Rachel. “Flowers of Perhaps (Hebrew Classics)” (A Bilingual Edition, translated by Robert Friend), The Toby Press, 2008.
Rachel Bluwstein preferred to be known, quite simply, as Rachel and like her single name, her poetry is simple yet gorgeous. She was born in 1890 i9n Russia and died in 1931 in Israel where she was regarded as THE poetess. She came to Israel in 1909 and she lived on Kibbutz Kinneret, the very same place I call home. Her writing deals with nature and the land of Israel and her short, lyrical poems speak of unrequited love, childlessness, and illness as well as the gorgeous landscape on the Sea of Galilee where she made her home. Her life was filled with illness and it was tuberculosis that took her from her yet her grave is the site of pilgrimages that all Israeli school children make and her white book of poetry has been a constant best seller. Many of her poems have been set to music, some by fellow kibbutz member (also now deceased), Naomi Shemer and the commonalities between the two women is amazing. This book is the first translation into English of Rachel’s poetry and while I may question a word here and there, it captures the essence of the poet.
Rachel’s poems are sort and succinct and very, very difficult to translate not just because of their lyricism but also because they are so personal and I wonder how Rachel would feel if she knew that every school child in Israel studies her (and learns to love her). Therefore this is not a line by line translation but rather a rendering of what she wrote. I think her poems are all the more interesting when we consider that she wrote them in Hebrew, an acquired language for her and the fact that she did so shows her true love for the land that she adopted and that adopted her.
One of the reasons for her appeal is that she laments the passing of the Zionist dream even though she lived at a time when it was most fervid. When she became very ill she was forced to leave her beloved kibbutz and seek medical treatment elsewhere. She was unsuccessful and died at just 41 but her legacy will live forever. She wrote about longing for her lost home on the sea. She wrote about the importance and virtue of redeeming the land and her own inability to do so. She wanted to work in the fields but was much too ill. I have often wondered if had she worked would she have written? She also lost personal love and many big names in the arts and politics in Israel have been linked with hers.
Rachel’s poetry is about an important time for Jews everywhere—that period before the creation of the State of Israel. We are so lucky that now non-Hebrew speakers can enjoy her verse.
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