Chaim Nachman Bialik, outstanding contemporary Hebrew poet, was born on January 9,1873 at Rady, Wolhynia. His father was a poor store keeper and something of a scholar. When Chaim was only a few years old the family moved to Zhitomir, where the father died in 1880, leaving his family in very reduced circumstances. Chaim, by nature a lively child, was placed in the care of his grandfather, a fanatically pious man who punished the child severely for the slightest mischief, and kept him from #orming any childhood friendships.
Bialik’s aptitude for learning and literature became apparent when he was but twelve years old. He was particularly impressed by the Cabala and Chassidic literature, which served as rich food for his poetic imagination. At thirteen he left the cheder to study by himself. Shortly thereafter he went to the Yeshiva at Wolozhin, where he stayed but a short time, gathering, however, many lasting impressions there, studying Hebrew literature and the ideas of Achad Haam and Yehuda Leib Gordon. Bialik’s first poem, “To the Spring Bird,” belongs to this period.
At Wolozhin, seized with a great desire for worldly learning, Bialik learned Russian. Then he went to Odessa to further his studies. At Odessa he suffered from financial embarrassment, and after the death of his grandfather, in 1901, Bialik was forced to return to Zhitomir to seek some means of earning a living. He tried various things, including teaching Hebrew and dealing in timber.
FOUNDED MORIAH GROUP
Through the occasional printing of a poem in various Hebrew publications his name became popular in Hebrew literary circles and Bialik was invited to settle in Odessa, where in 1905 he became cofounder, with Alter Gutman and I. H. Ravnitzky (S. Ben Zion), of the Moriah publishing group, which played a considerable part in the development of modern Hebrew literature and pedagogy.
In 1903, after the first Kishinew pogrom, Bialik visited that city and wrote the famous Story of Nemirow, so called to avoid Russian consorship. Actually it was a story of the pogrom killings. The Story of Nemirow proved the cornerstone of Bialik’s fame.
After the October revolution Bialik suffered great hardships at Odessa, nearly losing his life. During this period Bialik was erroneously reported dead. Through the intervention of Maxim Gorki he finally succeeded in obtaining permission to leave Odessa. Bialik spent several days in Hamburg and Berlin, then departed for Palestine in 1924.
Bialik was a poet, essayist, literary critic and journalist in Yiddish as well as in Hebrew, in which language the greater part of his work was written. His debut in Yiddish was in the form of a children’s poem, one of the most famous of which is Unter die Grininke Boimelach. Bialik also translated a number of his Hebrew masterpieces into Yiddish. He also worked on a number of Yiddish translations of the older Hebrew writers and of the Bible, and rendered many of the Yiddish writers into Hebrew.
RECEIVED BY COOLIDGE
Bialik was married in 1893. With his wife he visited the United States in 1926, primarily in the interests of the United Palestine Appeal. During that visit he was received by President Coolidge, and was tendered a reception at the University of Pennsylvania, where Professor Laurie of the Department of English characterized him as the “Wordsworth of Jewish Literature. He was honored by an honorary doctorate in Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Celebrations of Bialik’s sixtieth birthday last year were held all over the world, from Tel Aviv, where Bialik lived and where a street is named for him, to Havana and Buenos Aires. A celebration scheduled in Berlin at the time was cancelled at the last moment because police feared a Nazi Storm Troop attack would be made upon the Jews returning from the meeting.
TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH
Many descriptive terms, most of them superlatives, have been used to characterize Bialik the poet, whose works have been translated into many tongues. Maurice Samuel and Philip M. Raskin, himself a poet and editor of an anthology of modern Jewish poetry, have rendered Bialik into English. The latter once described the man as the greatest of contemporary Jewish writers.
Raskin’s enthusiasm for Bialik led him to say on many occasions that he “is to be considered with Shakespeare, Milton, Dante and Goethe.”
JEWRY HERE MOURNS DEATH
Jewish literary art and communal leaders who could be reached last night expressed deep regret upon being appraised of the sudden death of the great Hebrew poet. Some of them gave spontaneous expressions of their sorrow as follows:
Mrs. Rebekah Kohut, authorâ€” My son and I spent a summer with the great poet, and those were unforgettable days walking through the woods at Marienbad. When the world begins to know Bialik the poet, he will be counted among the greatest singers of all time. His love for the Homeland makes him one of the greatest poets. His death is a great loss to the Jews everywhere.
Jacob Fishman, editor of the Jewish Morning Journalâ€”Bialik was not only the greatest poet since Judah Halevy, but the national poet who found a great echo in the Jewish masses. He was in good health when I saw him last April and working incessantly. His death is a great shock to me.
Saul Raskin, Hebrew artistâ€”The Jewish artist in him was a prophetic voice calling us artists to the sources of our soul to look deeply into the essence of our national being and tie our art visions and conceptions to the golden chain of our great old visionary, to shape graphically in the same grand manner that our prophet did.
S. Niger, Jewish author and criticâ€”This is the greatest loss Jewish literature has suffered in recent times because there is nobody who can replace him. He was a poet representative of Jewish culture.