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On the Surface of Silence: 

The Last Poems of Lea Goldberg

2019 TLS-Risa Domb/Porjes Prize Finalist

On the Surface of Silence offers for the first time in English the final poems of Lea Goldberg, pre-eminent and central poet of modern Hebrew poetry. These extraordinary texts, composed in the last years and even last days of the poet's life and published posthumously after her untimely death, exhibit a level of lyrical distillation and formal boldness that mark them as distinctive in the poet's oeuvre. Often employing a fragment-like structure, where the unspoken is as present and forceful as the spoken, stripped of adornments and engaging the reader with an uncompromising, even disarming, directness, Goldberg's last poems enact and manifest a poetics of intrepid truth-telling. The play between revelation and concealment, the language precision and the unflinching end-of-life gaze transform these texts into powerfully moving, and often surprising, poems. The book itself, in the original format as masterfully edited by Tuvia Ruebner and with drawings by Goldberg herself interspersed among the poems, is a significant and beautiful artifact of modern Hebrew culture.

This bilingual edition, with translations by award-winning translator Rachel Tzvia Back, brings us poems from a singular poetic voice of the 20th century - poems which will enrich, reflect, and stir the reader's heart. 

“These late poems of Lea Goldberg have been beautifully translated by Rachel Tzvia Back. Goldberg, one of the finest Hebrew poets of the middle decades of the past century, here confronts the imminence of her own death and reflects on poetry, memory, and love with a stark and affecting simplicity. It is a gift to have these poems in English.”

—Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew & Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley.

“From the first works  in this gutsy and moving collection to the last two poems, written in the hospital a few days before she died just months short of her 59th birthday, Lea Goldberg— the legendary poet of aesthetic plenitude, master of the sonnet and the terza rima—strikes notes more clipped and blunt than ever before. As her deft and sensitive translator Rachel Tzvia Back cogently argues in her must-read introductory essay, Goldberg’s last poems mark a new poetic minimalism that is “unadorned, unelaborated, lucid, spare and precise.”  Paying homage to the mono-rhymed cadences of medieval Hebrew poetry in Andalusia, and to the pared-down, understated experiments of first-wave Hebrew modernists (David Fogel, Esther Raab, Rahel), Lea Goldberg’s haunting last poems are, as Erich Auerbach said of biblical narrative, 'fraught with background,' their taut surface resonating in the rich echo-chamber of textual history.  With Back’s luminous translations and vital introduction and annotation, Goldberg’s masterful 'whole fragments' can at long last be appreciated by an English readership.“

—Chana Kronfeld, Professor of Hebrew, Yiddish and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley


“Lea Goldberg, trilingual multiple exile from Lithuania, immigrated to Palestine in 1935, and died in 1969 at fifty-eight, one of the first recognized modern poets in Hebrew. Her last work, breaking into a “fragmentary” form reminiscent of Oppen and Jabès, breaks also with other certitudes, claiming sisterhood with Antigone and Hagar, longing, as Jewish, Muslim, and Christian poets have, for the polyglot and many-voiced exchanges of al-Andalus.  Rachel Tzvia Back’s translations and preface lead a reader to the wellspring of this work.”

—Marilyn Hacker, winner of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, the Robert Fagles Translation Prize, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry.

Read reviews in Moment herein Jewish Review of Books here,

and in World Literature Today here

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