Wednesday 7 January 2015


     He was born in the town of Radi, Volhynia, Ukraine.  His father (Yitskhok-Yoysef) was an accomplished scholar and a quiet, good-hearted man who was not terribly adept at practical matters.  He eked out a living working for a timber merchant—partly as a trustee and partly as a partner.  He would come home only on Shabbat or holidays.  Bialik’s mother (Dine-Freyde), a fine woman though embittered by her difficult fate, was always preoccupied, full of worries about her household.  And, little Chaim Nachman was left on his own.  Often alone, he absorbed his first impressions of nature between forests and fields.  When he was six years of age, his family moved to a suburb of Zhitomir, where his father opened an inn.  His father did not endure such a difficult life for long, as he soon died.  His mother had to leave the seven-year-old orphan with his grandfather who lived on the far side of the city.  Already in his elementary-school years, Bialik acquired the notoriety of a prodigy.  He had an eagerness to study and early on began an avid reader.  He would rush into his grandfather’s closet with religious texts and devour one after the next volumes of sermons, etiquette manuals, religious law, homiletic legends, tales, kabbalah, and speculation.  With the few kopeks that he saved over the course of a year, he began to build his own library.  He was at age eleven influenced a bit by the Kuzari [by Judah Halevi] and by More nevukhim (Guide of the perplexed [by Moses Maimonides]).  A little later, he obtained by chance works of the Jewish Enlightenment.  At age thirteen he left the religious elementary school and set out to study in a synagogue study hall on his own.  The inclination in him to write developed very early on.  In a language which mixed words of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, as early as his elementary school years he wrote down everything that he heard from his friends, and later other things as well.  Alone in the silence of the small study chamber, he began to write both poetry and florid prose.  His goal became the famed yeshiva in Volozhin where students studied both Talmud and worldly subjects.  After a long and painful struggle with his grandfather, in 1888 he was off to Volozhin.  His hope to acquire a general education in the yeshiva quickly vanished.  He began to devote himself entirely to reading and writing, as well as to studying Russian.  Achad Ha’am and Shimen Frug made especially strong impressions on him.  He was taken with the “Love of Zion” notion that also penetrated his mind in Volozhin.  Without any contact with Bnei moshe (Children of Moses), organ of Achad Ha’am and his associates, not knowing even of its origins, he founded a group of the best yeshiva students—using the very same name.  Enjoined by his comrades to write, he wrote up an article, something of a manifesto of the group: “On the Idea of a Settlement in the Land of Israel.”  Unbeknownst to him, it was signed with the initial “Kh. N. B.” and published in Hamelits (The advocate) in 1891.  Soon thereafter, and without informing his grandfather, he set out for Odessa.  Without friends or acquaintances, he suffered considerable hardship there.  Thanks to a chance occurrence, his poem “El hatsipor” (To the bird) appeared in Y. Kh. Ravnitski’s collection Pardes (Paradise) (1891).  A short time after this first literary publication, his comrades informed him that his grandfather was close to death, and his family desired that he return home.  He then left Odessa and once again he stood “at the threshold of the old study hall.”  His grandfather passed away shortly after his return, and an elder brother also soon died from tuberculosis.  His family compelled him to marry.  For several years he worked in the timber industry and lived in a forest in the Kiev area.  Later, he worked as a teacher of Hebrew.
     During these years, he studied, read much, and often published in Hebrew-language anthologies, primarily in Hashiloa.  With every new poem, he became ever more popular among Jewish intellectuals.  In 1899 he succeeded in settling in Odessa where he became a teacher and director of a modern Hebrew school.  At that time he published in the weekly Der yud (The Jew) his first poem in Yiddish: “Afn hoykhn barg” (On the high mountain).  Following the pogrom in Kishinev in the spring of 1903, he traveled to the city and wrote in Hebrew and in Yiddish his celebrated poem, “In the City of Slaughter.”  It made him famous through the entire Jewish world.  The self-defense organizations that came into existence at that time were heavily influenced by Bialik’s poem.  In 1905 he formed in Odessa, together with Y. Kh. Ravnitski, the publishing house Moriah.  The years preceding WWI were the most productive in his life.  He produced his strongest poetic works, stories, and essays, as well as his research into the Hebrew poets of the Middle Ages.  