Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dahlia Ravikovitch

Few poets write successful political poems.  Dahlia Ravikovitch's famous "Hovering at a Low Altitude," the title poem of her collected works,  succeeds as a political and personal poem about the death of a Palestinian girl and the poet's engagement with and distance from the awful event:  "With a single hurling thrust one can hover/ and whirl about with the speed of the wind./ Can make a getaway and persuade myself:/ I haven't seen a thing./ And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,/ her palate is dry as a potsherd, when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her/ without a shred of pity."

My favorites among Ravikovitch's poems combine the most ordinary details of everyday life with tender lyricism and self-acceptance:

Midnight Song 1970

Once again, as in years past,
the bedroom's a mess,
cigarette ashes knee deep,
clothes dropped in a heap, 
a pile of mail that I haven't read
and one warm bed.
There's a flu epidemic going around
and here I am, good and sick,
flat on my back.
This year
and in all the years to come,
I won't give up one tiny bird
that flutters about in my garden,
won't trade one tiny bird
for a hoopoe or a dove.
Another year will come
and once again, without fail,
my throat will be choking with love.

I love her deliberate stance against the grandly triumphant:

The Window

So what did I manage to do?
Me--for years I did nothing.
Just looked out the window.
Raindrops soaked into the lawn,
year in, year out.
That lawn was soft grass, high class.
Blackbirds strolled across it.
Later, tiny flowers blossomed, fine strings of beads,
most likely in spring.
Later tulips,
English daffodils,
nothing special.
Me--I didn't do a thing.
Winter and summer revolved among blades of grass.
I slept as much as possible.
That window was as big as it needed to be.
Whatever was needed
I saw in that window.
Ravikovitch died in Tel Aviv, in 2005  at the age of sixty-eight.  Her collected poems, beautifully translated from the Hebrew by Chana Block and Chana Kronfeld, has recently been published.        


  1. i love the plain language, the lack of sentimentality; and her photograph...the sensuality of smoking!

  2. O, the glamour and appeal of smoking. I haven't smoked for years but remember the pleasure. Her poems are deceptively simple.

  3. I love the conversational tone, at least in these examples. It is something I have been seeing in writers these days. I wish I could be that way, instead of my formal and turgid self.

  4. Ravikovitch's conversational tone is studied, stylized, the best of speech distilled to an intimacy like Sappho's.

    I don't find your tone "turgid."