Deutsch, Babette

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DEUTSCH, Babette

Born 22 September 1895, New York, New York; died November 1982

Daughter of Michael and Melanie Fisher Deutsch; married Avrahm Yarmolinsky, 1921

Of German descent, Babette Deutsch grew up in New York City, where she received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1917. Although best known as a poet, Deutsch published novels, translations, literary criticism, and children's books.

In 1919, Deutsch published her first volume of poems, Banners, whose title piece celebrates the Russian Revolution as "new freedoms, and new slavery." Honey Out of the Rock (1925), Deutsch's second book, contains a number of short imagistic poems, biblically inspired ballads, and poems to her son. Both volumes display the influence of imagism, Japanese haiku, and Greek and Jewish culture.

Considered by some critics to be Deutsch's best work, Epistle to Prometheus (1930), is a letter written by a contemporary to the Greek god. It is a survey of human history, beginning with his creation and tracing the Promethean spirit as it has inspired humanity in 5th-century Greece, 18th-century France, and 20th-century Russia.

Deutsch's final three volumes of poetry, One Part Love (1939), Take Them, Stranger (1944), and Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral (1954), all reveal her rage at the destruction of World War II. In "To Napoleon" she asks, "But who will cut the growth/That gnaws at Europe now?" Deutsch's poetry has been collected in two volumes: Collected Poems, 1919-62 (1963) and Coming of Age: New and Selected Poems (1959).

As a novelist, Deutsch began her career with A Brittle Heaven (1926), a thinly veiled autobiography about a young woman's youth, education, and marriage. The novel reveals the major conflicts facing a woman struggling to define herself both as a professional writer, and a wife and mother. Deutsch's second novel, In Such a Night (1927), is essentially a series of character sketches showing the influence of Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness technique in Mrs. Dalloway. Deutsch's other novels are Mask of Silenus (1933), a historical novel based on Socrates' life, and Rogue's Legacy (1942), a tale patterned after the life of the French poet, François Villon.

Deutsch's critical writings are concerned with the correlation between modern poetry and modern society. Potable Gold: Some Notes on Poetry and This Age (1929) discusses the influence of technology on poetry and the poet's relationship to his public. This Modern Poetry (1935) and Poetry in Our Time (1952) both analyze major poetic figures and study the interrelationship between poet and politics. According to Deutsch, the modern poet must "create a myth beyond the power of man" and therefore be a "true revolutionary."

Other Works:

Fire for the Night (1930). Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms (1956).

Articles: "An Unhabitual Way" in Critical Essays on Kay Boyle (1997), "Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951)" in Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (1993)

Audio recordings: Babette Deutsch Reading Her Poems in the Recording Laboratory (1947), Babette Deutsch Reading Her Poems in the Coolidge Auditorium (1961), Babette Deutsch Reading Her Poems with Comment at Station WRVR (1961).

The papers of Babette Deutsch are in the New York Public Library in New York City.


Davis, R. H., Jr., "Something Truly Revolutionary: The Correspondence of Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky from Russia, November 1923 to March 1924" in Biblion: The Bulletin of the New York Public Library (1993). Drake, W., The First Wave: Women Poets in America (1987). Driscoll, M. C., "Babette Deutsch and Her Contribution to American Letters" (thesis, 1944). Gould, J. American Women Poets: Pioneers of Modern Poetry (1980).

Reference works:

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1987). CA (1977). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references: Kresh, P., ed., Babette Deutsch, Louise Bogan, Leonore G. Marshall, Stephen Vincent Benet, and Malcolm Cowley Reading Their Poems (audio recording, 1970). NYHTB (12 July 1959). Poetry (1964). SR (25 July 1959). TLS (18 June 1964). VQR (1964).