MEYLEKH RAVITSH (MELECH RAVITCH) (November 27, 1893-August 23, 1976)
He was a poet, literary essayist, and portraitist, born in Redim (Radymno), Galicia. His original name was Zkharye-Khone Bergner, son of Hinde Bergner and brother of Herts Bergner. He received a general education with private tutors, and he studied at a commercial school in Stanislav (1908-1909). He worked as a bank employee (1910-1912) in Lemberg and later in Vienna (until 1921). He served in the Austrian army in WWI. Over the years 1921-1934, he lived in Warsaw. For three years he worked for Tsisho (Jewish School Organization), later as secretary for the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists and accomplished much on behalf of Jewish writers. He was one of main founders of the Yiddish Pen Club. Over the years 1931-1935, he made trips through a number of countries in Europe, South Africa, Australia, America, and the Far East. He lived in Melbourne (1936-1938), Buenos Aires (1939-1940), New York, and Mexico City. From there he moved to Montreal and until 1950 worked in the local Jewish People’s Library. He spent 1954-1956 in Israel, before returning to Montreal. He debuted in print with lyrical poems in Der yudisher arbayter (The Jewish worker) in Lemberg (1910). He went on to publish poems in: Folks fraynd (Friend of the people) in Sanok (1910), Lemberger tageblat (Lemberg daily newspaper), Moyshe Prostik’s Yudishe kalendarn (Jewish calendars), Gershom Bader’s Folks-kalendarn (People’s calendars) in Galicia; Viner morgenpost (Vienna morning mail) (1917), Kritik (Criticism) in Vienna (1920-1921), Ringen (Links), Kultur (Culture), Albastros (Albatross), Sambatyon (Sambation), and Khalyastre (Gang) in Warsaw. From the early 1920s, he contributed poetry, stories, essays on Jewish cultural issues, critiques of books, portraits of Yiddish writers, and translations in a great part of the Yiddish press and periodicals throughout the world: Shriftn (Writings), In zikh (Introspective), Tsukunft (Future), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Afn shvel (On the threshold), Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor), Opatoshu and Leivick’s Zamlbikher (Collections), Svive (Environs), Forverts (Forward)—from 1928 he wrote for it a series of articles on Polish literature and a large portion of his travel narratives—all in New York; Di goldene keyt (The golden chain), Heymish (Familiar), and Letste nayes (Latest news) for which he was a regular contributor—all in Tel Aviv; Davke (Necessarily), Di prese (The press) for which he was a regular contributor, and Der shpigel (The mirror)—in Buenos Aires; Kiem (Existence) and Unzer vort (Our word) in Paris; and Renasans (Renaissance), Di tsayt (The times), and Idishe shtime (Jewish voice) in London; among other serials. In addition, he wrote a great deal for periodicals he edited or co-edited: the monthly Di vog (The balance) in 1922 (3 issues); Varshever almanakh (Warsaw almanac) in 1923, with Hillel Tsaytlin and Zusman Segalovitsh; Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves), cofounder and co-editor from 1924; Varshever shriftn (Warsaw writings) of 1926-1927, with Arn Tsaytlin, Yitskhok Shiper, Moyshe Zilburg, and Shiye Perle; and the literature page of Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) from June 1927 until late 1933—all in Warsaw. Also: Ershter oyshtralisher yidisher almanakh (First Australian Jewish almanac) in Melbourne (1937); Der veg (The way) in Mexico City (May 1940-April 1941), the weekly literary supplement with Yankev Glants; Der kontinent (The continent) in Mexico City (1941), with L. Rozenberg; Perets hirshbeyn-bukh (Volume for Perets Hirshbeyn) (New York, 1941); Keneder odler (Canadian eagle) in Montreal, the weekly literary supplement, with Y. Y. Sigal (1943-1949) and for many years a regular contributor; Hundert yor sholem-aleykhem (A century of Sholem-Aleichem) (Paris, 1959); Yitskhok-nakhmen shteynberg ondenk-bukh (Remembrance volume for Yitskhok-Nakhmen Shteynberg) (New York, 1961), including several pieces of his own; Seyfer zerubavl (Volume for Zerubavl) (Tel Aviv, 1961); Yoysef rolnik-bukh (Volume for Joseph Rolnick) (Buenos Aires, 1961); Lezikorn lipe lehrer (In memory