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Bat-Miriam, Yokheved

(1901–1979), Hebrew poet and one of the most influential female figures in Hebrew modernism. Yokheved Bat-Miriam (born Zhelezhiak) completed pedagogical courses in Kharkov and then studied at universities in Odessa and Moscow. She immigrated to Palestine in 1928.

Bat-Miriam’s first poems were published in Ha-Tekufah (1922). In Russia, she belonged to the Hebrew Octobrists circle, a group dedicated to producing Hebrew revolutionary works in Soviet Russia. She and other members of this group published pieces in the highly regarded literary anthology, Be-Re’shit (In the Beginning; 1926). After her move to Palestine, she was affiliated with modernist circles. Most of the poetry she had composed in Russia was included in her first anthology, Me-Raḥok (From Afar; 1932). Her other collections include Erets Yisra’el (The Land of Israel; 1937), Ra‘ayon (Interviewing; 1940), Demuyot me-ofek (Images from the Horizon; 1941), Shire Rusyah (Poetry of Russia; 1942), and Shirim la-geto (Poems for the Ghetto; 1943).

During the Israeli War of Independence, Bat-Miriam’s son, Naḥum (Zuzik), was killed in one of the battles for Jerusalem, and as a result she virtually stopped writing. In 1963 she approved the publication of a wide selection of her poetry and was awarded the Bialik Prize for this anthology. Nine years later she received the Israel Prize for literature.

Bat-Miriam’s poems are purely lyrical. Her early writings as well as a section of the poems featured in Me-Raḥok are characterized by a personal ecstatic style. They were influenced by contemporary Russian poetry, which also led her to depict female characters with a rebellious, aggressive, and daring nature. Her later poems reflect her development into a complex symbolist poet who succeeded in concealing this complexity under a veil of unpretentiousness, primarily through her adoption of a very simple formal poetic structure. Nonetheless, Bat-Miriam still managed to invent a poetic species, essentially consisting of a synthesis of rich abstract metaphors and of minutely detailed, concrete descriptions. There is a deep and marked thematic tension between Bat-Miriam’s Israeli poems and her pieces recalling the Russian landscapes of her childhood. Her poems also reveal a very perceptible tension between materialistic love and the excitement of encountering a plentiful natural world, on the one hand, and the gloomy transcendental yearnings clearly influenced by religious themes on the other. Among female poets of early Hebrew modernism, Bat-Miriam is distinguished for being the most complex.

Suggested Reading

Ruth Kartun-Blum, Ba-Merḥak ha-ne‘elam: ‘Iyunim be-shirat Yokheved Bat-Miryam (Ramat Gan, Isr., 1977); Dan Miron, Imahot meyasdot, aḥayot ḥorgot: ‘Al re’shit shirat ha-nashim ha-‘ivrit (Tel Aviv, 2004).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler