||A yiddish translation of "Scroll of Fire ," a nine section experimental prose poem. The translation was done by Israel Jacob Schwartz.The poem weaves Talmudic legends into a romantic allegory of national and personal trauma.
"Scroll of Fire" begins with a powerful depiction of the destruction of the ancient Temple, yet the poem was also inspired by the burning of Odessa in 1905, the memory of childhood fires, and an intense extramarital relationship. Drawing on a Talmudic legend and the Song of Songs, Bialik describes the words of the last surviving boy--a character representing Hope--to the only girl not to commit suicide in the wake of the catastrophe:
All my life my soul cried out to you in a
thousand voices, and in tens of thousands of ways,
crooked and invisible, fled from you to you
Even as a baby in the black of night, I saw
your beauty and covered your hidden light ...
With the sorrow of a mother the golden light
of your eye rested on me ... at night
like a weaned child on his mother’s lap
I made my love known and I waited.
"Scroll of Fire" is a confession of loss, and reflects Bialik's ambivalence about his public role. It begins with a national catastrophe but uses this event to address deeply personal issues, and articulates the poet's guilt about subordinating a greater issue to a merely--but more powerfully--personal event.
Hayyim Nahman Bialik was born in Radi, Volhynia in Russia to a traditional Jewish family. Bialik studied at a yeshiva in Zhitomir. At the age of 17, he was sent to the great Talmudic academy in Volozhin, Lithuania where he was attracted to the Enlightenment movement and joined the Hovevei Zion group. Bialik gradually drifted away from yeshiva life. His poem, HaMatmid ("The Talmud student") written in 1898, reflects his great ambivalence toward that way of life.
At 18, Bialik left for Odessa, where he became active in Jewish literary circles and first met Ahad Ha'am, who had a great influence on his Zionist outlook. It was at this time that his first poem was published, El HaTzipor ("To the Bird"), which reflected his feelings toward Zion and Russia, themes that he was to return to frequently during this period.
Bialik was not yet a full-time writer and poet. For some time a bookkeeper in his father-in-law's business, he later taught, published and translated, and for six years was literary editor of the weekly Hashiloah in Odessa. He had hopes of becoming successful in business, but after a four-year period in the lumber trade he decided to make his living by teaching. In 1901 his first collection of poetry appeared and was greeted with much acclaim. Over the next three years he wrote a considerable number of works. Commentators say that this was his golden period. Although his later writings became more universal in outlook, his "In the City of Slaughter," written in response to the Kishinev pogrom was a powerful statement of anguish at the situation of the Jews.
He moved to Berlin in 1921, where he founded the Dvir publishing house. He moved the company to Tel Aviv in 1924 and devoted himself to cultural activities and public affairs. Bialik was immediately recognized as a celebrated literary figure. In 1927 he became head of the Hebrew Writers Union which had been established six years previously. He retained this position until his death in 1934. Bialik's poetry and prose have been widely translated. His poems are still read in contemporary Israel and several have been put to music by some of the country's most gifted composers. During his lifetime, he was called the "national poet," a title that has remained to this day.
The work of Hayyim Nahman Bialik takes on many genres and modes of expression. His national poetry laments the degeneration of the Jewish nation in exile and strives to stimulate latent forces to create a new destiny. Expressing a wide range of emotion, his personal verse reflects the inner conflicts of modern man. His nature poetry is rich in imagery, and his love poems show both tenderness and violent passion. Bialik's stories deal realistically with subjects drawn from contemporary events, and his legends and folktales evince a fertile imagination and gentle sense of humor. In his career called "a watershed in modern Hebrew literature," Hayyim Nahman Bialik answered the silent cry of a people in need of articulation in a new era.