Rachel Bluwstein

Rachel Bluwstein Sela (September 20, 1890 - April 16, 1931) was a Hebrew lyric poet who immigrated to Palestine in 1909. She is known by her first name, Rachel, (רחל) or as Rachel the poetess (רחל המשוררת). In English, her name is sometimes transcribed as Ra'hel or Rahel.


Rachel was born in Saratov in Russia in September 20, 1890, the eleventh daughter of Isser-Leib and Sophia Bluwstein, and granddaughter of the rabbi of the Jewish community in Kiev. During her childhood, her family moved to Poltava,Ukraine, where she attended a Russian-speaking Jewish school and, later, a secular high school. She began writing poetry at the age of 15. When she was 17, she moved to Kiev and began studying painting.

At the age of 19, Rachel visited Eretz-Israel (the Ottoman province of Southern Syria, known as "Palestine" in the West) with her sister. The two were en route to Italy, where they were to study art and philosophy, but decided to make Aliyah and stay with the small Jewish settlement in the Palestine. They settled in Rehovot and worked in its orchards; during this time, Rachel learned to speak Hebrew.

Rachel later moved to Kvutzat Kinneret, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where she studied and worked in a women's agricultural school. At Kinneret, she met Zionist leader A. D. Gordon who was to be a great influence on her life, and to whom she dedicated her first Hebrew poem. During this time, she also met and had a romantic relationship with Zalman Rubshov - object of many of her love poems - who later became known as Zalman Shazar and was the third president of Israel.

In 1913, on the advice of A. D. Gordon, she journeyed to Toulouse, France to study agronomy and drawing. When World War I broke out, unable to return to Palestine, she returned instead to Russia where she taught Jewish refugee children. It may have been at this point in her life that she contracted tuberculosis.

After the end of the war in 1919 she returned to Palestine on board the ship Ruslan and for a while joined the small agricultural kibbutz Degania, a settlement neighboring her previous home at Kinneret. However, shortly after her arrival she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, then an incurable disease. Now unable to work with children for fear of contagion, she was expelled from Degania and left to fend for herself. She spent the rest of her life traveling and living in Tel-Aviv, and finally settled in a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Gedera.

Rachel died on April 16, 1931, at the age of 41. She is buried in the Kinneret cemetery in a grave overlooking the Sea of Galilee, following her wishes as expressed in her poem If Fate Decrees. Alongside her are buried many of the socialist ideologues and pioneers of the second and third waves of immigration. In recent years, poetess Naomi Shemer's was buried near Rachel, according to Shemer's wish.


Rachel began writing in Russian as a youth, but the majority of her work was written in Hebrew. Most of her poems were published on a weekly basis in the Hebrew newspaper Davar, and quickly became popular with the Jewish community in the Palestine and later, in the State of Israel.

The majority of her poetry is set in the pastoral countryside of Eretz-Israel. Many of her poems echo her feelings of longing and loss, a result of her inability to realize her aspirations in life. In several poems she mourns the fact that she will never have a child of her own. Lyrical, exceedingly musical and characterized by its simple language and deep feeling, her poetry deals with fate, her own difficult life, and death. Her love poems emphasize the feelings of loneliness, distance, and longing for the beloved; her lighter poetry is ironic, often comic. Her writing was influenced by French imagism, Biblical stories, and the literature of the Second Aliyah pioneers.

Rachel also wrote a one-act comic play Mental Satisfaction, which was performed but not published in her lifetime. This ironic vignette of pioneer life was recently rediscovered and published in a literary journal.


Anthologies of Rachel's poetry remain bestsellers to this day. Many of her poems were set to music, both during her lifetime and afterwards, and are widely sung by Israeli singers. Her poems are included in the mandatory curriculum in Israeli schools. A selection of her poetry was translated to English and published under the title Flowers of Perhaps: Selected Poems of Rahel, by the London publisher Menard.

In his foreword to the 1994 edition of Flowers of Perhaps, the acclaimed Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai stated: "What may be most remarkable about the poetry of Ra'hel, a superb lyric poet, is that it has remained fresh in its simplicity and inspiration for more than seventy years."


Poetry Books Published in Hebrew

  • Aftergrowth, Davar, 1927 (Safiah, ספיח)
  • Across From, Davar, 1930 (Mineged, מנגד)
  • Nevo, Davar, 1932 (Nevo, נבו)

Later Compilations and Editions in Hebrew

  • Poems, Davar, 1935 (Shirat Rachel, שירת רחל)
  • Inside and Outside Home (children), Sifriat Poalim, 1974 (Ba-Bayit U Ba-Hutz, בבית ובחוץ)
  • As Rachel Waited, Tamuz, 1982 [Ke-Hakot Rachel, כחכות רחל]
  • Poems, Letters, Writings, Dvir, 1985 (Shirim, Michtavim, Reshimot, שירים, מכתבים, רשימות)
  • In My Garden, Tamuz, 1985 (Be-Gani Neta`aticha, בגני נטעתיך)
  • Will You Hear My Voice, Bar, 1986 (Ha-Tishmah Koli, התשמע קולי)
  • Rachel's Poems, Sridot, 1997 (Shirei Rahel, שירי רחל)

Books in Translation

  • English: Flowers of Perhaps: Selected Poems of Rahel London, Menard, 1995, ISBN 1-874320-02-0
  • German: Berlin, Hechalutz, 1936; Tel Aviv, Davar, 1970
  • Spanish: Barcelona, Riopiedras, 1985
  • Yiddish: Winnipeg, WIZO U.S.A. and Canada, 1932
  • Buenos Aires, Kium Farlag, 1957

Individual poems have been published in Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, Frisian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak, Spanish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Welsh, and Yiddish.


External links

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