Page 75 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 18

Basic HTML Version

Neither Longfellow’s Hiawatha, thematic kinsman of Silkiner’s
narrative poem, nor the noble savage of Chateaubriand, is the
latest fashion in contemporary literature. Still, “Before the Tent
of Timmurah” is a milestone in Hebrew literature. Silkiner’s
contemporaries and successors mined that native Indian ore to
exhaustion. Ephraim Lisitzky achieved the best integration of
his poetical talent in
Medurot Doakot
(Dying Campfires) and
Israel Efros depicted a tender love-story in verse in
(Silent Wigwams). But only Silkiner achieved a pe-
culiarly Hebraic poem in spite of a non-Hebraic theme. Struc-
turally and thematically it resembles the great poetic prototypes
of Gordon who loved to depict decisive moments in Jewish his-
tory. Silkiner also chose a crucial time in the life of an Indian
tribe: struggle with an invader and ultimate defeat. Gordon’s
dramatic monologue
Zidkiyahu be-Bet ha-Pekudot
(Zedekiah in
Prison) is a clash of two wills: the will of the king who, as the
realistic statesman, wishes to protect his country with equitable
laws and strong fortifications, and the will of the prophet Jere-
miah who preaches a spiritualization of life which, in his op-
ponent’s view, is attenuation of life and fatal state-policy. Tha t
dichotomy of might and right, Silkiner again invokes in his poem:
the warrior Mugiral serves war, the priest of the Soul-God Ezima
practices the gentle art of peace. While Gordon sympathizes with
the symbol of power—the king, Silkiner shows his preference for
the symbol of pity and kindness—the priest.
Rosenzweig may be regarded as the father of Hebrew satire,
Silkiner as the father of the narrative Hebrew poem in America.
The former held to the deluded belief that he was a poet, the
latter never seriously strayed into prose and never swerved from
his poetic vocation. It was his personal tragedy and the mis-
fortune of Hebrew poetry that his potential ability exceeded his
actual performance. Extremely sensitive to the biblical idiom and
excessively erudite in biblical studies, he seemed to be the ideal in-
terpreter of ancient insights in verse. But his “Ru th” and “There
is no King in Moab” are merely unfulfilled promises of larger
undertakings. Endowed with a historical imagination and en-
amored of our Golden Age in Spain, he seemed to possess the
right empathy for spiritual heroism. But he succeeded in com-
posing a beautiful fragment, “Manoah Franko,” rather than a
great poem: a torso on the theme of redemption. Enamored of
the genius of Shakespeare, he thought of translating, in coopera-
tion with a few Hebrew poets in America, the entire Shakes-
pearean corpus. But he only succeeded in producing a Hebrew
version of “Macbeth” which appeared posthumously in Warsaw
in 1939—one of the last Hebrew books to be published in the