Last Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the death of the great Israeli poet, Dahlia Ravikovitch 1936–2005. To celebrate her work I shall post, in the next few days, some of her poems in my translation.
Many of the themes in her earlier work are familiar, and universal. The most prevalent ones are: the child/woman’s feeling of personal deprivation and injustice, perhaps abuse (in the poem below “Standing in the Street”), problematic love, and death. In many instances those themes are interchangeable. Absence of love, which could have been due to the death of her father when she was a young child, results in ongoing feelings of injustice and deprivation.
The point of view in her first book The Love Of An Orange (1959) is that of a child. The poem “Standing in the Street” reveals a painful and acute sense of injustice. The dead father never gives his eldest daughter what is rightfully hers.
The tenses in Hebrew are different in nature from English. Hebrew has only three tenses: present, past and future, and there are no progressive forms or other special forms equivalent to the past perfect, present perfect and future perfect in English. There are no strict rules regarding the use of tenses in Hebrew. In the same poem the tenses can change constantly, and it is understood and accepted by the reader–there is no need to stick to only one tense. The flexibility of tenses in Hebrew is a recurring problem in translation. In many instances because of the changing tenses, the sense of time is blurred and this becomes significant. In the poem “Standing In The Street” for example, there is a continual shift from the present to the past and to the future. Since this poem is about a live memory which haunts the present and threatens to destroy the future. Thus, the change in tenses is crucial. In my translation I chose to be flexible with the tenses to emphasize the meaning.
Standing in the Street
Standing in the street at night is this man
Who long time ago was my father.
And I have to go to where he stands
Because I was his eldest daughter.
And each and every night he stands alone in his place
And I have to go down to his place to draw near.
And I wanted to ask the man till when should I
and I knew before that I always should.
The place where he stands might be dangerous
Like on that day when he went down the street and was hit by a car.
And so I recognized and demarcated
this man himself as my father.
And he doesn’t say to me one word of love
even though a long time ago he was my father
even though I was his eldest daughter
he cannot say to me one word of love.
The words “Natati Bo Simanim,” in the Hebrew which I translated to “And so I recognized and demarcated/ this man himself as my father,” are taken from the Passover Haggadah. In addition, in Judaism before a burial, a close relative has to identify and recognize the deceased, as the girl in the poem did with her father, and only then the funeral could begin.