Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

Basic HTML Version

B I A L I K AT THE C E N T E N A R Y
By
E
isig
S
ilb er sch l ag
F
or three decades—from the beginning of the century till his
death in 1934—Hayyim Nahman Bialik was the uncrowned
king of Hebrew letters. His phenomenal reputation, paralleled
only by T. S. Eliot in English and American poetry, could be
attributed to the felicitous blend of personal and national idioms
which characterized Hebrew poetry since the days of the Psalms.
Like the biblical poets he mirrored the fortunes and misfortunes
of Jews in alternately gentle or irate verse. And in common with
their resolve he sought to strengthen the inner resources of his
people.
A poet whose vision of Jewish spirituality outstripped all his
contemporaries, Bialik was admired for two reasons: for his na­
tionalistic poems which encouraged nascent Zionism and for the
glorification of Jewish education in the rabbinic academies
the world over. Even Bialik’s first published poem, “To the Bird,”1
a dull, second-rate ode, was a recital of personal and national
sorrows: the returning bird from the ancestral land was the
routinized recipient of the poet’s complaints about his miseries
in the diaspora and of queries about the fate of Jewish pioneers.
By 1894 Bialik achieved a minor masterpiece on a national
theme: “The Blessing of the People.”2 Not alone the poet, but
all Jewry seemed to identify in the poem with the pioneers
who were wresting life from the barren soil in the Land of
Promise. For a number of years, Bialik’s “The Blessing of the
People” competed with “Hatikvah” by Imber as the national
anthem of Jewry. In the same year he published another poem
which enhanced his stature: “In the Field.”3 In a few stanzas he
created a contrasting mood: a field teeming with sheaves in
melancholy Russia evoked a vision of Jewish laborers tilling
their soil in joy and establishing a telepathic contact with the
poet from their sunny hilltops and mountaintops.
1
Hebrew title: El ha-Zippor. Written in the spring of 1891 it appeared
in Pardes in 1892 under the editorship of Bialik’s future literary collaborator,
Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki. But it was passed by the censor in Kiev on
October 21, 1891.
s Hebrew title: Birkat ‘Am.
3
Hebrew title: Ba-Sadeh.
7 8