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hanukkah poems

8 Poems to Celebrate Each Night of Hanukkah

While there are many different interpretations of the Hanukkah story, the classic traditions often remain the same. Celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. Those who are celebrating typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah in a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday. 

 

In celebration, here are 8 poems to honor the festive and holy nights of Hanukkah, varying from the deeply religious to the comical to highlighting the miracle of hope. 

 

In The Jewish Synagogue At Newport by Emma Lazarus

Here, where the noises of the busy town,

The ocean’s plunge and roar can enter not,

We stand and gaze around with tearful awe,

And muse upon the consecrated spot.

No signs of life are here: the very prayers

Inscribed around are in a language dead;

The light of the “perpetual lamp” is spent

That an undying radiance was to shed.

What prayers were in this temple offered up,

Wrung from sad hearts that knew no joy on earth,

By these lone exiles of a thousand years,

From the fair sunrise land that gave them birth!

 

The Coming Of Light by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Even this late the bones of the body shine

and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

 

Blessings for Chanukah by Jessie E. Sampter 

Blessed art thou, O God our Lord,

Who made us holy with his word,

And told us on this feast of light

To light one candle more each night.

(Because when foes about us pressed

  To crush us all with death or shame,

The Lord his priests with courage blest

To strike and give his people rest

And in the House that he loved best

  Relight our everlasting flame.)

 

Blest art Thou, the whole world’s King,

Who did so wonderful a thing

For our own fathers true and bold

At this same time in days of old!

 

Season Of Skinny Candles by Marge Piercy

A row of tall skinny candles burns

quickly into the night

air, the shames raised

over the rest for its hard work.

Darkness rushes in

after the sun sinks

like a bright plug pulled.

Our eyes drown in night

thick as ink pudding.

When even the moon

starves to a sliver

of quicksilver

the little candles poke

holes in the blackness.

A time to eat fat

and oil, a time to gamble

for pennies and gambol

 

Letter Spoken in Wind by Rachel Galvin

Today we walked the inlet Nybøl Nor

     remembering how to tread on frozen snow.

          Ate cold sloeberries

 

that tasted of wind—a white pucker—

     spat their sour pits in snow. Along

          the horizon, a line of windmills dissolved

 

into a white field. Your voice

     on the phone, a gesund auf dein keppele

          you blessed my head. Six months now

 

since I’ve seen you. There are

     traces of you here, your curls still dark

          and long, your woven dove,

 

the room you stayed in: send your syllables,

     I am swimming below the tidemark.

          Words shed overcoats, come

 

to me undressed, slender-limbed, they have no

     letters yet. It is the festival

          of lights, I have no

 

candles. I light one for each night,

     pray on a row

          of nine lighthouses.

 

Honorary Jew by John Repp 

The first year, I grated potatoes, chopped onions

& watched. The second year, I fed all but the eggs

into the machine & said I’ll do the latkes & did,

my pile of crisp delights borne to the feast by the wife

who baffled me, our books closed, banter hushed,

money useless in the apartment—house, my in-laws called it,

new-wave thump at one end, ganja reek at the other—

in which she’d knelt to tell the no one who listened

no more no      no more no a three-year-old mouthing

the essential prayer. The uncle made rich by a song

stacked three & dug in, talking critics & Koch—

everyone crunching now, slathering applesauce, slurping tea—

talking Rabin & Mehitabel, radio & Durrell,

how a song is a poem or it isn’t a song

& vice-versa. Done, he pointed a greasy finger

at me, said You can’t be a goy. You—I say it

for all to hear—are an honorary Jew!

which, impossible dream, my latkes lived up to

for five more years. Then the wailing.

Then the dust.

 

Chanukah Lights Tonight by Steven Schneider 

Our annual prairie Chanukah party—

latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes.

Friends arrive from nearby towns

and dance the twist to “Chanukah Lights Tonight,”

spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit.

 

The candles flicker in the window.

Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows.

If you squint,

the neighbors’ Christmas lights

look like the Omaha skyline.

 

The smell of oil is in the air.

We drift off to childhood

where we spent our gelt

on baseball cards and matinees,

cream sodas and potato knishes.

 

No delis in our neighborhood,

only the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks.

Inside, we try to sweep the darkness out,

waiting for the Messiah to knock,

wanting to know if he can join the party.

 

Legendary Lights by Alter Abelson 

O, the legendary light,

Gleaming goldenly in night

  Like the stars above,

Beautiful, like lights in dream,

Eight, the taper-flames that stream

  All one glory and one love.

 

In our Temple, magical—

Memories, now tragical—

Holy hero-hearts aflame

With a glory more than fame;

There where a shrine is every sod,

  Every grave, God’s golden ore,

With a paean whose rhyme to God,

  Lit these lamps of yore.

 

Lights, you are a living dream,

Faith and bravery you beam,

  Youth and dawn and May.

Would your beam were more than dream,

Would the light and love you stream,

  Stirred us, spurred us, aye!

 

Fabled memories of flame,

Till the beast in man we tame,

Tyrants bow to truth, amain,

Brands and bullets yield to brain,

Guns to God, and shells to soul,

Hounds to heart resign the role,

Pillared lights of liberty,

In your fairy flames, we’ll see

Faith’s and freedom’s Phoenix-might,

The Omnipotence of Right.