Goldberg, Lea

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GOLDBERG, LEA (1911–1970), Hebrew poet and critic. Born in Koenigsberg, Eastern Prussia, she spent the early years of her childhood in Russia but after the Revolution her family returned to their home in Kovno, Lithuania. While still a schoolgirl, Lea Goldberg began to write Hebrew verse and her first poem was published in Hed Lita in 1926. She attended the universities of Kovno, Berlin, and Bonn. Arriving in Tel Aviv in 1935, she joined the circle of modernist authors, whose mentor was Avraham *Shlonsky, and began publishing her poetry in Turim, the literary forum of the group. Shlonsky helped her compile her first volume of poetry Tabbe'ot Ashan ("Smoke Rings," 1935). After a career as a schoolteacher, she joined the editorial staffs of *Davar and later Mishmar in the capacity of theater critic and eventually became editor ofAl ha-Mishmar's literary supplement. She also served on the staff of Davar li-Yladim, a popular children's magazine, was the children's book editor of Sifriyyat Po'alim, and the literary adviser to *Habimah, Israel's national theater. In 1952 she was invited to organize the Department of Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, holding the chair until her death. As Goldberg was a prolific and versatile writer, her literary talent found expression in many genres. Primarily a poet, she was also a literary critic, wrote a number of children's works, was a copious translator, and the author of a novel and a play.


All of Goldberg's poetry is written in the modern mode set by the school of younger poets that developed in Ereẓ Israel during the Mandate period. Influenced by the Russian Acmeist poets (a literary trend which rejected symbolism, aiming at concrete imagery and a clear unadorned style), she used traditional verse forms, expressing her modernism through a conversational style which eschewed the ornate rhetoric of many of her predecessors and the bombastic expressionism of her contemporaries. Her language though symbolic is simple and familiar, in which ordinary words, images, rhythms, and rhymes have an astonishing freshness. The later verse is stripped of all "literary" pretensions; the poet thus strove to evolve a style of direct and unencumbered statement of the poetic experience. Goldberg's tendency toward aesthetic intellectualism is modified by a lyrical delicacy. She refused to write ideological verse and unlike her contemporaries she rarely touched upon Jewish themes. Only in the aftermath of the Holocaust did she express her feelings in a Jewish framework (Mi-Beiti ha-Yashan, "From My Old Home," 1944). Universal in her approach, she wrote on childhood, nature, love (especially unfulfilled love), the quest for aesthetic expression, aging, and death. In her later years her central themes were resignation to the tragedy of existence and finding solace in the poetry unexpectedly discovered in ordinary phenomena. Among her outstanding poems are "Mi-Shirei ha-Naḥal" ("The Songs of the Stream," in Al ha-Periḥah, 1948) in which she employed natural symbols such as river, stone, tree, moon, and blade of grass to serve as a vehicle for the poetic presentation of aesthetic problems of the creative artists; "Be-Harei Yerushalayim" ("In the Hills of Jerusalem," in Barak ba-Boker, 1956), one of her best landscape poems, set in Jerusalem, the city in which she resided for many years; and "Ahavatah shel Teresa di Mon" ("The Love of Therese du Meun," in Barak ba-Boker), a series of sonnets purportedly written in the 17th century by an aging aristocrat on her un-confessed love for her children's young tutor.


An avid reader, Goldberg was at home in the literature of all the major European languages. She was most familiar with Russian literature and wrote Aḥdut ha-Adam ve-ha-Yekum bi-Yẓirat Tolstoy ("The Unity of World and Man in Tolstoy's Works," 1959), as well as a collection of essays on Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Turgenev, Herzen, and Chekhov entitled Ha-Sifrut ha-Rusit ba-Me'ah ha-Tesha-Esreh (1968). The latter was to have been part of a general history of the literature of the period, but she abandoned the project. Goldberg was also well versed in Italian literature and wrote an introduction to Dante's Divine Comedy (Mavo la-Komedyah ha-Elohit, mimeograph, 1958) and a preface to her translation of selected poems by Petrarch (1957). In Ḥamishah Perakim bi-Ysodot ha-Shirah ("Five Chapters in the Elements of Poetry," 1957), a more systematic attempt at studying the problems of poetry, she discusses poetic theory, meter, rhyme, and symbol. Each chapter begins with a close reading of a Hebrew poem which is used to illustrate the specific hypothesis she has posited. In contrast to her generalizations about poetry, which reflect accepted literary criteria, the interpretations of specific works show an original and creative poetic mind. The same can be said about her study Ommanut ha-Sippur ("The Art of the Short Story," 1963).

