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Filled with vivid, often dreamlike pictures from the natural world, the poems of Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky, known to her Hebrew readers simply as Zelda, are unlike anything else in Hebrew literature. Zelda was the daughter and granddaughter of prominent Hasidic rabbis from the Habad dynasty. Born in Russia in 1914, she immigrated to Palestine in 1926, studied in religious girls' schools, and became a schoolteacher. She began writing her imagistic, mystical-religious poetry early in life. When her first book was published, in 1967, it was an overwhelming critical and popular success, appealing to the diverse (and predominantly secular) Israeli public. Five more volumes followed, winning the poet numerous literary awards, including the prestigious Bialik and Brenner prizes.
Although she lived her entire life within the strictures of ultra-Orthodoxy, Zelda's many admirers came from all corners of Israeli society. As the popularity of her poetry grew, visitors flocked to her doorstep; her photograph appeared often in the newspapers; the words of her poems were set to music and sung. Reserved and daunted by publicity, she was an unlikely candidate for Israeli folk hero; nevertheless, she became a national phenomenon. She died in Jerusalem in 1984, and a posthumous volume of her collected verse was published in Hebrew in 1985. The Spectacular Difference is the first full-length book of her poems to appear in English translation.
A close friend and frequent guest in Zelda's home, Marcia Falk was authorized by the poet to be her translator and worked on these translations over the course of three decades. Selected from all six of Zelda's books, the poems are accompanied by the translator's essay introducing the poet and illuminating the highly personal and often startling images in her lyrics. Notes at the back of the book offer a comprehensive guide to Zelda's many references to Jewish sources.
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From 1967, which marked the publication of her first book of poems, until her death in 1984, the modest and soft-spoken woman known to her Hebrew readers simply as Zelda received an extraordinary amount of public attention. Her six books of verse were honored by Israel’s most prestigious literary awards and have remained bestsellers beyond the poet’s lifetime. Marcia Falk, a well-known poet in her own right, was a good friend of Zelda’s and a frequent visitor to her Jerusalem home. Fulfilling a promise she made long ago to her friend, Falk presents here the first major compilation of Zelda’s poetry in English translation.
A devoutly religious Jew descended from the line of prominent Hasidic rabbis, Zelda Schneaurson Mishkovsky inhabited the world of ultra-Orthodoxy her entire life. Her utterly unique poetry, which draws abundantly from classical Jewish texts, portrays at the same time a world of personal mystical imagery—the "strange plant," "enchanted bird," "black rose," "golden butterfly." Marcia Falk’s sensitive translations, lucid introduction, and comprehensive notes to the poems reveal the power of Zelda’s poetry to create out of primitive inner experience strikingly original pictures that reach beyond the borders of tradition to redeem pain and celebrate life.About the Author:
Marcia Falk is the author of The Book of Blessings, a widely-acclaimed translation of The Song of Songs, a volume of translations of Malka Heifetz Tussman's Yiddish With Teeth in the Earth, and two books of her own poetry, This Year in Jerusalem and It is July in Virginia, which won the Claytor Award of the Poetry Society of America. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Stanford and was a professor of Hebrew and English literature and creative writing for two decades. She now lectures widely on feminist Judaism, Jewish women's literature, and other subjects.
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