“This Poem is a Token of Love”: Expressions of Relationships in the Poetry of Rachel Morpurgo
Keywords:Rachel Morpurgo, Hebrew poetry, Nineteenth Century, Poems for Special Occasions
When relating mockingly to the first modern Hebrew woman poet Rachel Morpurgo (1790-1870), Dan Miron describes her as a “respectable mother of a family.” He furthermore defines her poetry as superficial rhymes written for family and friends, in between a dense social calendar. Miron thus portrays a poet whose mediocre and superficial poetry (“rhymes”) was “only” occasional and worthless, serving purely social purposes. This paper will propose a different way to evaluate Morpurgo’s “rhymes written for family and friends.” Despite being a wife, a housewife, a mother of four children, and related to two of the most respectable families of Jewish Trieste (Luzzatto and Morpurgo), Rachel Morpurgo was a very lonely woman, as she hints in some of her poetry and letters. Her loneliness, I suggest, stemmed from two sources. First, from being estranged from her husband and her sons, who did not appreciate either her intellectual needs or her poetry. Second, from the problematic situation of a learned woman within a 19th-century conservative Jewish society, she was estranged from both most other women (who did not have her education) as well as from most men who did not regard her as equal. One way to overcome this loneliness, I argue, was to express her emotions by writing poems addressed to specific individuals, usually to mark special occasions. These poems allowed her to articulate her love, friendship, or appreciation, as well as to converse with her addressee and create the valuable relationship she was missing. The main part of this article will demonstrate this function of her Poems for Special Occasions. The discussion will include three poems that reveal her love and friendship for three women (two cousins named Rachel, and an acquaintance, Flora Randenger), as well as for three men—her cousin Shmuel David Luzzatto, her husband (prior to their marriage), and her friend Yoseph Almanzi.