Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak (; – July 4, 1964) was a Russian and Soviet
writer, translator and children's poet.
He translated Shakespeare's sonnets, some other Shakespeare's works, English poetry (including poems for children) and poetry from other languages.
Maxim Gorky proclaimed Marshak to be "the founder of Russia's (Soviet) children's literature."
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 1920 he moved to Ekaterinodar (now Krasnodar) to head the province's section of orphanages and it was there that he and a group of enthusiasts, including Elena Vasilieva, organized Children's town that included a children's theater, library, and studios. For this theater, he co-wrote plays that later became the book Theater for Children.
In 1922, Marshak moved back to what was then Petrograd to become the head of the Children's Literature Studio. He published the following works at the publishing house "Радуга" ("Rainbow"):
Детки в клетке (Kids in a cage), Пожар (Fire) 1923, Сказка о глупом мышонке (The Tale of a Silly Mouse), 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.
Marshak had a prolific career in children's literature. Soviet critic Viktor Shklovsky wrote that "Samuil Marshak understood that many new writers would appear in the new Soviet republic. He stood at the door of literature, a benevolent angel, armed not with a sword nor with a pencil, but with words on work and inspiration." Marshak's contributions to the field of children's literature was not just limited to his own writings. In 1924, Marshak became the head of the children's branch of the state publishing house Gosizdat (GIZ), a position he held for over a decade. Through his role as editor, Marhsak attracted some of Russia's best writers to try their hand at writing for children, including Evgenii Shvarts and OBERIU member Daniil Kharms.
Among his Russian translations there are William Shakespeare's sonnets and songs from Shakespeare's plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor (together with Mikhail Morozov, who translated prosaic scenes), poems of Robert Burns, William Blake, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Robert Louis Stevenson, W. B. Yeats, Edward Lear, Lewis Carrol, Rudyard Kipling, T. S. Eliot, A. A. Milne, English and Scottish folk ballads, poems from Nursery rhymes. Besides English poetry, he translated poems of Heinrich Heine, Sándor Petőfi, Gianni Rodari and Ovanes Tumanyan. His main work in this area is translation of Shakespeare's sonnets (1948). This translation has enjoyed great success over the years. Some Shakespeare sonnets in Marshak's translation have been set to music (in classical style by Dmitry Kabalevsky, in pop style by Tikhon Khrennikov, Mikael Tariverdiev, Alla Pugacheva and others, even in rock style — Kruiz). His translations are considered classics in Russia. But many of Marshak's poetic translations became so entrenched in Russian culture, that it was often quipped that Marshak was not so much a translator as a co-author.
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. Although not widely known, in the Soviet era, Marshak was on the (political) razor's edge and barely escaped death in 1937. There is an opinion that Stalin's death (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-Fascist Committee. However, the process of the committee ended in August 1952 (12 executed and 98 subjected to repression) and Marshak was not accused. In 1953 with the death of Josef Stalin and the onset of Khrushchev Thaw Marshak was out of danger. Samuil Marshak died on July 4, 1964 and was buried in Moscow.
Honours and awards
- Four Stalin Prizes
- second class (1942) - a poetic text to posters and cartoons
- second class (1946) - for the play-tale "Twelve Months" (1943)
- second class (1949) - translations of sonnets by William Shakespeare
- first class (1951) - a collection of "Verses for Children"
- Lenin Prize (1963) - for the book "Selected poetry for children" (1962) and children's books: "A quiet tale," "Big pocket," "The Adventure of the road", "Calm down", "From one to ten", "Vaks Blob", "Who can find a ring", "Merry journey from A to Z"
- Two Orders of Lenin, incl 1939
- Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class (1945)
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour
- In 2012, his books were included in an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art
- Vladimir Lebedev (painter) - he illustrated many of Marshak's books
- The Twelve Months (1956 film)
- Twelve Months (1980 film)
- Marshak's site -in Russian
- Biography of Marshak-in Russian