Marshak, Samuel Yakovlevich

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MARSHAK, SAMUEL YAKOVLEVICH (1887–1964), Zionist and Russian poet. Marshak was born in Voronezh. Though his father received a solid religious education, Marshak himself seems to have experienced traditional Judaism only when he lived, as a child, with his observant grandparents in Vitebsk. There, for two years, he studied Hebrew with a teacher by the name of Khalameyzer, whom he lovingly remembered and described in his childhood reminiscences V nachale zhizni ("At Life's Beginning," 1960). But it seems that he mastered Hebrew, as well as ancient and modern Jewish literature, sufficiently well to be able to translate it into Russian. Marshak received his formal education in Russian high schools in St. Petersburg and also in the Crimean town of Yalta, where he lived in Maxim *Gorki's house.

According to his second autobiographical note "O sebe" ("About Myself"), published posthumously as an introduction to the eight-volume collection of his writings, he "began being published in almanacs in 1907." But actually his first verse had already appeared in Russian-language Jewish journals (Yevreyskaya Zhizn, Molodaya Iudeya) in 1904–07, all of them enthusiastically Zionist, such as poems on the death of *Herzl ("20 Tammuz" and "Na grobe"), poems based on biblical themes (from Ezekiel and Song of Songs), on midrashic legends, about the Spanish Inquisition, and programmatic Zionist poetry (especially for youth), etc. Later he published his poetry, including translations from *Bialik, in the Zionist Razsvet, in which, after a visit in 1911 to Ereẓ Israel, he also published his observations and impressions of the various Jewish communities in the country. In his poem "Palestina," published in 1916 in Yevreyskaya Zhizn, he contrasted the Jewish plight in Russia during World War i to the elation he experienced in Ereẓ Israel. His poem "Ierusalim," which depicts his journey to the Holy City, was included in the Russian-language anthology of Jewish poetry Safrut (1918). The Evrejskaya Anthaloga ("Hebrew Anthology"), which appeared in Moscow in 1918, edited by L. *Jaffe and V. *Khodasevich, published Marshak's translations from Bialik, Z. *Shneur and D. Shimonovich *(Shimoni).

As a high school student, during his stay in Gorki's house in Yalta, he was active until the summer of 1906 in organizing Zionist youth circles of Molodaya Iudeya ("Young Judea"). Under the influence of the clandestine *Po'alei Zion delegate, Isaac Shimshelevich (later Izhak *Ben-Zvi, the second president of Israel), Marshak became an activist of the illegal Po'alei Zion movement, and his address at Gorki's house even served as a liaison between the center of the movement in Poltava and its delegate in the Crimea. According to Ben-Zvi's letters, seized by the Czarist police, Marshak was active in organizing the Po'alei Zion branch in Yalta and the distribution of Yevreyskaya Rabochaya Khronika ("Jewish Workers' Chronicle"). During his stay in London (1912–13) Marshak was still in touch with Po'alei Zion, and Ber *Borochov mentions him in one of his letters to a London friend. Thus, from his high school days in Yalta until after the Russian Revolution, when he participated in the editing of the Russian-language anthologies of Jewish literature in Moscow, Marshak was a dedicated Zionist. This chapter in his life has been completely omitted from Marshak's biographies and autobiographical notes published in the Soviet Union.

[Matityahu Minc]

Most historians of Russian writing would probably accept Marshak's designation by his friend Maxim Gorki as the founder of Soviet children's literature. His first children's book was Detki v kletke ("Children in a Cage," 1923). There is hardly a Russian child or young adult who does not know some of Marshak's verse by heart. His nursery rhymes, songs, and verse form part of the Soviet kindergarten and school curriculum, and his plays have long been among the mainstays of the Soviet children's theater. There are few ideological elements in his verse, in which he usually exhorts children to be truthful, to obey their parents, to study diligently, and to be kind to animals. Four volumes of his writings, including his first autobiographical note, appeared in 1957–60. Marshak was also famous as a translator of the great European poets, including Shakespeare, Blake, Byron, and Heine.

Marshak's sister, yelena yakovlevna ilina (pen name of Liya Yakovlevna Preis, 1901–1964), was a well-known children's writer in her own right, and his brother, M. Ilin (pen name of Ilya Yakovlevich Marshak, 1895–1953), was probably the best-known Soviet writer of popular science, particularly for children. He won the Stalin Prize four times (1942, 1946, 1949, 1951), and the Lenin Prize in 1962.

[Maurice Friedberg]


B.E. Galanov, S.Ya. Marshak… (Rus., 1956); B.M. Sarnov, Samuil Marshak… (Rus., 1968); M. Minc, in: Beḥinot, 1 (1970).

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Marshak, Samuel Yakovlevich

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