Marshak, Samuil

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Marshak, Samuil Iakovlevich


Born Oct. 22 (Nov. 3), 1887, in Voronezh; died July 4, 1964, in Moscow. Soviet Russian poet.

Marshak was the son of a foreman at a soapworks. He began to write verses early, and in 1902 the talented boy attracted the attention of V. V. Stasov, who introduced him to M. Gorky. From 1904 to 1906, Marshak lived with Gorky’s family in Yalta. His work first appeared in print in 1907. From 1912 to 1914, Marshak attended courses in the department of art at the University of London. From 1915 to 1917 his first translations of English poetry were published in Russian journals. In 1920 he lived in Krasnodar (formerly Ekaterinodar), where he founded one of the first children’s theaters in the country and wrote fairy-tale plays for it.

In 1923, Marshak’s first books of verse for the very young appeared, including The House That Jack Built, Tots in a Cage, and Silly Little Mouse. From 1923 to 1925 he headed the journal Novyi Robinzon (The New Robinson), which brought together writers of the new Soviet literature for children. For a number of years, Marshak was director of the Leningrad editorial board of the State Publishing House of Children’s Literature. Gorky closely consulted with Marshak concerning his plans for a “great literature for little folk.” Marshak’s role as a poet for children was accurately described by A. A. Fadeev, who pointed out that in his verses Marshak knew how to talk to a child about the most complex ideas of great social content. He wrote about the valor of labor and about working people without sounding didactic; on the contrary, his verses were written in a lively, joyful, engaging manner, often in the form of a game, that was intelligible to children. These distinctive features of Marshak’s works for children were present in his early books The Fire, The Mail, and War With the Dnieper and in such later works as the satirical lampoon Mister Twister (1933) and the romantic poem Tale of an Unknown Hero (1938); they also appeared in his wartime and postwar writings, such as Military Mail (1944), True Stories and Fables (1947), and Year Round (1948). Marshak wrote excellent, exemplary children’s tales, songs, riddles, and plays for children’s theaters including Twelve Months, If You Fear Sorrow, YouNever Know Happiness, and Clever Things.

As a translator, Marshak enriched Soviet Russian poetry with classical translations of Shakespeare’s sonnets and of songs and ballads by Burns, Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Kipling, Lear, and Milne, as well as Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Lithuanian, and Armenian poets. As a lyrical poet, Marshak won renown with his book of verses Selected Lyrical Verse (1962; Lenin Prize, 1963) and with a collection of lyrical epigrams.

As a prose writer and critic, Marshak was the author of the autobiographical novella At Life’s Beginning (1960) and of articles and notes on poetic technique (the book A Literary Upbringing, 1961). During the Great Patriotic War, Marshak proved to be a talented satirist. His satirical verses appeared regularly in Pravda and his wartime posters (done in collaboration with Kukryniksy) were enormously popular at the front and at home. Marshak’s books have been translated into many languages of the peoples of the USSR and into foreign languages. Marshak was awarded the State Prize of the USSR in 1942, 1946, 1949, and 1951. He received two Orders of Lenin, two other orders, and a number of medals.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.