Poem of the Week A Would-be Mother Waits

Rachel Bluwstein's 'Barren' recounts a common fantasy - of motherhood.

Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
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Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden

Barren

Rachel Bluwstein

Had I son – a little boy

with black curls and clever

whose hand I could hold and stroll through the park

a little boy.

Uri, I’d call him, my Uri,

a short name, lucid and soft

a dewdrop of brightness

for my dark child

Uri! I’d call …

Yet I will weep like Mother Rachel,

yet I will pray like Hannah at Shiloh

yet I will wait – for him …

This translation by Vivian Eden first appeared in print in Haaretz Magazine, February 1, 2002; from Mineged (“Across From”) 1930, Davar.

***

Rachel Bluwstein was born in in Imperial Russia on September 20 (of the Julian calendar), 1890. She came to Palestine at age 19, and followed a nearly mythical trajectory for a pioneer woman, going from the orchards of the communal village Rehovot to the experimental collective of Kvutzat Kinneret, pursuing a romance with a Zionist leader (Shneour Zalman Rubashov, who later married a different woman called Rachel, Hebraized his name to Zalman Shazar and became Israel’s third president), studying agronomy in France, heading to Russia again during World War I, when it was impossible to return to Palestine, and returning on the ship Ruslan, which has been called the Zionist Mayflower to Kibbutz Degania, Israel's first.

After falling ill with tuberculosis, she was expelled from Degania – for fear of infecting the children – and wandered from Safed to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. Bluwstein died in a sanatorium in Gedera in 1931. In Hebrew she is known simply as Rahel Hamishoreret or "Rachel the Poetess" and is one of the figures commemorated in the controversial series of Israeli banknotes to be issued later this year.

“Barren” – which is also sometimes called “Uri” – recounts a common fantasy, the dream of having a child, in seemingly simple language that is very conscious of being Hebrew (the poet began writing in Russian at 17). Literally translated, “Uri” means “my light.” The two biblical women mentioned in the poem were barren for some time but ultimately gave birth: “Mother Rachel” to Joseph and “Hannah at Shiloh” (I Samuel 1:9-20) to the prophet Samuel. The poet, however, died childless.

Had she lived in modern-day Israel, however, and wanted to, Bluwstein may well have conceived. It turns out that Israel is the only country in the world that fully subsidizes in vitro fertilization treatments (within certain age limits) for its citizens, including lesbians and unmarried women who wish to become single parents. However, surrogacy is still illegal for gay male couples, a situation that has led to creative – or wishful – thinking among rabbis.

Musings

* As the title indicates, the poem is more about the speaker’s inner state of mind than it is about a fully imagined child, despite the specifics of gender, complexion and hair color. What are some other clues?

Listen to Ahinoam Nini (Noa) singing the words of this poem to music of her own composition.

Rachel BluwsteinCredit: Reproduction, Yaron Kaminsky

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