SHIMEN-SHMUEL FRUG (1860-September 22, 1916)
born in the village of Bobrovy-Kut, Kherson district, Ukraine.
This village was the first Jewish
agricultural colony in Russia and was established in the days of Tsar Nicholas
(In the 1920s, in Soviet times, the
village was incorporated into Kalinindorf and was the center of the first
Jewish autonomous region in the Soviet Union.)
The subsequent national Jewish poet engulfed himself in this healthy
Jewish national sensibility, and this became the seedling and the soil for his future
He studied in the religious
elementary school in the village.
little was taught there.
accomplishment there was that he did learn Tanakh and became attached to the
Later, as a lad of fourteen or
fifteen, he taught himself Hebrew grammar, and he spent days and nights with
the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Amos.
The familiar fields and the heroic times of the Bible years later became
the foundational motifs of Frug’s poetry.
For four years, he attended the village Russian school.
At age fifteen he was obliged to think about
food for his family, because his father was extremely ill.
The lad had a talent for writing, and he was
sent off to the big city, Kherson, and he submitted to being a scribe for the
local crown rabbi.
There with the rabbi,
he confronted Jewish poverty, the persecuted and suffering, and this revealed
to him the muse of a “persecuted people.”
He would later become the community spokesman for them.
first poetic attempts were in Russian.
In 1880 he debuted in print in the Russian Jewish journal Razsvet
(Dawn) in St. Petersburg with a
pair of poems.
For this first outing, he
also won the hearts of the editors.
summoned him to St. Petersburg to stay and contribute to their journal.
Because of the edict on residential rights,
he was registered as a clerk for a lawyer named Varshavski.
Years of poetic glory ensued for Frug, and
years as well of persecution and great need.
Frug became involved in the Bohemian life of the big city.
He had to sell his pen to the popular
newspapers, and he squandered his talent writing trash.
For a certain period of time, he lived next
door to Shimen Dubnov.
In Dos bukh fun mayn lebn
(The book of my
life), the great Jewish historian recounts as follows: “Compliments from the
critics had a worse effect than a good one on Frug.
He was a poet who was in fashion….
He often wrote as a fine versifier and not as
an enthusiastic poet.
He spun about in a
whirlwind of the great world just fine.…
And I witnessed how in the poet’s soul, which was engrossed in the cares
of the world of vanities, the fires of the spirit’s effusion flared up, and how
the bridge stones of the capital city made him homesick for his fields of
Frug survived yet another
His wife was a
According to the laws of the
land, she was not permitted to convert to Judaism.
He thus was obliged to live neither with Jews
nor with Gentiles.
Around 1906 he came
down with a kidney disease, and he had to leave St. Petersburg and return
In 1909 he settled in Odessa, and
there he acquired the position of inspector for an insurance company and joined
a circle of Odessan wise men.
traveled about the Pale of Settlement and read his works aloud before Jewish
There, his only beloved daughter
died at age thirteen, and he was unable to bury her in a Jewish cemetery.
Her death and his own frightful illness
shortened his own bitter life, and he died at age fifty-six.
a bilingual poet, Russian and Yiddish.
He switched to Yiddish when he was already a well-known Russian
Russian was only his language in
which to create.
In essence he was
He was the first and
the last great national Jewish poet in Russian.
Not by accident did Ḥ
Nachman Bialik say of him: “As far as I was concerned, Frug did not write in
Reading his Russian poems, I
feel in every single word the language of our fathers.”
He was a contemporary of the Russian
bourgeois poets Nikolai Nekrasov and Semyon Nadson, and his poetic voice
reverberates with theirs and with other contemporary Russian poets.
Frug, though, was Jewish to the core, in both
languages in which he wrote.
had an expressive ethnic face.
poetic performance coincided with the era of pogroms in the year 1881.
He became the poet of elegy of a persecuted
“Frug was atavistic,” noted
Dubnov, “as the continuation of our best creators of penitential prayers and lamentations,
whose elegiac beauty very few modern historians have appreciated (Zunz, Sachs,
In him lived the soul of a salḥan
penitential prayers] of the famed Sefardic school of Moshe Ibn Ezra.
