Hebrew and Yiddish Poet

Chaim Nachman Bialik

Chaim Nachman Bialik was born on January 9, 1873 in the rural Volhynian settlement of Rad’i near Zhytomyr (the settlement no longer exists) and was raised in Zhytomyr.

He began a traditional Jewish education in kheder and bes-medresh, and attended the prestigious yeshiva at Volozhin. It was at yeshiva that Bialik devoted himself to the acquisition of secular education.

He left Volozhin for Odessa in 1891 to join the emerging Jewish (Hebrew and Yiddish) literary scene.

In the early years of the 20th century, Bialik was reaching his creative stride and he published widely in Hebrew and Yiddish. He wrote short lyrical poetry as well as poemas (long-form verse), children’s poetry, essays and criticism, and translated world poetry.

Left: ascending “Har Bialik,” named for the poet. Above: the famed Volozhin yeshiva, where Bialik studied. Right: View of modern-day Volozhin from the top of Har Bialik.

In 1921, Bialik left Soviet Russia and settled briefly in Germany. He moved to Palestine in 1924 and lived in Tel Aviv on a street named for him.

While Bialik was considered the “National Poet” of the Hebrew Renaissance, his everyday spoken language remained Yiddish. He famously remarked: יידיש רעדט זיך, העברעאיש דאַרף מען רעדן [Yiddish speaks itself, but one has to speak Hebrew]!”

Enjoy this classic recording of soprano Mascha Benya (1908–2007) singing Bialik’s poem Unter di grininke beymelekh:

Beneath the Little Trees of Green

Beneath the little trees of green,
Little Meyshes and Shleymes play,
Tsitses, peyes, and gaberdines— 
Little Jews just hatched from their eggs.
Bodies like straw, smoke and feathers,
Light little breezes catch them
And their little limbs all flutter, 
And little birds carry them away.
They possess one thing: their little eyes.
The eyes have two little dark specks
Which glow and flash and shine, 
Prophet-like and full of wonder.
They think profoundly and contemplate 
The little birds and bygone days,
Oh Jewish children, what would I give
For your pure little eyes!
אונטער די גרינינקע ביימעלעך
אונטער די גרינינקע ביימעלעך
;שפּילן זיך משהלעך און שלמהלעך
— ציצית, קאַפּאָטקעלעך, פּאהלעך 
.ייִדעלעך פֿריש פֿון די אייעלעך
,גופֿעלעך – שטרוי, רויך אַון פֿעדערלעך
— נעם אַון צעבלאָז זיי אויף גלידערלעך
כאַפּן זיי אויף גרינגע װינטעלעך
.און סע צעטראָגן זיי פֿייגעלעך
,נאָר איין זאַך פֿאַרמאָגן זיי — אייגעלעך
,די אויגן פֿאַרמאָגן צװיי פּינײַעלעך
,װאָס גליען און פֿינקלען און טוקן זיך
.און עפּעס װי נבֿיאיש און װאונדערלעך
פֿאַרטראַכטן זיך טיף און פֿאַרקוקן זיך
— אויף נעכטיקע טעג און אויף פייגעלעך
,אוי! מיר זאָלן זײַן, ייִדישע קינדערלעך
!פֿאַר אײַערע כּשרע אייגעלעך