Page 240 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

Basic HTML Version

e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
22 0
the divine source of all life on our planet. Though pagan in
inspiration, it is based on a mishnaic text (Sukkah 5.4) and on
an echo of a prophetic verse (Ezekiel 8.16): “Our fathers, when
they were in this place, with their backs to the Sanctuary and
their faces to the east, worshipped the sun to the east.” It was
Tschernichowsky's erroneous contention throughout his life that
Jewish paganism, powerful in its insistence on life-giving rather
than on life-denying forces, preceded its later forms of religion;
that Jewish paganism was friend rather than foe of Greek pagan-
ism; that Jewish paganism was a link in the chain of Semitic
religions. These musings in the sonnets “To the Sun” are open
to easy refutation on historical and religious grounds. But the
transmutation of this ideological dross into poetic gold captivates
the lover of poetry with an irresistible strength. Tschernichowsky
had a passionate attachment to all forms of ancient religion and
he conveyed it in numerous poems throughout his life. He was
conscious of the profound difference of his personal creed from
his people's creed. And he even identified with the false prophets
who—according to his interpretation—were earth-centered rather
than heaven-directed, human-centered rather than God-intoxi-
The Poet as Innovator
The idylls of Tschernichowsky are as new in content as the
sonnets. But they are also new in form and, by their very nature,
epic in scope. The sonnet is a lyrical aper^u; the idyll is a nar-
rative. Nineteenth century East European Jewry in a rural setting
—this is the startling departure of Tschernichowsky's important
idylls from a hackneyed theme. For poets and novelists before
him depicted the urbanized Jew, the small-town Jew, the
L u f t-
in his infinite variety of non-occupations. Since his older
contemporary, Mendele Mokher Sefarim, exposed the Jew to
nature, Tschernichowsky may have been inspired by the master
of Hebrew prose in the choice of one of his major themes. And
he may have learned from him the subtle uses of the talmudic
idiom. Small wonder that he dedicated one of his finer nature
poems, “Charms of the Forest,” to Mendele. And he admired him
throughout his life.
Tschernichowsky's sonnets are high-pitched, his idylls are
serene. Even Jew and gentile live in good neighborliness. They
exult in physical strength, in feats of valor, in the use of rough
and simple idiom. Traditional in outlook, the rural Jews are
not rigid in observance. For them religion is a joy, a ritual, a
gay interlude in the humdrum daily existence. Though incipient
Zionism and socialism have made their first inroads into their
unchanging life, theirs is still a world of hard work with the