Page 239 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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S A U L T S C H E R N I C H O W S K Y
P A N O R A M I C P O E T
For the 25th Anniversary of His Death
B
y
E
isig
S
ilb er sch lag
T
schernichowsky
is the leading Hebrew poet of the twentieth
century. His seminal influence on contemporary Hebrew
poetry continues with unabated persistence. Many spheres of
poetic endeavor—genre, rhythm, content, language, verse transla-
tion—bear the stamp of his powerful art.
Sonnet, ballad, idyll owe him their greatest efflorescense. Not
all three genres were new in modern Hebrew literature. The
sonnet was cultivated by Hebrew poets more than six hundred
years ago. But Hebrew sonneteers before Tschernichowsky—
from Immanuel of Rome in the late thirteenth and early four-
teenth century to Judah Leb Gordon in the nineteenth century
—rarely rose above the trivial and the light-hearted flirtations
with the love-theme. Tschernichowsky gave that genre a tenseness,
a terseness, a compactness from his earliest to his maturest years.
And all his major themes reverberated in his sonnets: his revolt
against the accepted norm, his admiration for the fiercer aspects
of nature, his disgust with diaspora-bred weakness, his passion
for freedom.
In two sonnet cycles—“On the Blood” and “To the Sun”—
Tschernichowsky achieves a poetic statement of credal signifi-
cance. “On the Blood” manages to transmit the romantic notion
of imagination as a source of individual renewal and the notion
of the poet as the superior priest of beauty. These are Shelleyan
notions which have their source and origin in the Platonic
dialogues, especially in the
Phaedrus
and in the
Symposium.
But they are announced and developed with an unaccustomed
vigor in Tschernichowsky’s sonnets. And they gain their validity
through an adroit manipulation of contrast with the so-called
reformers who promise reform when they woo power and who
drown their promise in rivers of blood when they achieve it.
The cycle “To the Sun”—one of the most magnificent sonnet
sequences in Hebrew literature—reads like a liturgical poem to
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