The Reader as Witness: “City of the Killings” and Bialik’s Romantic Historiography

  • Lilach Lachman


The hundred years that have passed since the Kishinev pogrom mark an epoch in the study of “City of the Killings” by Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873–1934), and of Hebrew Romanticism in general. Now is perhaps a good moment to approach a complex of historical and poetic problems through the discussion of a single work. The questions raised by this long poem are once again resonant, although their importance may not yet have been fully absorbed.3 Of special interest is how the poem makes a correlation between Jewish history and the reader’s role in shaping it. While centering his “City of the Killings” on an anatomy of the life and death of the nation, Bialik not only urges a revival of Jewish identity, but also requires the reader’s active engagement in its construction. In the first part of my essay, I examine how Bialik’s encounter with Kishinev affected his ideological and historiographic principles, which, in turn, shaped the poetics of “City of the Killings.” In the second part, I propose that the question of Jewish history might be indispensable to the belatedness of Hebrew Romanticism. I account for Bialik’s innovation of the Hebrew long poem by reference to the interplay between his historiographie and aesthetic principles. As much as “City of the Killings” enhanced a new paradigm of action and identity, the tensions between history and aesthetics required Bialik to sever Hebrew literature from the romantic models that his own poetry had incorporated, and to reshape the existing Hebrew tradition, pushing it forward to Modernism.


Austrian Emperor Jewish Identity Jewish History Tender Spring Romantic Model 
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© Sheila A. Spector 2005

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  • Lilach Lachman

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