of Lipe Lehrer) (New York, 1963); Dos amolike yidishe varshe (Jewish Warsaw in the past) (Montreal, 1966); and Medem sanatorye (Medem Sanatorium) (Tel Aviv, 1971). He published longer essays in: Arbeter-luekh (Workers’ calendar) (Warsaw, 1923); Pinkes (Records) in New York 1 (1965) on Canadian Yiddish writers; and Pinkes 2 (1972) on three Yiddish poets in Warsaw; and other publications as well. He collected: Toyt-tsiklus (Death cycle) (Vienna-Warsaw, 1921). He translated: Leonhard Frank’s Di sibe, dertseylung (The cause, a story [original: Die Ursache: Erzählung]) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1924), 115 pp., published earlier in Folkstsaytung; Franz Kafka’s novel Der protses (The trial [original: Der Process]) (New York, 1966), 234 pp.; poems from the German (Richard Dehmel and Karl Brecher), from Polish (Maria Konopnicka), from Russian (M. Garaditsky), and from Ukrainian. Together with his brothers, Moyshe Harari and Herts Bergner, they published their mother Hinde Bergner’s volume of memoirs entitled In di lange vinternakht, mishpokhe-zikhroynes fun a shtetl in galitsye, 1870-1900 (In the long winter nights, family memoirs from a town in Galicia, 1870-1900) (Montreal, 1946), 102 pp. His work also appeared in a series of anthologies and collections: Amol in a yoyvl (Once in a blue moon) (Warsaw, 1929); Naygreshl and Shindler, Kleyn antologye fun der yidisher lirik in galitsye, 1897-1935 (A short anthology of the Yiddish lyric in Galicia, 1897-1935) (Vienna: A. B. Tserata, 1936); Y. Kisin, Lider fun der milkhome, antologye (Poetry from the war, anthology) (New York: Biblyotek fun poezye un eseyen, 1943); Antologye lekoved 25 yor di prese (Anthology in honor of twenty-five years of Di prese [The press]) (Buenos Aires, 1944); Shmuel Niger, Kidesh hashem, a zamlung geklibene, oft gekritste barikhtn, briv, khronikes, tsavoes, oyfshriftn, legendes, lider, dertseylungen, dramatishe stsenes, eseyen, vos moln oys mesires-nefesh in undzere un oykh in frierdike tsaytn (Sanctification of the name, an anthology selected, often abridged report, letters, chronicles, wills, inscriptions, legends, poems, stories, dramatic scenes, essays, which depict martyrdom in our present and earlier times) (New York: Tsiko, 1947); Leyb Faynberg, Evreiskaia poeziia, antologiia (Anthology of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1947); Shimshon Meltser, Al naharot, tisha maḥazore shira misifrut yidish (By the rivers, nine cycles of poetry from Yiddish literature) (Jerusalem, 1956); Mortkhe Yofe, Erets-yisroel in der yidisher literatur (Israel in Yiddish literature) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1961); Kadia Molodowsky, Lider fun khurbn, t”sh-tsh”h (Poetry from the Holocaust, 1939-1945) (Tel Aviv, 1962); Moshe Basok, Mivḥar shirat yidish (Selection of Yiddish poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963); Gedenkbukh galitsye (Memory volume for Galicia) (Buenos Aires, 1964); Antologye fun der yidisher literatur far yugnt (Anthology of Yiddish literature for young people) (New York, 1969); Yoysef Papyernikov, Yerusholaim in yidishn lid, antologye (Jerusalem in Yiddish poetry, anthology) (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1973); S. J. Imber, Modern Yiddish Poetry: An Anthology, an anthology of Yiddish poetry in English (New York, 1927); Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock (London, 1939, 1961); Sarah Betsky-Zweig, Onions and Cucumbers and Plums: 46 Yiddish Poems in English (Detroit, 1958); An Anthology of Modern Yiddish Poetry (New York, 1966); Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (New York, 1969); Joseph Leftwich, The Way We Think: A Collection of Essays from the Yiddish (New York, 1969); Charles Dobzynski, Anthologie de la poésie Yiddish, le miroir d’un people (Anthology of Yiddish poetry, the mirror of a people) (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); and Hubert Witt, Der Fiedler vom Getto: Jiddische Dichtung aus Polen (The fiddler of the ghetto, Yiddish poetry from Poland) (Leipzig, 1966, 1978). He received the literary prizes named for: Louis Lamed (1955), Tsvi Kessel (1962), N. Khanin (1964), Shmuel Niger (1966), H. Leivick (1967), and Y. Y. Sigal (1972).