Together with Ravnitski, he selected homiletic works from the Talmud, translated them into Yiddish, and then published them in both languages.  In partnership with Mendele and Ravnitski, he translated the first part of Sipure hamikra (Bible stories).  This should have been the beginning of a full Bible translation into Yiddish, but the eruption of WWI forced the discontinuation of this work.  In the prewar period, Bialik translated into Hebrew writings by Avrom Reyzen, Sholem-Aleykhem, B. Shapir, Sh. An-sky, and Ben-Ami.  After the February Revolution in 1917, Bialik lived for a short time in Moscow.  He worked intensively at his writing.  He edited Hebrew-language anthologies, continued his studies of the Hebrew poets of the medieval era, and participated in Jewish communal life.  In 1921, he left Soviet Russia and settled in Berlin.  There he founded the press Dvir (Berlin-Tel Aviv), publishing a series of important writings as well as textbooks, reissued works that Moriah had earlier published but which had disappeared from the book market in the years of war and revolution.  In 1924 he transported Dvir to Palestine.  He became a resident of Tel Aviv—in the heart of the entire cultural life of the new settlement.  Dvir expanded its activities and became a national press; among its dozens and dozens of works, Bialik published a complete edition of Samuel ibn Gabirol’s poetry and a first volume of Moshe ibn Ezra’s poems, with annotations and notes by himself and Ravnitski; he also set out to translate into Hebrew classical poetry of the world.  In 1924 he published his translation of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, and in 1929 Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  In 1926 Bialik made a lengthy trip to the United States and in 1931 he traveled to Poland.  He died in Vienna after an operation.  His body was transferred for burial to Tel Aviv next to the grave of Achad Ha’am.
     Among his books in Yiddish: Fun tsar un tsorn (Of sorrow and wrath) (Odessa, 1906), 32 pp., second edition: (Berlin, 1922); Der matmid (The Talmud student), translated by Y. Y. Shvarts (New York, 1908), 24 pp.; Di fayer-megile (The burning scroll), translated by Y. Y. Shvarts (New York, 1909), 34 pp.; Arye bal-guf (Corpulent Arye), translated by Moyshe Taytsh (Warsaw, 1910), 76 pp.; Marinka, translated by Shimen Ginzburg (Odessa, 1911), 73 pp.; Poezye, lider un poemes (Poetry, songs and poems) (Warsaw, 1913), 135 pp.; R’ yehude halevis yam-lider (R. Yehudah Halevi’s songs of the sea), melody from the musician Shnier (Warsaw, 1916), 3 pp.; Dos yidishe bukh (The Jewish book), translated by Z. Kotler (New York, 1918), 30 pp.; Di yidishe agodes: dertseylungen, zogn, legendn, mesholim, aforizmen un shprikhverter, geklibn fun talmud un midroshim nokhn hebreyishn “Sefer haagode” (Jewish homiletics: stories, tales, legends, fables, aphorisms, and sayings, selected from the Talmud and midrashim in the Hebrew-language Sefer haagoda), 4 vols. (Odessa, 1910), photostatic reprint; (Odessa: Moriyah, 1917-1919), 3 volumes;  (New York, 1948), with Y. Kh. Ravnitski; Noyekh un marinke (Noah and Marinka) (Warsaw, 1921), 23 pp.; Shirim, lider un poemes (Poetry and songs) (Berlin, 1922), 111 pp.; Tsvey redes (Two speeches) (Kovno, 1930), 24 pp.; Lider un poemen, mit byaliks oytobiografye un aynlaytung fun sh. niger (Songs and poems, with Bialik’s autobiography and a preface by Shmuel Niger) (New York, 1935), 291 pp.; Shriftn (Writings), translated by Y. Y. Shvarts (Detroit, 1946), 314 pp.; Lider un poemen (Munich, 1948), 136 pp.; Bialik’s poem Yesoymes (Orphans)—four poems: “Mayn tate” (My father), “Shvue” (Oath), “Almone” (Widow), and “Opsheyd” (Distinct)—was translated by Nosn Mark (Bucharest, 1938); Oygeklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (Buenos Aires: Lifshits-fond, 1964), 380 pp.  Bialik’s poetry and prose have been translated into twenty-two languages.
     A special place in the literature by and about Bialik is occupied by the work of “Bialik sheb’al pe” (oral Bialik)—his shrewd witticisms in private conversations and the significant words that he had to say at important opportunities in Jewish life in his era.  He was linked with virtually every leading Jewish personality of his time.  His rich correspondence with them remains a treasury for research on him and for research into literature and history generally.  Bialik composed his best and most important writings in Hebrew, yet Bialik’s Yiddish retains great significance as well.  He fertilized the Yiddish language.  “Bialik’s Yiddish.” wrote Shmuel Niger, “was not, just as his Hebrew was not, frozen in tradition, but fresh and alive rooted in the linguistic tradition.  And, the profound, juicy, living roots of his Yiddish, as with his Hebrew, were not serendipitous.  They drew their spiritual nourishment from the entire spiritual heritage of the Jewish people.”

Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), vol. 5; Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn (Selected writings) (Warsaw, 1929), pp. 171-74; Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene verk (Selected works) (New York, 1953), pp. 221-50; Y. D. Berkovitsh, in Forverts (January 29 and February 19, 1933); Kh. Grinberg, Yid un velt (Jew and world) (New York, 1953), pp. 123-34, 140, 243-59; S. Dubnov-Erlikh, in Folks-tsaytung (Warsaw) (February 9, 1923); B. Vladek, in Tsukunft (July 1916); M. Zolotaryov, in Shikago (June-July 1934); Sh. Ts. Zetser, Figurn (Fugures) (New York, 1928), pp. 11-27; Y. Y. Trunk, Idealizm un naturalizm in der yidisher literatur (Warsaw, 1927), pp. 234-75; D. Tsharni, A yortsendlik aza (What a decade) (New York, 1943), p. 80; Yehoyesh, in Tsukunft (February 1911); Dr. Y. Lanski, in Seyfer bialik (Chicago) (December 1934); N. Mayzil, Khayim-nakhmen byalik (Warsaw, 1934), 64 pp.; N. Mayzil, in Tsukunft (August 1934); Shmuel Niger, in Dos naye lebn (New York) (June, July, August 1921); Niger, in Tsukunft (August 1934); Niger, preface to Kh. n. byalik, lider un poemen (Chaim Nachman Bialik, songs and poems) (New York, 1935); Y. Pat, in Vokhshrift far literatur (Warsaw) (July 12, 1934); Y. Elzet, in Reshumot (New York, 1921), 223-27; Y. Fikhman, Regnboygn (Rainbow) (Buenos Aires, 1953); Z. Rubashov, in Yidisher kemfer (July 19, 1935); Dr. M. Reyzen, Groyse yidn vos ikh hob gekent (Great Jews whom I have known) (New York, 1950), pp. 63-79; A. L. Shusheym, in Di naye tsayt (Buenos Aires) (July 9, 1953); A. L. Shesheym, in Ilustrirte bleter (Buenos Aires) (July 8, 1954); A. Sherman, Der mentsh byalik (Bialik, the man) (Philadelphia, 1936), p. 173; Shmuel Niger, “Kh. n. byaliks briv tsu zayn froy in yidish” (Bialik’s letters to his wife in Yiddish), Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (December 25, 1955); M. Ungerfeld, Ḥayim nakhman byalik veyetsirotav (Haim Nakhmen Bialik and his creative output) (Tel Aviv, 1960); Dov Sadan, Sugyat yidish bemasekhet byalik (The issue of Yiddish in the work of Bialik) (Jerusalem, 1965); Y. Kh. Biletski, Ḥ. n. byalik veyidish (Ḥ. N. Bialik and Yiddish) (Tel Aviv: Peretz Publ., 1970); D. Sadan, Avne shaashua (Stones of play), in the style of Ḥ. N. Bialik (Tel Aviv, 1983); Sh. Ravidovits, Siḥot im byalik (Conversations with Bialik) (Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, 1983); Sh. Verses (Werses), Ben gilui lekhisui, byalik besipur uvemasa (The explicit and the implicit, Bialik in stories and essays) (Tel Aviv, 1984).

                                                                                                                                           B. Tshubinski

1 comment:

  1. Bialik's translations of Heynrikh Heyne were included into collection of works of H. Heyne in 8 volumes, published in New York by ferlag Yidish in 1918.
    די ווערק פון היינריך היינע : אין אכט בענד
    היינע, היינריך; מיט א ביאגראפיע פון ע. קאלישער און א פארווארט פון נ. סירקין; איבערזעצט פון אייזלאנד, ר., ביאליק, ח.נ., באראכאוויטש, גראס, נ., האלפערן, מ.ל., לאנדוי, ז., ליליפוט, עדעלשטאט, ד., פרישמאן, ד., פרץ, י.ל., שווייד, מ., רייזען, א., און י. ראלניק,
    צװײטע אױפלאגע
    ניו-יארק : פערלאג אידיש