When Hayim Nahman Bialik (1873-1934) published his first Hebrew book in Warsaw in 1901, he was acclaimed as "the poet of the national renaissance." Since then he has been considered the national Hebrew poet of the Jewish people.

Born in the Ukraine, H. N. Bialik received a strict religious Jewish education, but was attracted to the Enlightenment movement. At 18, he left for Odessa, where he was active in Jewish literary circles. In Berlin (1921) he founded the Dvir publishing house, and in Tel Aviv (from 1924) devoted himself to cultural activities and public affairs.

Bialik's national and nature poetry, his allegorical works, folksongs, and his compilations of legends and folktales have been widely translated. All his poetry, except for some of his children’s poems, was written in the Ashkenazi accent. In the following poem, the young girl turns to the wise acacia tree to reveal to her who she is to marry.

Neither Daylight nor the Darkness
(The Old Acacia Tree)

Neither daylight nor the darkness
See how silently I wander.
Not on mountain, nor in valley,
Does an old acacia ponder.

The acacia solves all mysteries,
Tells my fortune while I tarry.
I shall ask the tree to tell me
Whom O whom, am I to marry?

Where will he be from, O Acacia,
Is it Poland, Lithuania?
Will he come with a horse and a carriage
Or with staff and sack will he appear?

And what presents will be bring me -
Necklace of pearls and coral flower?
Tell me, will he be fair or dark-haired?
Still unmarried or a widower?

If he's old, my dear Acacia,
I won't have him, please don't try me.
I'll tell my father; you may slay me,
But to an old man do not tie me!

At his feet I'll fall and with tears I'll cry;
To an old man do not tie me.

Click on the speaker to hear
"The Old Acacia Tree" by H.N. Bialik
Music: Yehezkel Braun.

Sung by the Efroni Girls' Choir (1984).
Produced by: Beth Hatefutsoth,
Museum of the Jewish Diaspora,
Jewish Music Dept.

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