Dalia Ravikovitch

Rebellious poet with 'bare nerves'


Dalia Ravikovitch, poet: born Ramat Gan, Palestine 1936; married (one son); died Tel Aviv, Israel 21 August 2005.

Dalia Ravikovitch was the best-known female poet of the "State Generation", a group of poets who came of age in the years after the establishment of Israel in 1948. The members of this group, which included Natan Zach and Yehuda Amichai, felt that they could afford to rebel against the national agenda in two ways. First, by celebrating the personal, the lyric, and placing it at the centre of their poetry - hence defying the rules of the former generation of Zionist poets who dedicated their writing to the state-building ethos; second, with often pungent political criticism of the state and its wrong-doing.

Ravikovitch demonstrated exceptional courage on both counts. Her friends used to refer to her as "a woman with no skin and bare nerves". Her personal writing was unforgiving and dealt with depression and self-loathing, but also with vanity and egoism. Her poetry deals with womanhood, motherhood, love and the lack of it, emotion and alienation. Her rich language and the combination of high, even biblical Hebrew, and colloquial speech was her trademark.

Born in 1936 near Tel Aviv, Dalia Ravikovitch lived on a kibbutz after the death of her father. She was educated at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then worked as a journalist and teacher. She began writing poetry in the 1950s, and went on to publish 10 volumes of poetry and a number of children's books, as well as translating W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot into Hebrew. Two volumes of her poetry have been translated into English by Chana Bloch, A Dress of Fire (1978) and The Window (1989, with Ariel Bloch).

Ravikovitch was prompted to become politically involved by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. She took part in demonstrations and protest activities, and wrote some of the most powerful cutting-edge political poetry of that time. After the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila, carried out by the Christian Lebanese phalanges unleashed in the camps by the Israeli army, she wrote:

Over the sewage ponds of Sabra and Shatila

there you passed a considerable number of people on

from the land of the living to the land of the dead

night after night

first shots

then hangings

and then slaughter with knives

. . . and our sweet soldiers

they have asked nothing for themselves

they wanted so badly

to go home in peace.

This poem, whose title translates as "You Can't Kill a Baby Twice" appears in her 1995 collection Col Ha-Shirim Ad Co ("All the Poems So Far").

Ravikovitch obtained a canonical status in her lifetime. Her poems were taught in Israeli schools, and she was awarded the Bialik Prize in 1987 and the Israel Prize, the country's highest award, in 1998. Following these moments of triumph, there always came devastating mental crushes. In a newspaper interview, Ravikovitch spoke of her depression and of the time she spent in psychiatric hospitals. She was found dead in her apartment in Tel Aviv; it is assumed she committed suicide.

Ravikovitch's last book, a collection of short stories, was published in March this year. Despite her fear - "I know they'll write that my prose was not as good as my poetry", she said - it was favourably reviewed. Its title, which now seems disturbingly appropriate, is Baa Ve-Halcha, or "She Came and Then She Left".

Daphna Baram

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