YOYSEF ROLNIK (JOSEPH ROLNICK) (1879-August 18, 1955)
He was a poet, born in Zhukhovitsh (Zhukhovtsy), Minsk Province. He father ran a large watermill as a lessee. His parents’ home was located at a solitary site far off in a field. He studied at home with an itinerant teacher brought from afar, later in Mir and a year’s time in the yeshiva there. Avraham Mapu’s Ayit tsavua (The hypocrite) made him less devout. He threw himself into poetry and wrote Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish poems. Over the years 1895-1898, he lived in Minsk and from there sent Y. L. Perets three poems in the three languages. Perets answered that he liked the Yiddish one more than the others. In the summer of 1899 he made his way to the United States. On December 14, 1900 he published in Forverts (Forward) in New York a translation of Dovid Frishman’s Hebrew-language “Hailui” (The prodigy) under the title “Nedove” (Alms), and before his departure from America (November 1901)—another twenty-five poems. The first four years following his return to his hometown, he wrote nothing (Zalmen Reyzen adds that Rolnik spent some time studying in London, but there is no hint of this in his memoirs). He was in Minsk, 1905-1906, began again to write poetry, and was a frequent visitor to the home of Avrom Reyzen. In 1906 he returned to the United States, this time for good. He lived off his own work and was often quite ill, on several occasions spending time in sanatoriums. From 1915 he was for many years a proofreader for Tog (Day) in New York. In the first year after his return to America, he published seventy-five poems in Fraye arbeter shtime (Free voice of labor) in New York. He also published in: Di yugend (The youth) in 1907; Avrom Reyzen’s Dos naye land (The new country), Yankev Marinov’s Der kundes (The prankster), Dos idishe folk (The Jewish people), Idisher kemfer (Jewish fighter), Dos naye leben (The new life), Di naye heym (The new home), Tsukunft (Future), the anthology Literatur (Literature), Getseltn (Tents), Studyo (Studio), and Inzel (Island), among other serials. In 1915 Literatur un leben (Literature and life) brought a special Rolnik issue. His work also appeared in: Morris Basin, Antologye, 500 yor yidishe poezye (Anthology, 500 years of Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1917); Basin, Amerikaner yidishe poezye (American Yiddish poetry) (New York, 1940); Moshe Basok, Mivḥar shirat yidish (Selection of Yiddish poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963); Shimshon Meltser, Al naharot, tisha maḥazore shira misifrut yidish (By the rivers, nine cycles of poetry from Yiddish literature) (Jerusalem, 1956); Moyshe Fridman, Hayehudiya, a naye metode tsu oyslernen in a gikher tsayt un zehr gring leyenen un shrayben yudesh (Yiddish, a new method to master quickly and very easily reading and writing Yiddish) (Odessa, 1912); Blumen af shvues (Flowers on Shavuot) (Warsaw, 1912/1913); Dovid Kasel, Gezang un deklamatsye, lider zamlung (Songs and recitations, song collection), vol. 1 (Warsaw: A. Gitlin, 1913); Zishe Landau, Antologye, di yidishe dikhtung in amerike biz yor 1919 (Anthology, Yiddish poetry in America until 1919) (New York: Idish, 1919); Aḥisefer (New York, 1943/1944); Avraham Tsvi Halevy, Mehashira haidit baamerika (From the Yiddish poetry in America) (Tel Aviv: Hamenorah, 1967); Joseph Leftwich, The Golden Peacock (New York, 1961); Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg, A Treasury of Yiddish Poetry (New York, 1969).
His works include: Afn zamdigen veg (On a sandy road) (New York: Grayzel and Company, 1911), 64 pp.; Lieder (Poetry) (New York: Inzel, 1915), 300 pp.; Tsum shteren noyd (To my star Noyd) (New York: Idish, 1922), 30 pp.; Lider (Poems) (New York, 1926), 242 pp.; Naye lider (New poems) (New York: Astoria Press, 1935), 79 pp.; A fenster tsu dorem (A window to the south) (New York, 1941), 112 pp.; Geklibene lider (Selected poetry) (New York: IKUF, 1948), 260 pp.; Zikhroynes (Memoirs) (New York, 1954), 220 pp.; and posthumously, Geklibene lider (Tel Aviv: Karni, 1980), 503 pp., in Yiddish and Hebrew. “People imagine that Joseph Rolnick,” noted Nokhum-Borekh Minkov, “was part of the group of wordsmiths known by the name ‘Di yunge’ (The young ones). In fact, he was one of their predecessors. He later joined his younger colleagues along the same poetic pathway. And together with them, he helped create impressionism in American Yiddish literature…. Not only can one see in Rolnick’s poetry the development of impressionism, but also the bridge that was laid between realism and impressionism in American Yiddish poetry.” “His strength lay not in original imagery or innovative rhythms,” wrote Shmuel Niger,” and “the most precious thing in him is…his capacity to speak simply about great things and his most intimate art to demonstrate to us the charm of the word in pure and quiet unadornment.” In the words of Zalmen Reyzen, Rolnick was “a profoundly personal poet with his own tone…. The central motif of his poetry is…solitude and resignation, the feeling of loneliness…the quiet anguish of the solitary individual.” In his later poetry, noted Avom-Ber Tabatshnik, “Rolnick remained the same lyrical poet as before, but the poetry itself was different. There was more distance to it. There was greater reflection and wisdom. The resignation is no longer an expression of despair…but of deeper and sheer insight and understanding…. [He was practically] freed of the feeling of inferiority and the sense of uselessness and alienation.” He died in New York.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 4; Noyekh Shteynberg, Yung amerike (Young America) (New York, 1917); M. Olgin, In der velt fun gezangen (In the world of songs) (New York, 1919), pp. 258-67; Moyshe Nadir, Mayne hent hobn fargosn dos dozike blut (My hands have shed this blood) (New York, 1927); Khayim Liberman, Bikher un shrayber (Books and writers) (New York, 1933); Borekh Rivkin, Yidishe dikhter in amerike (Yiddish poets in America), vol. 1 (New York, 1947), pp. 137-56; Nokhum-Borekh Minkov, Literarishe vegn, eseyen (Literary paths, essays) (Mexico City, 1955); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1956), pp. 136-44; Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen, vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1960), pp. 215-20; Benyomen-Yankev Byalostotski, Kholem in vor, eseyen (Dream in reality, essays) (New York, 1956); Mikhl Likht, Af di randn, vegn literatur (At the edges, concerning literature) (Buenos Aires: Gelye, 1956), pp. 45-48; Shloyme Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation), vol. 1 (New York, 1958), pp. 29-35; Zishe Vaynper, Shrayber un kinstler (Writer and artist) (New York, 1958), pp. 115-23; Leyvik Khanukov, Literarishe eseyen (Literary essays) (New York: IKUF, 1960) pp. 43-46; Y. Ḥ. Biltski, Masot (Essays) (Tel Aviv, 1960), pp., 324-25; Yoysef rolnik bukh (Volume for Joseph Rolnick) (Buenos Aires, 1961), with a bibliography by Y. Yeshurin; B. Grin, Yidishe shrayber in amerike (Yiddish writers in America) (New York, 1963), pp. 105-10; Avrom-Ber Tabatshnik, Dikhter un dikhtung (Poets and poetry) (New York, 1965), pp. 101-32; Shmuel Niger, Yidishe shrayber fun tsvantsikstn yorhundert (Yiddish writers of the twentieth century) (New York, 1972).
Dr. Eugene Orenstein
[Additional information from: Berl Kagan, comp., Leksikon fun yidish-shraybers (Biographical dictionary of Yiddish writers) (New York, 1986), col. 500.]