1: Excerpts from two translations of “The City of Slaughter”/ “City of the Killings.”

1: Excerpts from two translations of “The City of Slaughter”/ “City of the Killings.”

The first of these translations, made decades ago by the Canadian Jewish author A. M. Klein, is widely regarded as having “succeeded in conveying,” as Alan Mintz puts it, “Bialik’s juxtaposition of a high biblical diction with restraint and austerity in description.” However, as attentive readers at the time and since have noted, one of the things that distinguishes “In the City of Slaughter” is its mixture, as the critic Dan Miron puts it, of “the loftiness of the Biblical-prophetic tone with the tawdriness of sensationalist news-reportage,” and the latter may not come across fully in Klein’s translation. The second, more recent translation, by the contemporary translator Atar Hadari, brings Bialik’s language much closer to contemporary vernacular English and may do more to help English readers capture some of the shifts in tone between the high Biblical register and the low one—shifts that Bialik evidently meant for readers to hear.

NB: Though A. M. Klein’s translation of the poem is titled “The City of Slaughter,” the poem will be referred to throughout this resource kit by its more commonly used name, “In the City of Slaughter.”
Suggested Activities: Read the title and first line of the poem as rendered by the two different translators. What differences do you notice in terms of word choice? What effect does using a more archaic form of the second person (“thy/thine”) have on the poem in Klein’s translation? Does “town of killings” create a different image than “city of slaughter”? What similarities do you notice between the two translations? Do you think these translations are targeting the same audience? Why or why not?

Next, take a look at an excerpt from the end of both translations. What differences do you notice in punctuation? How do you think these differences affect the tone of the piece? What feeling does the last line of each excerpt leave you with?

Sources: H. N. Bialik, "The City of Slaughter," trans. A. M. Klein, Complete Poetic Works of Hayyim Nahman Bialik, ed. Israel Efros (New York: Histadruth Ivrith of America, 1948): 129–43 (Vol. I).

H. N. Bialik, “City of the Killings” in Atar Hadari, Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of Hayim Nahman Bialik, ed. Atar Hadari (Syracuse: Syracuse University, 2000), 1–9.