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Ruth declares her love for her mother-in-law, 1885 drawing by Gustave Dore Shutterstock
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Upon Reading Erika Dreifus’s Three Poems for Shavuot

A reverie of Victor Hugo

by
Paul Berman
June 10, 2016
Shutterstock
Ruth declares her love for her mother-in-law, 1885 drawing by Gustave Dore Shutterstock

Victor Hugo tells this story, too.
In his account, the man may have his years,
But grandeur is a man’s attractive strength.
For women gaze at beautiful young boys,

Yet with him they lose themselves in thought.
It is because the stately, older man
Is grandly closer to the primal force.
A young man’s eyes may sparkle charmingly,

But in the elder’s look there is enlight-
enment. The Moabite feels something true
And normal, then—even if, as she
Lies crouching at his feet, she cannot know

Exactly what has led her to her strange
And unpredicted destiny with him,
so wise and just and rich and generous,
the sexy man! You laugh. You think that here

Is Victor, preening once again, his beard
A thing of manly glory in his eyes.
Yet somehow in his poem a golden light
Illuminates the nighttime firmament

With more than macho vanity—a truth,
His reverie of ancient nights and Ruth.

***

To read Erika Dreifus’s ‘The Story of Ruth, in Three Poems,’ click here.

Paul Berman is Tablet’s critic-at-large. He is the author of A Tale of Two Utopias, Terror and Liberalism, Power and the Idealists, and The Flight of the Intellectuals.

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