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Driz, Shike

(1908–1971), Soviet Yiddish poet. Born in Krosno (Vinnitsa region) and named after his father, who died before his birth, Shike (Ovsei, in Russian) Driz was raised by his grandfather, a tinsmith. Driz first studied with a private melamed and later transferred to a Soviet Yiddish elementary school. Later he moved to Kiev, where he worked in a factory and studied at the Kiev Art School and later at the Kiev Art Institute. An aspiring sculptor, perhaps inspired by his grandfather’s craftsmanship, he turned to writing Yiddish poetry in the late 1920s. Some 20 years later, he was forced to rely on his practical skills, working at menial masonry works when public Yiddish literary activity was forbidden. Driz’s first collection of Yiddish verse, Likhtike vor (Radiant Life), appeared in Kiev in 1930 and his second, Shtolener koyakh (Might of Steel), was published in 1934.

In 1934, Driz enlisted in the Red Army and served in its border guard. After the Soviet annexation of eastern Poland in 1939, he offered help and support to Polish Jewish refugees. After the war, he moved to Moscow. The short postwar flowering enjoyed by Yiddish cultural and literary life ended with its complete shutdown in late 1948. Driz was spared, however, during the mass arrests of Jewish intellectuals, writers, and public figures that began at the end of that decade. A biographical sketch states that in those years “life did not spoil him”; other references simply mention that he “dedicated himself” at that point to stonecutting and masonry. Driz was the prototype for one of the central characters, Yashe Rozen, of Shmuel Gordon’s historical novel Yizker (In Memoriam; 2003).

At the beginning of his literary career, Driz befriended one of the leading masters of modern Yiddish poetry, Leyb Kvitko (1890/93–1952), a rising star of Soviet children’s literature (primarily in Russian translations). Kvitko, it seems, inspired Driz to write for young readers. By the Khrushchev era, Driz had become a leading Soviet Yiddish poet. His poems and songs for children appeared in Russian translations in multiple editions and in mass print runs; they continue to be popular in post-Soviet Russia. Driz’s “adult” poetry was also greatly valued and has been relatively well published in Russian translation since the early 1960s.

A collection of Driz’s poems for children was published in English translation as The Boy and the Tree, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (1978). Between 1959 and 1990, at least 20 books of his poetry, most of them for children, appeared in Russian translation. Among these, his cycle of poems on Khelemer khakhomim (Wise Men of Chelm), masterfully translated by Genrikh Sapgir (Khelomskie mudretsy; 1969), particularly stands out; it was reissued with additional poems by the same translator in 2004. In the post-Soviet period, Russian translations of his poetry, especially his poems for children, continue to be published in print and on the Internet.

Driz was one of the foremost postwar masters of lyrical, highly refined Yiddish verse. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish his children’s poetry from his adult poetry since the former is often quite serious, while the latter is playfully suggestive. His poetry’s ostensibly folklike quality—which drew much from Yiddish idiom, lore, and folk song—is at the same time marked by sophisticated diction, wry and sometimes bitter humor, and witty stylization. Some aspects of his poetics bear uncanny affinity with elements of Itsik Manger’s poetic style. Driz himself often performed many of his own poems as songs or melodeclamations, frequently using his own tunes (at least one 1958 recording of such a performance has survived).

A gifted and popular lyricist, Driz wrote a number of popular songs, among them “Babi Yar,” which became a staple of folk singer Nehama Lifshits’s repertoire, and “Dem zeydns nign” (The Grandfather’s Melody). The music to some of his best-known songs was composed inter alia by Rive Boiarskaia, Shoul Berezovsky, Boris Tishchenko, Leybu Levin, Leyb Yampolski, and most recently Josh Waletzky.

Driz’s third collection of poetry in Yiddish, Di ferte strune (The Fourth String), appeared in Moscow in 1969, 35 years after the publication of his second Yiddish book. The fourth book, Harbst (Autumn), was published posthumously in 1978. While the bulk of his later poetry is well represented in the last two books, many of his earlier and some later poems were never published in book form in the original Yiddish.

Suggested Reading

Lev Kassil, “Solntse v pugovke,” in Veselyi pekar’, by Ovsei (Shike) Driz, pp. 3–6 (Moscow, 1959); Yoysef Kerler, “Shike Driz,” in Geklibene proze, pp. 147–159 (Jerusalem 1991); Boris Khandros, “Shike Driz—Magician from [the] Country of Seven-Colour Childhod,” Jewish Observer [Kiev] (June 2003), available at en.php?id 153 (this article in the Russian original is available at; Galina Petrova, “An eygnartiker dikhter,” Sovetish Heymland (1978), no. 5, pp. 167–172.