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Samuil Marshak - biography

Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak (Russian: Самуи́л Я́ковлевич Марша́к; November 3 [O.S. October 22] 1887 - June 4, 1964) was a Russian and Soviet writer, translator and children's poet. Among his Russian translations are William Shakespeare's sonnets, poems by William Blake and Robert Burns, and Rudyard Kipling's stories. Maxim Gorky proclaimed Marshak to be "the founder of [Russia's (Soviet)] children's literature."


Early years

Samuil was born on November 3, 1887 in Voronezh. His father was a foreman at a soap-making plant. He got a good home education and later studied at the gymnasium (secondary school) of Ostrogozhsk, a suburb of Voronezh. Samuil started to write poetry during his childhood years in Voronezh.

In 1902, the Marshak's family moved to Saint Petersburg. There was a complication: as a Jew, Marshak could not legally live outside the Pale of Settlement, thus he could not attend school while living in the city. "The philanthropist and scholar Baron David Gunzburg took an interest in [Marshak]" and introduced him to "the influential critic, Vladimir Stasov." Stasov was so impressed by the schoolboy's literary talent that he arranged an exception from the Pale laws for Samuil and his family. He also introduced Marshak to Maxim Gorky and Feodor Chaliapin.

In 1904, Samuil was diagnosed with tuberculosis and could no longer continue to live in the cold climate of Saint Petersburg. Maxim Gorky arranged for Samuil to live with his family in the Black Sea resort town of Yalta (1904-1907). Gorky and Chalyapin also paid for his education and therapy.

Young poet, philosopher and translator

In 1904, he published his first works in the magazines Jewish Life and in mid- to late 1900s, Marshak "created a body of Zionist verse, some of which" appeared in such periodicals as Young Judea. In 1907, he returned to Saint Petersburg, and subsequently published numerous works in the popular magazine Satyricon. "Marshak failed to enter a university [in Russia] 'for political insecurity' and earn his living, giving lessons and writing for magazines." "He brought many impressions, poems and a beautiful wife from his first trip to the Middle East."

In 1912, he moved to England and studied philosophy at the University of London. "He fell in love with English culture [and] with poetry." In his senior year at the University, he published his translations of the poetry of William Blake, Robert Burns, and William Wordsworth in Russia. Marshak also translated "Shakespeare, Byron, and Kipling." "His translations are considered classic in Russia." Shortly before World War I, in 1914, he returned to Russia and devoted himself to translation.

Children's poetry

In 1914, Marshak and his wife worked with children of Jewish refugees in Voronezh. "The death of Marshak's young daughter [in 1915] directed him toward children's literature." In 1917, "Marshak moved to Ekaterinodar (now Krasnodar) [to head] the province's section of orphanages" and it was there that he and a group of enthusiasts (namely Elena Vasilieva organized Children's town that included children's theater, library, and studios. For that theater, he co-wrote plays that later became the book Theater for Children.

From writing children's fiction he moved on to writing poetry for children. Starting from 1922 he worked with the publishing house Raduga (Rainbow) where he published: Детки в клетке (Kids in a cage), Пожар (Fire) 1923, Сказка о глупом мышонке (The Tale of the Foolish Mouse Pup), Синяя птица (Blue bird), Цирк (Circus), Мороженое (Ice-cream), Вчера и сегодня» (Yesterday and today) 1925, Багаж (Luggage) 1926, Пудель (Poodle), Почта (Post Office) 1927, and Вот какой рассеянный (What an absent-minded guy) 1930. All of these became very popular.

Later years

In 1937, Marshak moved to Moscow, where he worked on children's books and translations. During World War II, he published satires against the Nazis. After the war he continued to publish children's books including: Разноцветная книга (Multicolored book) 1948, Круглый год (All year round) 1948, Тихая сказка (A Quiet tale) 1956, etc.

In the last years of his life, he wrote aphoristic verses that he named lyrical epigrams. They were published in his last book, Selected Lyrics (Избранная Лирика) in 1963. He also published three tale plays: The Twelve months 1943, Afraid of troubles - cannot have luck 1962, and Smart things 1964. He also translated the works of Gianni Rodari, William Blake, Edward Lear, and Rudyard Kipling into Russian. Many of his translations became so entrenched in Russian culture, that it was often quipped that Marshak was not so much a translator as a co-author.

Although not widely known, "in the Soviet times, Marshak was on the [political] razor's edge and hardly escaped death in 1937." "Stalin's death in 1953 saved Marshak from inevitable death in the period of 'the fight against cosmopolitism'." "His name was often mentioned in the documents of the eliminated Jewish Anti-Nazi Committee."

Samuil Marshak has been awarded four times the Stalin Prize (1942, 1946, 1949, 1951), two Orders of Lenin and other orders and medals.

Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   Samuil Marshak

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