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“Be Thou Like a Young Hart, O Beloved Mine”: Dahlia Ravikovitch’s Song of Songs

From: Journal of Jewish Identities
Issue 7, Number 1, January 2014
pp. 201-210 | 10.1353/jji.2014.0000

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being.
—Wallace Stevens, “A Motive for Metaphor”

Chana was the first to introduce me into the exhilarating world of metaphors, my guide to the “motive for metaphor” and the “A, B, C” of literary life. I had the great pleasure of being her student in a seminar she gave at Berkeley in 1980 (I was an undergraduate at the time) which revolved around the intricacies of metaphoric configurations in theoretical texts as well as in the poetry of Yehuda Amichai. It was an exceptionally uplifting intellectual experience. Chana has the rare capacity to combine rigorous theoretical thought with superb close readings, both in her teaching and in her writing. We were a small group of four fervent students and we savored, among other things, the article Chana had just written, “Novel and Conventional Metaphors: A Matter of Methodology,” which ends with the lines from Wallace Stevens, quoted in my epigraph.1 But it was not only the intellectual discoveries that made this first encounter so memorable. At that early stage of her career as a teacher, Chana was already a full-fledged, charismatic mentor. And mentoring for Chana meant (and still means) a personal bond, a very precious friendship that goes beyond the formal framework of class or office hours.

Our friendship has thrived ever since then between Berkeley and Jerusalem. And as in the best of friendships, familial dinners, musical get-togethers, intimate chats, and work have intermingled freely. I have an ongoing dialogue with Chana in diverse realms. When I strive, as a teacher, to turn seminars into workshops and a joint learning experience, I think of her; when I read my students’ work and try to guide them, I recall her exceptionally detailed and attentive comments on the margins of my dissertation (no student of Chana will ever forget her margins.) In my current project on the Song of Songs and its peculiar history of reception in different cultural contexts, I’ve found myself thinking of Chana’s remarkable work on a whole array of topics—from metaphor and allusion to the poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch.

During one of Chana’s visits to Jerusalem two years ago, on a hot summer morning (Chana, unlike me, actually loves hamsinim), I asked her whether she’d be willing to have a hevruta with me on Ravikovitch’s poem, “Intoxication,” one of the most fascinating modern adaptations of the Song of Songs. With characteristic generosity and enthusiasm, Chana joined me. We met, as always, in a café and spent the morning with this one beautiful poem. That very special summer morning was the inspiring point of departure for the reading that follows.

“Intoxication” forms part of Dahlia Ravikovitch’s first book, The Love of an Orange (Ahavat tapuah ha-zahav), published in 1959. I quote in full the superb translation by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld in Hovering at a Low Altitude: The Collected Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch.

If only I had the red dress that eludes me still,
That dress of great price,
And if only I had a young hart leaping upon the hills,
Bounding upon the heights—
From the rooftops we would swing
And the wings of the winds we’d bind
Until they were entangled
Like a braid of twine.
The winds would puff their cheeks and take flight
Till the sun went forth like a strongman,
Swaggering in his might.
From his table he’d throw me crumbs
That would blaze upon the red dress,
And lowing, assail me again,
Goring me with horned rays
Like oxen twain.
And the leaves of the bushes would murmur and chime
Like showering coins of gold,
And he’d gaze at me in love, he’d gaze enthralled,
And I’d call:
Be thou like a young hart, O beloved mine.2

In the introduction to Hovering at a Low Altitude, Bloch and Kronfeld claim that “Ravikovitch is cherished for her love poems” though her representations of love are strikingly curious:

Sometimes the relationship is merely a figment of the speaker’s imagination; in “Light and...

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