His own work includes: Af der shvel, yugend poezyes (At the threshold, youth poetry) (Lemberg: Sh. Levin, 1912), 64 pp.; Ruinengroz (Rough grass), poetry (Vienna, 1917), 84 pp.; Shpinoza, poetishe pruv in fir tsiklen (Spinoza, a poetic effort in four cycles) (Vienna, 1919), 70 pp., enlarged edition (Vienna, 1921), 82 pp.; Sh. sh. frug, a skitse fun zayn leben un shafn (Sh[imen] Sh[muel] Frug, a sketch of his life and work) (Vienna: Der kval, 1920), 48 pp.; Nakete lider (Naked poems) (Vienna: Der kval, 1921), 186 pp.; Der kern fun ale mayne lider (The principal of all my poems) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1922), 168 pp.; Prehistorishe landshaftn (Prehistoric landscapes), poetry (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1924), 56 pp.; Blut af der fon, sotsyale drame (Blood on the banner, a social drama), eleven scenes (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1929), 154 pp.; Di fir zaytn fun mayn velt (The four sides of my world), poems (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1929), 128 pp.; Vayb un man, dray familyen drames (Wife and husband, three family dramas) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1931), 260 pp.; Kontinentn un okeanen, lider, balades un poemes (Continents and oceans, poetry and ballads) (Warsaw: Literarishe bleter, 1937), 356 pp.; Iber oystralye (Over Australia) (Warsaw: Kinder fraynd, 1937), 112 pp.; Lider un baladn fun di letste dray-fir yor (Poems and ballads from the last three or four years) (Mexico City: Der veg, 1940), 120 pp.; Mayn leksikon (My lexicon), portraits of Yiddish poets, storytellers, playwrights, journalists, and others (Montreal, 1945-1958), 3 vols. (vol. 4 was prepared to be published); Vegn antshlisn in a seyfer hasforim di yidishe makhshove un mayse fun di letste 2000 yorn (Deciding on a book of books on Jewish thought and deed of the last 2000 years) (Buenos Aires: Dovid Lerman, 1948), 30 pp.; Eynems yidishe makhshoves in tsvantsikstn yorhundert, eseyen (On Jewish thought in the twentieth century, essays) (Buenos Aires: Dovid Lerman, 1949), 204 pp.—a work which aroused a sharp divergence of viewpoints in the Jewish world; Di kroynung fun a yungn yidishn dikhter in amerike, poeme (The crowning of a young Yiddish poet in America, a poem) (New York: Dovid Ignatov Fund, 1953), 72 pp.; Di lider fun mayne lider, a kinus, oyfgeḳlibn fun draytsn zamlungen, 1909-1954 (Poems of my poems, a collection, selected from thirteen collections, 1909-1954) (Montreal: Bukh-komitet, 1954), 448 pp.; Dos mayse-bukh fun mayn lebn (The storybook of my life) (Montreal-Tel Aviv, 1962-1975), 3 vols.; Lirishe, satirishe, natsyonale, sotsyale un filozofishe lider (Lyrical, satirical, ethnic, social, and philosophical poems) (Buenos Aires: Dovid Lerman, 1967), 165 pp.; Iker shokhakhti, lider un poemes fun di yorn 1954-1969 (Post-script, poems from the years 1954-1969) (Montreal: Bukh-komitet, 1969), 179 pp. In Hebrew: Ḥamishim shirim (Fifty poems), translated by E. D. Shapir (Tel Aviv, 1969), 159 pp. Several pamphlets of his: Gegen dem kritik dovid aynhorn (Against the critic Dovid Aynhorn), for criticizing Ravitsh’s Shpinoza (Vienna, 1921), 16 pp.; Pro perets markish (In favor of Perets Markish) (Warsaw, 1922), 32 pp.; Tsu der yidisher yugnt (To Jewish youth) (Warsaw, 1924), 40 pp.; Forlezungen (Lectures) (Warsaw, 1928), 16 pp. In 1939 he prepared for the Vilna publisher Tomor a series of twelve books entitled Zigzagn iber der velt (Zigzagging around the world). WWII disrupted those plans. The first volume entitled Brif fun shtilen okean (Letters from the Pacific Ocean) went to press, but it was presumably destroyed in German bombings. The material for the twelve volumes was over the course of many years published in Folkstsaytung.
