Loathe as I am to admit it now that I do know, I have to say that I'd never heard of Hayim Nahman Bialik until Mr. Hadari contacted us. Nor, I suspect, have many of you. This is an injustice, one that Mr. Hadari's translations can hopefully help to right.
Hayim (or Chaim) Nahman Bialik is considered the national poet of Israel, even though he died before the state was founded. He is also considered one of the greatest Hebrew poets ever. In fact, one of his achievements was to restore Hebrew as the language of Jewish poetry, rather than the Yiddish that had become more common. Bialik was born in Radi, Russia, and was raised there and in Zhitomir, by a scholarly father and, upon his father's death, by a stern and scholarly grandfather. Upon reaching adulthood he lived off and on in Odessa which, unlike other Russian cities which forbade them, had a sizable population of Jews (including fellow writers like Isaac Babel, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, and Ahad Ha'am, a Zionist who was one of Bialik's mentors). Bialik worked in business, as a teacher, as an editor, and finally as a publisher. He traveled in Europe and to what was then Palestine. After the Communist Revolution in Russia, when he came under suspicion for his writings, Bialik moved first to Germany and then to Tel Aviv where he was buried after dying in Vienna following an operation in 1934. Over the course of his career he translated Jewish folk tales, wrote Zionist essays and wrote his own poems (though not many after 1916). It was these last that made his name. And it was one specific poem that made him a central figure in the history of Zionism.
Living in Czarist Russia, he witnessed at first hand the brutal treatment
of the Jewish people. In particular, he visited the city of Kishinev
(modern day Chisinau, Moldova) after the 1903 pogrom in which 50 Jews were
murdered. Fueled by anger both at what had been done and at the inadequacy
of Jewish response, he wrote his greatest poem, the one with which Mr.
Hadari begins the collection : City of the Killings (1903).
I wish I could find the whole thing on-line because it's unbelievably powerful,
but here's how it begins :
To the graveyard, beggars! Dig for the bones
of your fathers
And now what have you left here, son of man, rise
and flee to the desert
If it's perhaps the case that this one poem stands head and shoulders above the rest, it is also true that at his best Bialik writes in just such a barely controlled rage--earthy, profane, direct, impassioned, accusatory, even apocalyptic. Even at a hundred years remove, it's easy to see why this poem should have had such an effect on world Jewry. It does not merely recount a tragedy; it challenges Jews to respond to the crime that was perpetrated against them, and at the time must have struck like a lightning bolt.
Another that's especially good is : After My Death (1904) :
After my death mourn me this way:
And it is very sad!--a harp too he had
And it is sad, very sad!
And great, great is the pain!
Personally, I found the quality of the pieces to be uneven, but I like those two, and several others, very much. From his own comments in the Translator's Note and from Dan Miron's Introduction, it sounds like Mr. Hadari has focussed more on capturing the spirit and the rhythms of the poems, than trying to artificially preserve exact rhymes and wordings :
If a poem is mostly words--and fancy words at that--there's
precious little there. What I look for is attack, as Derek Walcott
would put it--
Not knowing the originals, nor any Hebrew, I've no idea how successful he's been in this task, but I do know that Mr. Hadari's translations tap into a rich emotional current and get you to raise your voice. Whether or not it's precisely Bialik's spirit, they're certainly spirited. Mr. Hadari's done a great service by making the poetry of Bialik accessible to the wider audience the great poet deserves.
-PLAY EXCERPT : Night Music (Atar Hadari)
-Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) - name also transliterated Chayim Nachman Bialik (kirjasto)
-PORTRAIT : on Israeli Ten pound note
-POEM : A Twig Alighted
-POEM : Upon the Slaughter
-POEM : Should You Wish to Know the Source
-POEM : Aharei Moti
-POEM : Neither Daylight nor the Darkness (The Old Acacia Tree) (Jewish Heritage Online Magazine)
-POEM : One, Two (Jewish Heritage Online Magazine)
-EXCERPTS : Three pieces on childhood excerpted from the works of Chaim Nachman Bialik
-Hayim Nahman Bialik (Jewish Virtual Library)
-Biography: Hayim Nahman Bialik (JTS Torah)
-Bialik, Haim Nahman (1873 -1934) (The Zionist Exposition)
-ESSAY : The True Face of the "National Poet," Chaim Nachman Bialik (S. Yisraeli, Information & Insight)
-ESSAY : Chaim Nachman Bialik (Yeshina University Commentator)
-Three famous Jews from Odessa: Ch. N. Bialik, V. Jabotinsky, I. Babel (Museum of the Jewish People)
-ESSAY : EGGED (Words Tell Their Tales)
-ESSAY : Blighted Passover Days and Blood Libels (David Rosenthal, January 2000, Jewish Frontier)
-ESSAY : Trauma and Abstract Monotheism: Jewish Exile and Recovery in the Sixth Century B.C.E. (David Aberbach, Spring 2001, Judaism)
-REVIEW : of The Book of Legends: Sefer Ha-Aggadah. Legends from the Talmud and Midrash By Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky (James A. Sanders, Theology Today)
-REVIEW : of The Book of Legends (First Things)
-REVIEW : of The Book of Legends (Rabbi Daniel Judson, Temple Beth David)
-REVIEW : of THE MODERN JEWISH CANON : A Journey Through Language and Culture. By Ruth R. Wisse (Esther Schor, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of A PEOPLE APART : The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939. By David Vital (James E. Young, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of The Modern Jewish Canon (Hillel Halkin, Commentary)
-REVIEW : of The Israeli-American Connection: Its Roots in the Yishuv, 1914-1945. By Michael Brown (Journal of American History)
It is always interesting to compare translations! I also translated "After my Death" and you may look it up: http://www.phy6.org/outreach/poems/bialik2.htm
Another translation of a poem by Bialik--one of my favorites--is of "The People are but Grass" at http://www.phy6.org/outreach/poems/bialik1.htm
I hope you too enjoy it!
- David P. Stern
- Feb-08-2003, 20:30
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