He was, though, able to exalt the poetic
pathos of R. Yehuda Halevi.”
time, poetry was a social mission, and a poet was the messenger, the voice of
Frug was a born lyricist,
though he often suppressed in himself his inner lyricism.
He wrote very few purely lyrical, subjective
He was the flagbearer of a great
ethnic idea in poetry: eternal Israel, in both Russian and Yiddish.
His poetry in the two languages, however, is
not at the same artistic level.
weaker in Yiddish than in Russian, especially in his first period.
The character of his poetry formed the
cardinal different language climates of Yiddish and Russian, and the mentality
of the divergent reader-public: in Russian, the intellectuals; in Yiddish, the
Uppermost for him was the
idea: the elucidation, the Jewish Enlightenment.
And, a cross-section was made of Frug’s
poetry, so that one could see quite clearly how authentic lyricism and
tendentiousness, poetic immediacy and didacticism match up, and frequently
stand side by side, bringing out the contrast between them.
introduced into Russian poetry biblical motifs: poetic translations of the
Prophets, tales from the Tanakh, and historical figures.
Later, the ethnic quality in his poetry (and
in his prose, as well) grew out not so much from the days of the ancients as it
did from the Jewish way of life: from the workaday lives of the recent
Therefore, his poetry in Russian
is solemn and passionate, while in Yiddish it is ironic, with a smile, and even
more often with a groan.
He was the
lugubrious cantor of our poetry.
published his first items in Yiddish—poems and feature pieces—in 1888 in Yidisher folksblat
newspaper), eight years after his debut in Russian.
Dr. L. Kantor was drawn to him—the same
Kantor who had eight years earlier brought him to St. Petersburg from
The subsequent years found Frug
writing in both languages.
In Yiddish he
published in Spektor’s Hoyz-fraynd
(House friend), in Perets’s Yudishe
(Jewish library), in Fraynd
(Friend), and elsewhere.
He belonged to
the last generation of Jewish writers who were followers of the
He was at the same time
laying the groundwork for modern Yiddish poetry.
He came from Russian to Yiddish on the same
pathway as Yude-Leyb Gordon came from Hebrew to Yiddish.
Y. L. Gordon’s Siḥat ḥulin, lider in der folksshprakh (Ordinary conversation, poems in the
vernacular) of 1886 was for Frug the poetry school of Yiddish, or “zhargon” as
people called it at that time. For the
biblical themes and the bourgeois motifs, Frug initially had no language. He thus arrived with the Enlightenment moral,
with the feature piece, and with witticisms and satire—making a little
amusement, with a bit of a teaching tone, a little mockery, and some groaning
to boot. He, the recognized Russian
poet, descended from his St. Petersburg “troika” [three-horse-drawn chariot] and
installed himself in the workaday “troika” which lacked so much as tails and
manes. It was, as he put it in his poem:
“The Jewish troika: prayer, repentance, and charity.” This was Frug’s beginning. Later, though, he arrived at genuine poetic
mastery in Yiddish. As Dubnov noted:
“Frug, who at that time had already been elevated to the Russian Parnassus by
the great Russian critics, descended for a while to ‘zhargon.’ Although he began recklessly, in a scattered
fashion, he later became all the more serious and profound. A warm tide of the folk soul moved him,
animated his language, and sent his lyrical thought soaring. He was still blessed with twenty years of
life to ascend in Yiddish to the heights of his Russian lyricism.”