“It was basic to his own character that he would belong to the ‘idealists’ in art,” wrote Zalmen Reyzen, and “he was a representative of the notion that great art could only be created at a time when it has beneath it an ideological grounding. His lyrical poetry was deeply permeated with ruminating reflections…. In his long creative period, Meylekh Ravitsh…created his own form, which with his semi-narrative epical and semi-picturesque lyrical style—and often journalistic-poetic engrossing content—effectively render him one of the most original representatives of our modern lyricism.” “Not always and everywhere,” noted Yisroel Rabinovitsh, “is there in Ravitsh’s poetry an equal distribution of poetic sturdiness and philosophical thoughtfulness,…but when our poet is truly inspired, then…his poetry is…ramified in a richness of lyrical motifs.” As Yankev Glatshteyn pointed out: “From the very first moment, he…arrived on a mission of a Jewish artist with self-hypnosis and conceit that he will affect with his word…in his poetry, as in his prose, in his journalistic work, and his pamphleteering calls to heal and repair—everywhere is Ravitsh the poet on a mission.” “Meylekh Ravitsh belongs,” in the estimation of Shmuel Niger, “to the small number of philosophical poets. Most of them for him are in the main lyrical poets, but he often writes verses in which he is looking directly for an answer to the question: ‘What’s above and what’s below?’…. A certain element of Socratic speculation, of sophisticated questions and answers, may be found in practically everything that Ravitsh wrote.” He died in Montreal.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Sh. Epshteyn, in Tsukunft (New York) February 1913); Yudel Mark, in Dos folk (Kovno) (April 26, 1932); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumern (In essence) (New York, 1947); Shiye Rapoport, in Melburner bleter (Melbourne) (December 1953); Y. Yeshurin (completed by V. Ostreger), Meylekh ravitsh-byografye (Biography of Meylekh Ravitsh) (Montreal, 1954); Yitskhok Bashevis, in Forverts (New York) (October 28, 1954); G. Shufman, in Yediot aḥaranot (Tel Aviv) (December 3, 1954); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (February 3, 1957); Der Lebediker (Khayim Gutman), in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 7, 1957); Gershon Sapozhnikov, Fun di tifenish, eseyen (From the depths, essays) (Buenos Aires, 1958); Mortkhe Shtrigler, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (April 4, 1958); Mortkhe Yofe, in Idisher kemfer (November 1958); Shimen-Dovid Zinger, Dikhter un prozaiker, eseyen vegn shrayber un bikher (Poets and prose writers, essays on writers and books) (New York: Educational Dept. of Workmen’s Circle, 1959); Shmuel Niger, Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York: Shmuel Niger Book Committee, World Jewish Culture Congress, 1959); Niger, Di yidishe literatur in 20stn yorhundert (Yiddish literature in the twentieth century) (New York, 1972); Arn Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (February 24, 1960); Dov Sadan, Avne miftan, masot al sofre yidish (Milestones, essays on Yiddish writers), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv: Perets Publ., 1961); Sadan, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (August 17, 1970; August 23, 1970; August 30, 1970); Arn Tsaytlin, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (May 18, 1962); Borekh Shefner, in Forverts (December 1, 1962); Kadia Molodowsky, in Svive (New York) (January 1964); Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poet and poetry) (New York, 1965); Shloyme Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (Tel Aviv, 1965); Mortkhe Tsanin, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (November 27, 1970; December 9, 1970); Khayim Bez, Shrayber un verk (Writings and [their] work) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1971); Yitskhok Yanasovitsh, Penemer un nemen (Faces and names) (Buenos Aires, 1971); Moyshe Gros-Tsimerman, Intimer videranand, eseyen (Intimate contrast, essays) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1972); Avrom Sutzkever, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 82 (1974); Yoysef Okrutni, in Tsukunft 1 (1974); Yitskhok Kahan, in Foroys (Mexico City) (January 1974).
Khayim Leyb Fuks