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This review is taken from PN Review 137, Volume 27 Number 3, January - February 2001.

ATTITUDE AND ATROPHY Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of Hayim Nalvnan Bialik, translated by Atar Hadari (Syracuse University Press) £16.95

Though his complete works number little more than one hundred finished poems, most of which were written over a fifteen year period early in his life, Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) is known as the greatest poet of the modern Hebrew renaissance. He is arguably the language's first truly towering poetic figure in the some seven centuries that have passed since the golden age of Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain came to a traumatic close in the middle of the twelfth century. There were, to be sure, other important poets in the interim, but Bialik alone achieved the legendary status that lent his name a supraliterary and even Archimedean aspect, indicative of his poetry's ability to support the weight of an entire culture that stretched back through the history of his language and people - in this case to Abraham in Ur. The only American poet whose name conjures power of a similar kind is, perhaps, Walt Whitman. In the history of English literature, Wordsworth comes to mind.

Like Wordsworth and Whitman, Bialik wrote within a context of profound social upheaval and helped bring about a revolution of self. And like his English predecessors, he fundamentally changed the language in which he wrote. As the Israeli scholar Dan Miron puts it in an abridged 1993 essay that serves as the introduction to Atar Hadari's Songs from Bialik:

Hebrew poetry, as Bialik left it at the close of his poetic career in 1916, was entirely different ...


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