How the "Jewish National Poet" Revitalized an Ancient Literary Form

The great Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik’s “Scroll of Orpah” retells the story of the book of Ruth from another perspective.

June 7, 2019 | Atar Hadari
About the author: Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.

William Blake, Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab, 1795. Wikimedia.

By the time he settled in the Palestine of his dreams in 1924, Ḥayyim Naḥman Bialik (1873-1934), acclaimed as the “Jewish national poet” from a very young age, had for the most part ceased writing poetry. Instead, he focused his efforts on running the Dvir publishing house with his longtime collaborator Y.H. Ravnitzky, gradually appointing himself custodian of the Hebrew language and its cultural treasures—that is, its stories.

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