There fell to Frug an opportunity to
execute a creation in Yiddish poetry, away from poring over and beginning to
knead and form the poem anew in a poetry unknown to modernism. In his poem “Mayn epitafye” (My epitaph), he
recounts how he “with all my strength, with my last tooth, bit and tore up
zhargon, shackled the beloved language of our mothers, peppered with caesura,
salted with rhymes, to make it a little tenderer and rouse up that likable odor
of Vilna’s marketplace and Dinaburg’s butcher shops.” Not even once did Frug speak in an
unrestrained manner, but this is more resentment than antipathy. He concluded his introductory word to the
edition of Yiddish poems (Odessa, 1904) with the words: “The poor, solitary
Yiddish poem needs to live and prosper and grow and ring out!”
brought over from Russian a variety of poetic genres, the architectonics of the
poem, the tonal verse-system—the entire poetic arsenal, the most complex and
refined artistic means without which the modern poet cannot make do.
Frug’s achievement for modern Yiddish poetry
“The best Yiddish authors
of verse of his era,” wrote N. B. Minkov, “were primitive craftsmen…without any
poetic cultivation or tendentious prose writers in rhymes.”
Frug’s influence on Yiddish poetry was, it
would seem, much greater than his technical innovations.
He expanded the horizons of our poetry, and
he introduced historical-romantic and historical-heroic genres of and themes for
He initiated modern ethnic and
social motifs, and in this his service to Yiddish poetry was probably greater
than his pioneering, technical precision.
He was the first to introduce into poetry the fresh air of fields and
“In nature,” noted
Bal-Makhshoves, “he sensed the great soul of the world, life, which flows in
thousands of currents, with one source, from which a healthy people draw life
and love of life, the strength to live.
And, thus, Frug was the new man in our literature, and hence the tone of
his poetic fiddle was so wonderfully new, so wonderfully fresh.”
The poetic thread extends from him to Ḥ. N. Bialik and Sh.
Tshernikhovski—in Hebrew poetry—and to Yehoash, Mani Leib, and right down to
our own day—in Yiddish poetry.
Frug’s selected Russian poems had a
motto on the title page: “God destined for me doubly in life—striving for
freedom and suffering from slavery.” Striving
for freedom and suffering from slavery were for Frug of a national character
with a specific social hue. Freedom
meant for him national liberation, the land of our forefathers, the land of
Israel; slavery meant the diaspora, the sufferings of the “persecuted
people.” At the time of the Russian
Revolution in 1905, he wrote that the Jews should not allow themselves to be
seduced by “bells of freedoms,” because these same bells that ring out
liberation also call for striking the Jews.
Freedom was Zion. The Jewish
people could be redeemed from slavery only on their own land. His book of poetry in Russian was titled Sionidy (Poems of Zion), and he also
brought out a book in Yiddish called Tsien-lider
(Poems of Zion). In Dubnov’s words:
“According to his moods, Frug was a Zionist much earlier that the movement in
its name developed. His well-known ‘March
of Zion’ sounded from far off at the cradle of Ḥibat-Tsiyon (Love of
Zion). A child from a Jewish village,
from the first step of his poetic activity, he dreamt of physically healthy
Jews fixed to the soil; and brought up with the Tanakh and permeated by its
beauty, he dreamt ceaselessly of the holy cradle of eternal glory.”
Frug’s poetry contains no great
number of poems on social topics. And
although in some of them, one senses a didactic tone, their fundamental tone is
so genuinely of the people, so honest and naïve, that the more honest the
poetic wine, all the stronger the taste.
His ballad “Dem shamuses tokhter” (The synagogue beadle’s daughter) is a
poetic pearl. “Der kos” (The goblet), “Lid
fun der arbet” (A song about work), and “Di fon” (The banner) can be included
in anthologies and readers even today.
Frug’s poetry—the Russian and even
more the Yiddish—were sung among the people, especially “Zamd un shtern” (Sand
and stars) and “Lid fun der arbet,” among others. A number of his feature pieces retain a
permanent value. He also demonstrates
here a pioneering quality and a high level of attainment. In addition, he brilliantly translated into
Russian Bialik and Ravnitski’s Yiddish tales (from the Talmud and Midrashim) in
four parts (1900). Frug was among the
first to translate Perets into Russian.
He also did editorial work.
