Lider (Poems), by Leyb Naydus (Warsaw: Kinderfraynd, 1938). Yiddish poems published in a series of literary works for young readers. (YIVO)

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Naydus, Leyb

(1890–1918), Yiddish poet. Leyb Naydus was born in Grodno (Hrodna) to a wealthy, somewhat maskilic family. Most of his childhood was spent on a spacious estate near his birthplace, where he had private tutors for Jewish and general studies. He later attended Russian schools, but never graduated. He wrote in Russian, Hebrew, and Yiddish from an early age and published poems in the provincial Russian press. A collection of his youthful Russian poems remained unpublished.

Naydus began to publish in Yiddish in 1907, and from then on, that language was his sole creative medium. His poems appeared in Yiddish literary publications in such cities as Warsaw and Vilna. In 1908, he settled in Vilna, where he regularly contributed light articles and poems with local color to the Yiddish local press. His first book of poetry, Lirik: Ershtes bukh, was published in Ekaterinoslav in 1915 (printed in Vilna), but because of wartime conditions its critical reception was quite limited. He also wrote children’s poetry. Naydus devoted considerable effort to translating poetry into Yiddish, mainly from Russian and French (Pushkin, Lermontov, Baudelaire), but also from other languages. His translations of Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin (which remained unfinished) and of an extensive selection from Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal were published posthumously.

During World War I, Naydus returned to Grodno, where he became involved in the Yiddish cultural activities of the area, giving public readings and lectures. He died after a brief illness at the age of 28. His sudden death was a significant factor in the way he was later remembered in Yiddish cultural circles: a poet cut down in his youth without the opportunity to fulfill his creative potential.

Thanks to the efforts of his colleagues, and especially of his close friend, the writer Avrom Zak, most of his literary legacy was published posthumously in Warsaw. These texts include Dos bukh fun poemen (The Book of Poems; 1923), Litvishe arabeskn (Lithuanian Arabesques; 1924), Lirik (Lyric Poetry; 1926, includes a reprint of his first book), Rusishe dikhtung: Pushkin un Lermontov (Russian Poetry: Pushkin and Lermontov; 1926), and Fun velt-parnas (From the World Parnassus; 1928). A selection of his poetry appeared in the series Musterverk fun der Yidisher Literatur (1958).

The critical literature about Naydus’s oeuvre addresses the question of to what extent he accomplished his declared aim of enriching the aesthetic dimensions of Yiddish poetry. Some critics maintained that his verse suffered from superficial ornamentation. Naydus unabashedly proclaimed his own artistic endeavor to be groundbreaking and, in lines that came to be cited often by Yiddish critics, he boldly declared, “I am the only one who has found / in our mother tongue the lovely sound.” His work is indeed unique within the larger framework of contemporary Yiddish poetry: while he did write on national themes, they are not very prominent in his poetry, and the motifs that were common in his time, such as shtetl life, poverty, and need, are almost completely absent from his poetry. On the other hand, an attraction to orientalism and exoticism plays an important role in his work. Nature is central to his poems, which are rife with pantheistic elements. His love poems often remind one of the bourgeois culture of lighthearted flirtations, but in the context of contemporary Yiddish poetry, they are distinctive in the sense that the poet steers clear of feelings of erotic inferiority and sings out his desires with a full voice.

Naydus’s poetic language is marked by his abundant use of words of international coinage and reflects the full breadth of the poet’s cultural horizons. Allusions to Greek mythology, oriental motifs, and references to West European culture in his poetry play a central role. His frequent use of sonnets, octaves, triolets, and other complex verse forms is a manifestation of his intention to enrich Yiddish poetry in all its aspects. Naydus’s poetry attempts to create the feeling of a broad range of nearly unlimited possibilities that the poet encounters on his way, an impression of cultural and emotional richness, of fullness and abundance.

Suggested Reading

Jacob Glatstein, In tokh genumen: Eseyen 1949–1959, vol. 1, pp. 147–151 (Buenos Aires, 1960); Samuel Niger, “Lirishe siluetn,” Di tsukunft 25 (1920): 423–428; Naftole Vaynig, “Naydus-etyudn,” Di goldene keyt 129 (1990): 57–86, 130 (1990): 86–126; Mordekhai Yafeh, “Naydus, Leyb,” in Leksikon fun der nayer yidisher literatur, vol. 6, cols. 213–218 (New York, 1961); Avrom Zak, “Leyb Naydus: Biografishe notitsn,” in Litvishe arabeskn, by Leyb Naydus, pp. v–xix (Warsaw, 1924).



Translated from Yiddish by Yankl Salant