Biography

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Babette Deutsch was born in New York on September 22, 1895, and lived there most of her life. She graduated from Barnard College with a bachelor's degree in 1917, and published her first volume of poetry, Banners, in 1919, beginning a literary career that continued for more than half a century. In 1921, she married Avraham Yarmolinsky, a scholar of European literature. She collaborated with Yarmolinsky on translations and anthologies of Russian and German authors. Their partnership started with a translation of Alexander Blok's The Twelve in 1920, and continued with two anthologies, Modem Russian Poetry (1921) and Contemporary German Poetry (1923), and a translation of K. Chukovsky's Crocodile (1931). At the same time, Deutsch was establishing a reputation as a poet, publishing Honey Out of the Rock (1925), Fire for the Night (1930), and Epistle for Prometheus (1930). During the 1930s she worked as a critic and an editor, and in 1933 she became a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York City. Her poetry was neither experimental nor accomplished enough to elevate her into the first rank of American poets, but the professional qualities of her work were universally admired, moving Marianne Moore to note the "depth, range, straightness" that contributed to her "commanding stature as a poet." In addition to her poetry, Deutsch's studies Potable Gold: Some Notes on Poetry and This Age (1929) and This Modem Poetry (1935) established her as a widely respected critic. The novels A Brittle Heaven (1926), In Such a Night (1927), and Mask of Silenus: A Novel about Socrates (1933) demonstrated her ability to write in a variety of literary forms.

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Deutsch continued to collaborate with Yarmolinsky during the 1930s, assisting him in editing a 1936 edition of Alexander Pushkin's works. As World War II drew closer, public interest about other nations was growing in the United States, spurring her to write her first book for young people, a version of the Finnish national saga called Heroes of the Kalevala. Her wide knowledge of poetry provided the background for a book on Walt Whitman for young readers.

Deutsch translated Rainer Maria Rilke's Poems from the Book of Hours in 1941, and became a lecturer on poetry at Columbia University in 1944, a position she held until 1971. She and Yarmolinsky translated Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1943) and collaborated on an edition of Shakespeare, The Reader's Shakespeare, designed for young readers. During the 1950s, she and Yarmolinsky adapted a collection of folktales called Tales of Faraway Folk (1952), which was followed by a similar collection for young people in 1963. She was an honorary consultant at the Library of Congress from 1960 to 1966, and served in several national literary organizations during the 1960s. Her Coming of Age: New and Selected Poems (1959) was combined in some reviews with Robert Lowell's Life Studies, an indication of how seriously her work was taken. When she published her Collected Poems: 1919-1962 (1963), critical response suggested that her work was an important, if not major, element in the American poetic tradition. The final volume of her work, The Collected Poems of Babette Deutsch, was published in 1969, shortly after her single volume of poems for younger readers, I Often Wish. She died in New York on November 13, 1982, seven years after the death of her husband.

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Critical Essays