Together with the agronomist M. Veler, he edited the Land-arbeter (Worker on the land), a
calendar for colonists and gardeners: first yearbook (Vilna, 1901), 247
pp. He was also the editor of the
Russian editions of: Sholem Ash, Razskazy
(Stories), 3 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1908-1909); and Y. L. Perets, Razskazy un skazki (Stories and tales)
(St. Petersburg, 1909). Frug’s work was
represented in numerous anthologies and readers (in Yiddish, Russian, Hebrew,
and other languages). His own work was
published in translation in Hebrew, Polish, English, and other languages as
Schematically, Frug’s very first collaboration
in Yiddish appeared as follows in: Baylage
tsum yudishn folks-blat (Supplement to Jewish People’s Newspaper) 3 (1988)
(at the time, Dr. Y. L. Kantor had already assumed the editorship of Yudishe folks-blat [Jewish people’s
newspaper] from A. Tsederboym) in which Frug’s first Yiddish story, “A khosn”
(A bridegroom), was published, and the editorial board remarked: “We are
delighted to see that the widely recognized Russian poet Frug is devoting his
pen to our vernacular as well.” That
same year, Frug published in the same organ a large number of poems and feature
pieces. He often filled out entire
issues of the Baylage
(Supplement). In issue 42, Frug published
what appears to be his first original Yiddish poem in blank verse, “Al tiftekh
pe lesotn” (Don’t open your mouth to the devil): “An allegory with such fine
rhythm which was Frug’s most important accomplishment for Yiddish poetry,” note
Zalmen Reyzen. His first nature poems
(the first of this sort in Yiddish poetry) were published in the Baylage (issue 16). In 1888 he also contributed to: M. Spektor’s Hoyz-fraynd; Sholem-Aleichem’s Yudishe folks-biblyotek (Jewish people’s
library); the collection Dos heylike land
(The holy land) and other Yiddish publications; in the anthology Yudishe biblyotek 2, he published his
“Der bekher” (The wineglass), which Perets translated from Frug’s original
Russian. For a period of time, Frug fell
silent. In 1896 his first Yiddish book was
published: Lider un gedanken (Poems
and ideas). He began to compose in
Yiddish again when the journal Der yud
(The Jew), later Der fraynd (The
friend), commenced publication. Frug
contributed intensively to this journal.
When he moved to Odessa, his name no longer appeared on his Yiddish
publications. About 1914 he began to
publish in Moment (Moment) his
“Zikhroynes” (Memoirs). Only a small
portion of them saw the light of day in print, because of the eruption of
WWI. His many pseudonyms would include:
Ben-Tsvi, Bobrovokutski, S. F., G. S., Slutsheyni Felyotonist, and Yeronim
Dobri. Shortly before he departed this
world, he set to write a pair of poems in Hebrew—his first and last such
poems—entitled “Al eresh dvai” (On one’s deathbed). This was his life’s dream: settling an ethnic
debt, departing this world a complete Jew.
books in Yiddish would include: Ale verk
(Collected works), 2 vols. (St. Petersburg: Der fraynd, 1904), vol. 1, 156 pp.,
vol. 2, 149 pp.; Ale shriftn
(Collected writings), 3 vols. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co.), vol. 1
“Poezye” (Poetry) (1910), 336 pp., vol. 2 “Poezye” (1927), 312 pp.; vol. 3
“Proze un poezye” (Prose and poetry) (1927), 316 pp.—not a complete edition of
his work but more complete than Ale verk
Oysgeveylte shriftn, far idishe shulen un
heymen, mit der byografye fun frugn un a verterbikhl fun di shverere verter
(Selected writings for Jewish schools and homes, with a biography of Frug and a
little dictionary of the harder words) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 192?),
136 pp.; Oysgeveylte shriftn
Aires, 1960), 212 pp., with an introduction by Sh. Rozhanski.
