We mourn the tragic death of Dahlia Ravikovitch, a much-beloved Israeli poet, widely honored for her artistry and her courage, who took her life in Tel Aviv this August at the age of 69. The outpouring of grief in the Israeli media confirms her stature as one of the great Hebrew poets of our time — certainly the greatest Hebrew woman poet of all time.
Among Ravikovitch’s many awards was the Israel Prize (1998), the highest national honor. The judges’ citation noted: “Her poetic style is distinguished by its skillful synthesis of a rich literary language with the colloquial idiom, and of her personal outcry with that of the collective. This has made her the most important — indeed the most distinctive — Hebrew poet of our time. She is the central pillar of Hebrew lyric poetry.”
Ravikovitch wrote of the self in a state of crisis refracting the moral disintegration of the nation. Since the early 1980s, when she emerged as the leading poetic voice among feminist anti-war activists, her poetry has explored the parallels between the plight of the Palestinians, the suffering of Jews in the Diaspora, and the constraints on women in Israeli and traditional Jewish society. Ravikovitch speaks with authority for the forces of peace and justice, while representing with preternatural sensitivity a woman’s critique of patriarchy. The depth and subtlety of her artistry enable her to treat these complex political and cultural issues in works that retain their considerable force as poetry.
—Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld
Adriana’s Stingy Kids blog contains the most complete information on her death and links to the poet’s obituary in Haaretz (from Google cache). Panim (search for “Spotlight” on the web page) has an interesting interview with Ravikovitch which contains a comprehensive biographical sketch as well.
The obituary speaks poignantly about her serious bouts of depression:
She long suffered from depression. “When I am depressed, I am less than a driven leaf,” she once said in an interview. She was treated by a psychiatrist and primarily diagnosed as depressive. Rabikovitch considered her depression to be hereditary. Other family members had committed suicide, including an aunt on her mother’s side. Her friends reported varied attempts to kill herself – some were cries for help and others were truly determined acts, from which she was miraculously saved.
She never related to writing as therapy. Her poems did not help her live – life helped her live. “We [poets] are always buried in the newest and least expensive plots,” she told Ayelet Negev in an interview for the book “Haim Pratiim” (Private Life). “The value of a poet is inferior to that of a garlic peel. In any case, a slice of bread with butter and honey on an oil-cloth-covered breakfast table solves any problem better than an elusive poem. What takes me out of the periods of depression that I occasionally succumb to is not poetry, but life. When it smiles at me, I can smile back.”
Ravikovitch also was an engaged poet and human being. While her poetry was deeply intimate and personal, it also managed to comprehend the problems and injustice of Israeli society and especially the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. She gave television interviews recently in which she spoke powerfully of her support for the Gaza disengagement, while she also empathized with the uprooting of the settlers.
To Die Like Dahlia
Elsewhere in this blog, I published my translation of the remarkable poem, Like Rachel, which I reprint here:
למות כמו רחל
כשהנפש רועדת כציפור
מעבר לאוהל עמדו נבהלים יעקב ויוסף,
דיברו בה רתת.
כל ימי חייה מתהפכים בה.
כתינוק הרוצה להיוולד.
לפת צווח התינוק
מנוכה גדולה ירדה עליה.