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Passover Poetry: Giving Miriam her song

In recent years, Miriam has become regular presence at the Passover table.  For some she is there in the form of Miriam’s cup, a ritual addition to the Passover Seder created by Jewish feminists. For others, she is invoked through Debbie Friedman’s joyous song, an occasion, at many seders, for women to sing and dance, continuing or reexperiencing the celebration of freedom, led by Miriam, upon crossing the Red Sea.   

Like the record of so much of women’s experience, we have only a fragment of Miriam’s song, a song that could well have been as elaborate as Moses’ song, recorded in the nineteen verses (Exodus 1-19) that precede the brief summary of Miriam’s song (Exodus 21).

In her poem, “Miriam: The Red Sea,” Muriel Rukeyser gives Miriam the song that the Biblical text denies her and imagines how her experience differed from her brother’s.

Miriam: The Red Sea

High above shores and times,
I on the shore
forever and ever.
Moses my brother
has crossed over
to milk, honey,
that holy land.
Building Jerusalem.
I sing forever
on the seashore.
I do remember
horseman and horses,
waves of passage
poured into war,
all poured into journey.
My unseen brothers
have gone over;
chariots
deep seas under.
I alone stand here
ankle-deep
and I sing, I sing,
until the lands
sing to each other.

© Muriel Rukeyser, from “Searching/Not Searching,” in Breaking Open (New York: Random House, 1973). 

Embracing her own mythic qualities, Rukeyser’s Miriam stands “high above shores and times”  but at the same time she is grounded, “rooted on the shore.” 

Like the Biblical Rachel who from her spot at the crossroads continuously weeps for her exiled children, Miriam, from her spot on the shore, sees herself as singing “forever.” 

Miriam’s song, like that of her brother, began as a song of war, “of horsemen and horses” and of “chariots deep seas under.”  Having sung triumphantly of the Israelite victory over the Egyptians, Moses moves on to the business of building a separate nation in the land of “milk and honey.”  Miriam, on the other hand, takes the road less traveled, embracing her identity as poet whose song may lead to a time when “lands sing to each other. “

2012 National Poetry Month Logo
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2012 National Poetry Month Logo

How to cite this page

Reimer, Gail. "Passover Poetry: Giving Miriam her song." 4 April 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/passover-poetry-giving-miriam-her-song>.

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