Separately—shorter and pamphlet-length works:
Lider un gedanken
(Odessa, 1896), 160
pp.; Der nayer rabiner
rabbi) (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1909), 18 pp.; Dos shteysel
(The mortar) (Kishinev-Vilna, 1913), 32 pp.; Hot rakhmones
(Have mercy), music by H.
Levkovitsh (New York, 1915), 5 pp. (folio); Zamd
, music by A. Bernshteyn (New York, 1916), 5 pp. (folio); and Lid fun der arbet
, music by Yankev Vaynshtok
(New York, 1917), 5 pp. (folio); among others.
Hebrew: Yaakov Kaplan, trans., Shire frug
(The poems of Frug), with a preface by Ruvn Brainin (Warsaw: Tushiya, 1898),
382 pp., another edition of this work appeared in 1913/1914 without the translator’s
A subsequent translation by A.
Levinson, Sh. sh. frug
Frug), appeared in 1940/1941; and Y. Spivak, trans., Sipurim
(Stories) (Tel Aviv: Amiḥ
ai, 1955), 141 pp.
Russian (original works): Stikhotvorenia
(Poems) (St. Petersburg, 1885, 1890, 1897); Dumy
(Thoughts and songs) (St. Petersburg, 1887, 1890, 1897); Vstrechi i vpechatlenia
impressions) (1898); Eskizy i skazki iz
(Sketches and tales from the Jewish way of life) (St.
Petersburg, 1898); Sionidy (St. Petersburg, 1901); Poemy i stikhi
(Poetry) (Shanghai, 1943), 100 pp.
Frug’s collected Russian poetry was published
in 1905—six volumes and an improved edition appeared in 1912.
English translation, we have: The Undying
(New York, 1938), 16 pp.
Frug did in Russian,” wrote M. Y. Berditshevski, “I do not know.
But I do happen to know about his Yiddish
It seems to me that they would
make a genuinely great impression, if there were only a quarter of them.
One reads a poem by Frug and another, and one
hears in them the voice of living Jews.
But, if one reads more and more, it seems as though they are liturgical
hymns from a holiday prayer book.
are not poems, and neither are these songs of a people; for they are prayers,
true prayers from a prayer book, and as a simple Jew says his prayers and
doesn’t understand them, it would be the same as praying with the words of
I believe this to be true.
And if Frug achieved only this much, then let
his memory be for a blessing!”
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon
, vol. 3, with a bibliography; Bal-Makhshoves, Geklibene shriftn
vol. 1 (Vilna, 1911), pp. 123-30; Bal-Makhshoves, in Tsukunft
(New York) (March 1922); Moyshe Olgin, in Tsukunft
(February 1915); Olgin, in Yidishe literatur
(Kiev, 1928); Shmuel
Niger, in Tsukunft
(May 1922); Niger,
Bleter geshikhte fun der yidisher
(Pages of history from Yiddish literature) (New York, 1959); Z.
F. Finkelshtein, Stürmer des Ghetto (Striker of
the ghetto) (Vienna, 1924);
Uri Finkel, in Tsaytshrift
(Minsk) 1 (1926); Sh. Hurvits, in Der yidisher velt almanakh
(The Jewish world almanac) (New York,
1927); Y. Entin, Yidishe poetn, hantbukh
fun yidisher dikhtung
(Yiddish poets, a handbook of Yiddish poetry) (New
York: Jewish National Labor Alliance and Labor Zionist Party, 1927), part 1; M.
Gros, in Literarishe bleter
(July 22, 1927); Khayim-Dov Hurvits, in Yidishe
(Kiev, 1928), part 1; Kalmen Marmor, in Yidishe literatur
(Kiev, 1928); A. Koralnik, Dos bukh fun vortslen
(The book of roots) (Warsaw, 1928); Shimen
Dubnov, in Literarishe bleter
(December 28, 1928); Dubnov, in Tog
(New York) (October 16, 1932; November 26, 1932; December 25, 1932); Dubnov, in
Fun “zhargon” tsu yidish un andere
artiklen, literarishe zikhroynes
(From “zhargon” to Yiddish and other
articles, literary memoirs) (Vilna, 1929), pp. 143-77; Dubnov, Dos
bukh fun mayn lebn, zikhroynes un rayoynes (The book of my life, memoirs and thoughts)
(New York-Buenos Aires: Kultur-kongres, 1962), pp. 179-81, 188, 278-79; M.
