Halkin, Simon

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HALKIN, SIMON (1898–1987), Hebrew poet, novelist, and educator. Born in Dobsk near Mohilev, Russia, he immigrated to the United States in 1914. He taught at the Hebrew Union College School for Teachers in New York City (1925–32), and after settling in Ereẓ Israel in 1932, he taught English at a Tel Aviv high school. In 1939, he returned to America and became professor of Hebrew literature at the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. He was appointed professor of Modern Hebrew Literature at the Hebrew University in 1949.

In Halkin's works, metaphysical flights coalesce with earthly desires. This dichotomy already appears in his first novel Yeḥi'el ha-Hagri (1928) whose main character is torn between love of God and love of woman. It receives a more mature expression in Be-Yamim Shishah ve-Leilot Shivah (1929), a cycle of 36 sonnets; in "Al Ḥof Santa Barbara" (1928); and in "Tarshishah." These and other poems were collected in Al ha-I ("On the Island," 1945). Other motifs in Halkin's poetry are the tension between the death wish and the will to live, the loss of religious faith and the consolation which comes with the acceptance of the agony of living. In Ma'avar Yabbok ("The Ford of the Jabbok," 1965), Halkin deals in depth with the death motif. The speaker, obsessed with the love of his dead lover, discovers that the memory of love alone is able to sustain him through the agony of living. "Ya'akov Rabinowitz be-Yarmouth" is Halkin's maturest treatment of this theme. The poem depicts an encounter with a dead friend and writer and the ensuing dialogue across the chasm of death is punctuated by the knowledgeable irony of two men who have lived long and have learned the secret of resignation.

Halkin's works in literary criticism include Arai va-Keva ("Transient and Permanent," 1942), his unedited lectures on the history of modern Hebrew literature (mimeographed), and his English Trends in Modern Hebrew Literature (1950; 1970). The latter is a socio-historical appraisal of Hebrew writing during the last 200 years. Halkin also wrote Zeramim ve-Ẓurot ba-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Ḥadashah (1984) and a volume of essays entitled Ẓiyyonut le-lo Tenai (1985). Though a long-time resident of the United States, he expresses a negative attitude toward American Judaism and insists that its spiritual resources are limited, a view which permeates his unfinished novel Ad Mashber (1945) and his monograph Yehudim ve-Yahadut ba-Amerikah (1946).

Of his numerous translations, that of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1952) is outstanding. He also translated Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (1929) and King John (1947); Jack London's Before Adam (1921) and The Sea Wolf (1924); and Shelley's A Defense of Poetry (1928).

Nekhar, a collection of 11 short stories written over 40 years, appeared in 1972, and in 1981 the volume of poems Ulai. In 1975 Halkin was awarded the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature, and in 1977 there appeared his Shirim, consisting of his collected works. He has also translated George Seferis' early verse into Hebrew. In 1984 there appeared three volumes of his collected poems. A volume entitled Sefer ha-Yovel, with essays on Halkin on the occasion of his 75th birthday, was edited by B. Shahevitch. R. Weiser prepared a bibliography of Halkin's works (1975).

A list of English translations of his work appears in Goell, Bibliography, index.


D. Laor, Mivḥar Ma'amarei Bikkoret al YeẒirato shel Shimon Halkin, 1978; Malachi, in: Yad la-Kore, 3 (1951–53), 32–38; A. Epstein, Soferim Ivrim ba-Amerikah, 1 (1952), 172–208; Gilyonot, 23 (1949), 133–44; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 617f.; Waxman, Literature, 4 (19602), 1073f.; R. Wallenrod, Literature of Modern Israel (1956), index. add. bibliography: B. Shahevitch, Ye'arot Metohamim: Episodot be-Biografiyah Literariyah shel Shimon Halkin (1982); M. Dror, Shirat Shimon Halkin (1983); Y. Shofet, Shimon Halkin, Pegishah (1993); A. Arye, Ideologiyah u-Vikoret Sifrutit: Halkin ve-Kurzweil (1997).

[Eisig Silberschlag