Esther Raab was the first native-born Israeli woman poet and an important if often-overlooked figure in the emerging literature of the Hebrew language. Her poetry, marked by its strong, idiosyncratic voice, is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s in its unorthodox, fractured syntax, and its sources: the Bible and unromanticized nature.
The daughter of one of the founders of Petah Tikvah, the earliest Jewish agricultural settlement in Ottoman Palestine, Raab herself worked the land for a good part of her early years. In the early twenties, she moved to Cairo and married her cousin, a Jewish merchant. Returning to Palestine in 1926, she built a home in “little Tel Aviv”; there she hosted and formed close friendships with the leading Hebrew writers and painters of the burgeoning Jewish city. Raab’s close connection with the land was embodied in her poetry—which is earth-bound, gestural, and above all painterly in its direct apprehension of her physical surroundings.
“Provincial” and “Levantine” by comparison with many of the immigrant Hebrew poets of the time, who came armed with the heritage of high, European culture, Raab produced work characterized by what contemporary Israeli critic Dan Miron calls “a liberating and intoxicating poetic freshness … the force of which has not abated.”
Translator Harold Schimmel’s selections for this volume, drawn from all of the writer’s books, constitute the first gathering of Raab’s work in English and afford the Hebrewless reader an opportunity to relish what he calls in his introduction the “strange intensities” and “astounding propinquities” of a singular writer.
“One of the most innovative and revolutionary poets to appear in Hebrew poetry after the First World War.”
“Esther Raab speaks to us in a language that knows not only its limits … but also its power— the power to awaken and intensify our spiritual and emotional awareness of the world.”
ESTHER RAAB (1894—1981) was born in Petah Tikvah, Palestine and died in Tivon, Israel.
HAROLD SCHIMMEL was born and raised in the United States and has lived in Jerusalem since 1964. His previous books of translations into English include Songs of Jerusalem and Myself by Yehuda Amichai and The Syrian-African Rift by Avot Yeshurun. He is the author of six collections of poetry in Hebrew. Ibis Editions has published two volumes of his work in English translation: From Island to Island and Qasida.