Shalit, Lukhes in undzer literatur
(Calendars in our
literature) (Vilna: Alt-nay, 1929); H. D. Nomberg, Mentshn un verk
(People and their writings) (Warsaw, 1930); Y. D.
Berkovitsh, in Forverts
(March 1, 1931); Avrom Reyzen, in Bodn
(New York) (autumn, 1935); Yankev Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen
(In essence) (New York, 1947); Glatshteyn, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal
(New York) (January
22, 1960; October 16, 1966); Glatshteyn, in Idisher
(New York) (October 30, 1966); Y. Shatski, in Di prese
(Buenos Aires) (September 23, 1953); Y. Rodak, Kunst un
kinstler (Art and artists) (New York, 1955); L. Kobrin,
Mayne fuftsik yor in amerike (My fifty years in America) (Buenos Aires,
Heftman, Am veadam (Nation and man)
(Tel Aviv, 1956); B. Y. Byalostitski, Kholem
in vor, eseyen (Dream in reality, essays) (New York, 1956);
A. Dimov, in Tsukunft (April 1957);
A. Levinson, Ketavim (Writings) (Tel
Aviv, 1958/1959); L. Faynberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal
(November 8, 1959); Faynberg, in Yidisher
bukh almanakh (New York) (November 15, 1959); Faynberg, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York)
(November 15, 1966; December 1, 1966); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (December 7, 1959); M. Yofe, in Keneder odler (January 1, 1960); Yofe,
in Unzer vort (Paris) (January 23,
1960); Shimen frug biblyografye
(Bibliography of Shimen Frug) (New York, 1960), 15 pp.;
N. Mayzil, in Tsum hundertstn geburtstog fun shimen frug
(On the 100th
birthday of Shimen Frug), a collection of criticism
concerning the poet (New York, 1960); Mayzil, Tsurikblikn un perspektivn
(Retrospectives and perspectives) (Tel
Aviv: Perets Publ., 1962), see index; Chone Shmeruk, comp., Pirsumim yehudiim babrit-hamoatsot,
(Jewish publications in the Soviet Union, 1917-1961) (Jerusalem,
1961), see index; Y. Rapaport, Zoymen in
(Seeds in the wind) (Buenos Aires, 1961); Rapaport, in Di yidishe post
(Melbourne) (January 13,
1967); Froym Oyerbakh, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal
(September 22, 1961); Y. Klausner, Behitorer
(Amid the awakening of the people) (Jerusalem, 1962), see index; B. Ts.
(Memoirs) (Tel Aviv,
1963); Moshe Basok, Mivḥar
(Selected Yiddish poetry) (Tel Aviv, 1963); L. Yofe, Ketavim
(Writings) (Jerusalem, 1964);
Kh. Nadel, in Sovetish heymland
(Moscow) (March 1965); Shmuel Shapiro, Asher
(Whose light I have followed) (Tel Aviv, 1965/1966), pp.
231-33; M. Hampel, in Idishe tsaytung
(Tel Aviv) (September 14, 1966); Hempel, in Hapoal
(Tel Aviv) (Elul 26 [= September 11], 1966); Ben-Tsien Bruker, in Keneder odler
(November 27, 1966); Yoysef
Mendelson, in Di naye tsayt
Aires) (December 2, 1966; December 23, 1966); Sh. D. Zinger, in Yidisher bukh almanakh
pp. 91-96; M. Ungerfeld, in Di goldene
(Tel Aviv) 57 (1966), pp. 229-33; G. Kressel, Leksikon hasifrut haivrit badorot haaḥaronim
(Handbook of modern
Hebrew literature), vol. 1 (Tel Aviv, 1966/1967), pp. 651-52.