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Review: The Music of the Prophets: The Resettlement of the Jews in England, 1655-56, by Michelene Wandor

It is always a joy for me to find a new book of poetry by Michelene Wandor because I know I shall find history and music all celebrated in singing words and images. This sequence of poems, or more accurately poems with music, was written to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the return of the return of Jews to England, negotiated by Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel from Holland with Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. Both men's motives may have been based on economic motives rather than a belief in freedom of religion. Cromwell may also have been influenced by the Millenarian argument that the Jews could only be converted if they were in England to be converted.
These issues are mentioned in the poems but more importantly Wandor gives us a picture of 17th century London, its people; its music; its trade in spices and other goods; its poetry. She does a pastiche of Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, allowing Menasseh to address Cromwell in words only slightly changed from those Marvel uses to his mistress. One of the conceits used by Marvell was that had he time enough he would love his mistress until the conversion of the Jews, deftly rewritten for Menasseh as: I should be your friend forever and forever refuse / to countenance the conversion of the Jews.

But apart from these literary tricks, I especially enjoy the list of goods which the Jews will bring into England... Behind these words I can imagine the sound of lutes and viols, music by Purcell and Hingeston, and the Jewish composers, Bassano and Lupo, representing Cromwell and Menasseh: this is the story of two people / this is the story of two peoples.