Page 29 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

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21
K
a h n
— Y
ounger
P
oets
o f
I
srael
For the post-war period, our best guide is a penetrating
essay by Professor Simon Halkin,2 which opened the first issue
(Spring, 1952) of
Behinot
(Scrutinies), a periodical for literary
criticism published by the Bialik Institute and edited by S.
Zemach. No attempt was made at a complete survey, but rather
tentative conclusions were reached on the basis of an examina-
tion of volumes published during 1949-1951 by H. Guri, A.
Gilboa, M. Deshe, O. Hillel, N. Jonathan, T . Carmi, P. Sadeh,
and Y. Shalev. Professor Halkin’s essay was remarkable for the
sympathy and profundity of its analysis of a generation whose
chief characteristics at that time seemed to be a hesitant, groping
affirmation of hope and faith. In his idea-crammed twenty pages,
he also attempted to sketch the foundations for an intelligent
criticism of modern poetry, as it takes its source in the general
Weltanschauung
of the lyric poet and finds expression in the
structure, language, and style of his poems.
Living and writing in a period of war and “revolution” (spir-
itual as well as political), the younger poets have lacked the
relatively clear and stable values of the generation of Bialik
which, however radical the changes they too witnessed, had
spiritual roots deep in the Jewish tradition. One result has been
a tendency towards a confounding of the sacred and the secular,
nurtured in part by the ironic elements in N. Alterman and
A. Shlonsky, pioneering poets of the Th ird Aliyah, who played,
each in his own way, variations on a “Waste Land” mood. Among
the
positive
values of this earlier generation (now the “elder
poets”) were those involved in the conquest of the new-old
Landscape and Language of modern Israel, in the ideals of
Labor (completing a trinity of L’s) and in the very act of pioneer-
ing itself, both in life and in literature. If any of the youth,
however, are still “radical” today, they have lived through other
experiences and face other problems as they develop towards
maturity together with the young State.
By contrast with the poets of the 20’s, most of the younger
poets were born in (what was then) Palestine; hence Hebrew
is usually their native tongue. The fundamental and most
intense experiences of their adolescence were those of move-
ments against Hitler and the British Mandatory regime; then
World War II; and finally the more deeply felt War of In-
dependence. These experiences sometimes found expression in
poems which were perhaps “technically” crude, but because
of their immediacy and sincerity have a value “beyond criticism.”
Consider Guri’s heartfelt “Prayer” (from
Fiery Blossoms
) :
2
“Volumes of Young Poetry During the Last Few Years,” pp. 6-25;
see also adaptation of this essay in
Poetry
(Chicago, July 1958, issue de-
voted to “Contemporary Israeli Verse,” pp. 259-265). For the first two
sections I have adapted parts of an earlier essay first published by me in
The Jerusalem Post
and in
Israel Youth Horizon,
Jerusalem, December
1954.