A collection of the later work of Leah Goldberg (1911-1970)—one of Israel’s most important and most beloved poets—has recently appeared in English translation, alongside some of her own drawings, under the title On the Surface of Silence. In her review, Alicia Ostriker writes:
Leah Goldberg grew up in Lithuania, began studying Hebrew as a child, and was already an accomplished scholar and poet when she emigrated to Palestine in 1935. At the age of fifteen she had written in her diary, “The unfavorable condition of the Hebrew writer is no secret to me. . . . Writing in a language other than Hebrew is the same to me as not writing at all. And yet I want to be a writer. . . . This is my only objective.” . . .
For most of her life, Goldberg was a formalist, fashioning sensuously elegant lyrics in traditional patterns, sonnets and terza rima in particular. Unrequited romantic love was a frequent theme; she wrote also of nature, seasons, the land. The last book published in her lifetime, With This Night (1964), begins to loosen this attachment to convention. . . .
A few of the poems in On the Surface of Silence were previously published in journals and newspapers. Most were collected from Goldberg’s notebooks and scattered papers found in her house after her death by her friend and fellow poet Tuvia Ruebner, who arranged and published them in Hebrew under the title The Remains of Life in 1971. Stripped down, seemingly spontaneous improvisations, cryptic yet urgent, they are what the translator Rachel Tzvia Back in her excellent introduction calls fragments, but, paradoxically, “whole fragments”—in other words, not accidents. Unique in themselves, not portions of something greater.