mezuzah that’s beside our doors reveals to those who are beyond

these fringes that the Torah is our Umwelt’s wisdom’s wand.


Helen Vendler reviewing The Prelude: 1805 by William Wordsworth in “I Heard Voices in My Head,” NYR, 2/23/17, wrote:

Wordsworth’s The Prelude—a meditative poem on the growth of the poet’s mind—is a unique document of modern consciousness in its constant mobility—of times, thoughts, feelings, prospect, and retrospect. The mode of other treatments of consciousness—expository essays on philosophy, political theory, psychology, and morals—is essentially one of formulated assertion (even if concealed by Socratic dialogue or Platonic myth). And although consciousness is represented in the characters of epic, drama, and the novel, those genres are primarily understood by readers with respect to plot and character, not as experiments in language (unless, like Tristram Shandy, they play so extravagantly with language that it demands primary notice).

Strangely, consciousness as it is revealed in ambitious lyric poetry has been ignored by humanities courses that assign those other genres. Lyric has been implicitly dismissed as a genre containing no “ideas.” Allen Tate once remarked of Keats’s “To Autumn” that the poem “is a very nearly perfect piece of style but it has little to say.” There could hardly be a more mistaken view.


In truth, what a meditative poem contributes to the history of consciousness is a reenactment in real time of the volatile inner life of a human being. Such a poem does not present itself as plot or character portrayal or argument, but rather (in I.A. Richards’s theory) as a hypothesis: “Suppose we see it like this.” The poet’s proposed hypotheses change “minute by minute” (Yeats), and include waverings, self-contradictions, repudiations, aspirations, and doubts; they are not offered as a philosophical system. They actively perform the “mobile and immobile flickering”* generated by the incessant cooperation of the senses, the mind, and the heart. The history of consciousness must include those perplexingly simultaneous organic responses as episodes in thought no less significant than episodes of system-making or of scientific discovery.

William Wordsworth (1770–1850) was rebelliously aware that the artificial isolation from one another of perception, thought, and passion—however necessary in philosophy, psychology, and the natural sciences—is unnatural in the art of lyric poets, who wish to display “the whole man, revolting and desiring” (J.B. Yeats), not in social interaction (the domain of plays and novels) but rather in his interior agitations.

Peter Godfrey-Smith of the University of Sydney in “Visible and Invisible Worlds,” NYR, 6/6/25 regarding Umwelt, explains a concept that was introduced by the Baltic-German biologist Jakob von Uexküll in the early twentieth century. His most famous book, published in 1934, is A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans:

Umwelt can be translated as “around-world” but might be better rendered as “self-surrounding world” or “self-world.” It does not refer to an animal’s physical surroundings, for which Uexküll used another word (Umgebung). An animal’s Umwelt is the world it senses and acts on, the world it encounters and deals with. Nothing else exists in that animal’s Umwelt. In Foray, Uexküll described an Umwelt as a sealed unit and pictured the animals around us as “enclosed within soap bubbles.”

Num. 15: 38-39 explains the rationale of the fringes of the four-cornered garment whose Hebrew name, when it is worn as a prayer shawl, is tallit:

דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹרֹתָ֑ם וְנָ֥תְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת׃

Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner.

וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֮ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהֹוָ֔ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָת֜וּרוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃

That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of יהוה and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge.

The word mezuzah denotes a small folded or rolled parchment that having been  inscribed with scriptural verses, is  placed in a case on the doorpost of a house and on all its doorposts.

Deut. 6:9 and 11:21 state:

וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזֻז֥וֹת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ {ס}

And inscribe them on the mezuzot, doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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