Children's Literature

Goldberg was one of Israel's most successful children's writers. She was able to enter the world of children, communicate with them, and establish a bond of friendship with all children not only through the written word but by live contact. She wrote about 20 works for children. A whole generation of Israelis grew up on her stories and poems (see *Children's Literature).

Prose Works

Mikhtavim mi-Nesi'ah Medummah ("Letters from an Imaginary Journey," 1937) and Ve-Hu ha-Or ("He Is the Light," 1946), the two major prose works of Goldberg, are mainly autobiographical. The latter is set in Lithuania and describes the struggle of a young and sensitive girl student for identity, despite insecurities rooted in a background of mental illness in her immediate family. The earlier work, Mikhtavim mi-Nesi'ah Medummah, hardly a novel because of its weak structure, refers to a later period in the author's life and gives an insight into her basically aristocratic view of the arts. The struggle between leftist politics and art is the theme of her single play Ba'alat ha-Armon ("Lady of the Manor," 1956) which is set in postwar Europe. The play (in English translation) was staged in New York but was not a critical success. Goldberg's diaries were published in 2005.


Among the many European classics that Goldberg translated into Hebrew are: Tolstoy's War and Peace (1958), Chekhov's Stories (1945), Gorki's Childhood (1943), several plays and poems by Shakespeare (1957), selected poems by Petrarch (1957), Ibsen's Peer Gynt (1958), and Aucassin et Nicolette (1966). Together with Shlonsky she edited an anthology of Russian poetry (1942). Goldberg started to paint in her later years and she illustrated several of her own books (Aucassin et Nicolette, for example).

Goldberg's poems have been translated into various languages. Poems in English translation are included in T. Carmi (ed.), The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981) as well as in The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (2003). Mikhtavim mi-Nesi'ah Medummah was translated into German (Briefe von einer imaginaeren Reise, 2003). For further English translations of her works, see Goell, Bibliography, index.


E. Spicehandler, in: Israel (Spring 1961), 61–80; G. Yardeni, Siḥot im Soferim (1961), 119–32; G. Shaked, in: Moznayim, 3 (1956) no. 3, 86–190; idem, in: Orot, 38 (Jan. 1960), 45–49; D. Sadan, in: Yerushalayim, Shenaton le-Divrei Sifrut ve-Ommanut (1970), 17–22; R. Alter, in: Commentary, 49, 5 (1970), 83–86. add. bibliography: R. Sherwin, "Two New Translations: The Poems of L Goldberg and D. Ravikovich as Good English Poems," in: Modern Hebrew Literature 3/1–2 (1977), 38–42; O. Baumgarten-Kuris, Emẓa'im Sifrutiyim be-Shiratah shel L. Goldberg (1979); T. Ruebner, L. Goldberg, Monografyah (1980); A.B. Jaffe, Pegishot'im L. Goldberg (1984); L. Hovav, Yesodot be-Shirat ha-Yeladim bire'i Yeẓiratah shel L. Goldberg (1986); H. Shoham, "Fichte und Landschaft: Ein romantisches und ein zionistisches Modell. Vergleichende Betrachtung eines Gedichtes von Heinrich Heine und Lea Goldberg," in: Conditio Judaica 1 (1988), 329–38; Y. Nave, Biblical Motifs Representing the "Lyrical Self" in the Works of Scholem Aleichem, N. Alterman, Lea Goldberg, Ariela Deem, Shulamit Har-Even (1987); A.B. Jaffe, Lea Goldberg: Tavei Demut li-Yeẓiratah (1994); A. Lieblich, El Lea (1995); S. Neumann, Mokedim ba-Lashon ha-Figurativit shel Shirat L. Goldberg (1996); N.R.S. Gold, "Rereading It Is the Light, L. Goldberg's Only Novel," in: Prooftexts 17/3 (1997), 245–59; M.E. Varela Moreno, "Hypotexts of Lea Goldberg's Sonnets," in: Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century 2 (1999), 236–43; R. Kartun-Blum and A. Weisman (eds.), Pegishot im Meshoreret: Masot u-Meḥkarim al Yeẓiratah shel L. Goldberg (2000); H. Barzel, Shirat Ereẓ Yisrael: Shlonsky, Alterman, Goldberg (2001); O. Yaglin, Ulai Mabat Aher: Klasiyut Modernit u-Modernizm be-Shirat L. Goldberg (2002).

[Ezra Spicehandler]