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Gouri, Haim


GOURI, HAIM (1923– ), Hebrew poet and novelist. Born in Tel Aviv, Gouri served in the *Palmaḥ from 1942 to 1947. He was sent on various missions by the Haganah to the displaced persons (dp) camps in Europe after World War ii and was an officer in the Israeli forces during the War of Independence. From 1954, he wrote a weekly column in the daily La-Merḥav.

His first poems were light verses which appeared in various publications of the Palmah, and in 1943 he began to publish in literary magazines. Pirḥei Esh ("Flowers of Fire," 1949) was his first collection of poems. He published further volumes of poetry, as well as works of reportage, and a novel. He also translated French poetry and drama into Hebrew.

His early poetry, influenced by Natan Alterman, portrays a young boy's reactions to the newly discovered wonders of the world. Depicting mostly concrete situations where God, death, and time become tangible realities, most of these poems are void of abstractions. In Pirḥei Esh and Ad Alot ha-Shaḥar ("Till Dawn Breaks," 1950), the young maturing boy, in his first encounter with the adult world, assimilates the collective experiences of the Palmah fighters, confronted by war and death, into an intimate personal experience. Shirei Ḥotam (1954) is marked by the poet's attempt to cling to the memory of distant experiences; he wishes to relive them, but, at the same time, emphasizes the gap existing between the original experience and life as now lived by his generation. His poetry became more cerebral; the early concrete grasp of reality was replaced by abstract expressions and conceptualizations.

Shoshannat ha-Ruhot ("The Wind Rose," 1960) portrays Gouri's poignant awareness of the sharp contrast between his lost world, alive only in memories – recalled through symbols and emotions which are rooted in the poet's strong ties to his homeland, in a collective responsibility, and in the demands of the times made on the individual – and the present in which the poet sees his homeland as an alien land. He is torn between two extremes: the desire to escape his past, to live anonymously in an "alien" land and cast off his heavy burdens; and his regret at his own alienation and isolation. The past, from which the poet finds no escape, is also revealed in the clear relation between these later poems and Gouri's early work. The early language patterns, imparting a new meaning, recur; these combine with the poet's longing to convert every visual phenomenon and inner mood into a lofty aesthetic experience.

Gouri's novel Iskat ha-Shokolad (1965; The Chocolate Deal, 1968) presents the Holocaust through the experience of its two heroes, whose physical survival and well-being belie their psychological deformity. The author, using allusive dialogue, interior monologue, and symbolic references, creates a mood where the dividing line between the real and the imagined, the believable and the unbelievable, becomes blurred, the whole melting into a painful reality. Another work, Mul Ta ha-Zekhukhit (1962; French La cage de verre, 1964), is a chronicle of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem.

Two major books published after the Six-Day War were Dappim Yerushalmiyyim ("Jerusalem Pages," 1968), a miscellany, and Tenu'ah le-Magga ("Seek and Destroy," 1968), a collection of poems. The most important work in Dappim Yerushalmiyyim is a diary in which the author records his experiences as company commander of the Jerusalem brigade faced with the taking of Ammunition Hill, one of the strongest fortifications of Jerusalem. The work also includes feuilletons and sketches written before the war. The mood is strongly nationalistic. Tenu'ah le-Magga is a variation of the earlier theme, but the anguish of nostalgia for the past is relieved by a new element: personal youthful memories now search out the national collective reservoir on which the poet draws through his knowledge of the Bible. For the first time, biblical figures such as Joseph and his brothers Samson, Absalom, and Amos appear in his poetry, drawn intimately, as if they had risen out of the poet's childhood world. The experience in Tenu'ah le-Magga, reminiscent of Pirḥei Esh, is the poet's rediscovery, at a higher level, of his identification with the collective experience of his nation, meeting it for the first time on the ancient battlefields in the Bible. Gouri was awarded the Bialik Prize (1974) and the Israel Prize (1988) for literature. Other books of poems include Marot Geḥazi (1973), Ad Kav Nesher (1980), Milim be-Dami Ḥoleh Ahavah (1996; translated into English as Words in My Lovesick Blood, 1996). His later prose works include Sefer ha-Meshugah (1971), Mi Makkir et Yosef G. – (1980), and Ha-Ḥakirah (1981). Gouri has written and produced two movies related to Holocaust themes, The Eighty-first Blow (1974), on the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and The Last Sea (1978), on illegal immigration to Palestine. His poems, Ha-Shirim, appeared in two volumes in 1998. Later poems appeared as Me'uḥarim (2002). Poems by Gouri have been translated into a number of languages and are included, for instance, in T. Carmi (ed.), The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (1981) as well as in The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (2003). A list of English translations of his work appears in Goell, Bibliography, 826–48.


A. Huss, in: Gazit, 11 (1949), 63–5; S. Halkin, in: Beḥinot be-Vikkoret ha-Sifrut…, 1 (1952), 6–25; M. Brinker, in: Massa, 4 (1954); Ḥ. Bar-Yosef, in: Eked, 1 (1960/61), 136–8; G. Katznelson, in: Moznayim, 12 (1961), 277–81; G. Yardeni, Tet Zayin Siḥot im Soferim (1961), 167–81; A. Ukhmani, Kolot Adam (1967), 137–52. add. bibliography: S. Kramer, "Ha-Meshorer ki-Ne'aro shel Navi," in: Moznayim, 39 (1975), 393–99; Y. Orian, in: Yedioth Aharonoth (Mar. 13, 1981); M. Wilf, in: Al ha-Mishmar (May 15, 1981); W.J. Urbrock, "Sisera's Mother in Judges 5 and H. Gouri's 'Immo,'" in: Hebrew Annual Review, 11 (1987), 423–34; Z. Shamir, "Dor ha-Ma'avak le-Aẓma'ut u-Meshorero H. Gouri," in: Iton 77, 100 (1988) 120–24; W.J. Urbrock, "Guarding the Walls in Psalm 48 and H. Gouri's 'Nidmeh li,'" in: Hebrew Annual Review, 13 (1991), 107–17; H. Shaham, Hedim shel Niggun: Shirat Dor ha-Palmaḥ be-Zikatah le-Shirat Alterman (1997); R. Weisbrod, "H.G. Shoshanat ha-Ruḥot," in: Meḥkarei Yerushalayim be-Sifrut Ivrit,16 (1997), 157–82; R. Shoham, "From the Naïve to the Nostalgic in the Poetry of H. Gouri," in: Prooftexts, 18/1 (1998), 19–43; R. Shoham, "H. Gouri and 'The Jewish People Who Have Been Seriously Injured,'" in: ajs Review, 24/1 (1999), 73–100; A. Hirschfeld, "Al Shirshel H. Gouri," in: Meshiv ha-Ruaḥ, 9 (2001), 34–37.

[Matti Megged]

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