A person who devotes herself completely to literary creation is often a naked person.
Dahlia Ravikovitch’s poem ‘A Dress of Fire’, like the root of the word ‘article of clothing’ in the original Hebrew, beged, connects, in a manner foreign to most languages, two basic concepts of the Hebrew language and of human culture: beged: a piece of clothing that covers the body, hides its nakedness and prevents others from seeing one’s private parts – the naked truth; and bgida (from the same root, but meaning betrayal), a ticking bomb wrapped like a candy box, a Trojan horse meant for one person only, its goal revenge, to triumph over that person.
Within these ancient Hebrew concepts, Ravikovitch intertwines both the Greek tragedy of Medea and the personal story of Dahlia Ravikovitch – the beloved poet, once a child with exposed nerves, sickened by perfume, the scent of betrayal. The primal need to be on guard, foreign to people who are not capable of suspicion, especially of those closest to them, appears in her poem as difficult to learn, for personal experience distracts one from the dangers hidden in parents and close friends (“I know, I said, but not about being careful.”) One’s attention is diverted to the temptations of beauty and sensuality, to the aesthetics of the words that betray, to everything that is real and at the same time completely cut off from reality (“One whiff of that perfume and I’m all confused.”)
Those who are in principle willing to trust anyone – who don’t suspect, or fear, or know how to be careful – will in any case find it difficult to distrust even those who plan to harm them, difficult to believe in Greek tragedies or to learn lessons from the bitter experiences of the past. Ravikovitch’s poem is an excellent guide to the soul of many of her people in the past and the present, to the fate of those who went as sheep to slaughter, and the way of those who were and are slaughtered in their private lives. But ‘A Dress of Fire’ also makes a universal statement about the personal destiny of the poet and about the poet’s sources. One who is captivated by poetry and not aware of the dangers posed, a person who devotes herself completely to literary creation is often a naked person, without any clothes. No poetic mask will hide the nakedness or the burning. This kind of person is no doubt a victim of the circumstances of his or her life. Nonetheless, this fire, of the person who creates, who is miserable yet continues to create despite a wounded heart and the prevalence of injustice, is the essence of life breathing in Ravikovitch’s poetry, a magic potion generously granting wisdom and consolation to its readers. Sharing the depths of private pain with others is the furthest thing from a betrayal that one can think of.