Page 242 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
exuberance, in the ballad of his maturer years “In the Land
of Ephraim.”
The ballads about Saul carry special weight and significance.
For Saul was not only a namesake; it was a name in history,
a prototype of kingship and tragedy. Out of six poems about
Saul, five are ballads: “Endor,” “On the Ruins of Bet Shan,”
“The King,” “On the Mountains of Gilboa,” “A Band of Valiant
Men.” And with the exception of one, “The King,” they all
deal with the final chapter in Saul’s life. The most beautiful
ballad, “A Band of Valiant Men,” is a poetic version of the
last three verses of the First Book of Samuel. I t tells the story
of the valiant men who stole the bodies of the king and his
sons from the wall of Bet Shan and buried them under a tree in
Jabesh. The solemn march of men who carry the burden of
death under cover of night is depicted with consummate mastery.
The memory of the dead heroes is transformed into an instant
legend. No sign marks the grave. Neither the enemy nor David,
the upstart king, “the slave of Bethlehem,” must know about
the ultimate disposition of the generous heart of Saul who fell
on his sword like a lion. Even Hebrew literature, so rich in
elegiac poetry, has few exemplars of such tragic intensity as
“A Band of Valiant Men.”
Tschernichowsky developed the sonnet, the idyll, the ballad
to a peak of perfection. He gave elegance to the sonnet, simplicity
to the idyll, folklike art and artlessness to the ballad. These three
genres are no longer popular today. Traditional genres and
traditional meters have been superseded by free verse, free
association, nondescript form in Hebrew poetry and in all the
major literatures of the world. Yet Tschernichowsky’s poetic
explorations of the ancient faith and the modern dilemma,
entrusted to rhymed and rhythmic verse, is still a powerful source
of the most revolutionary Hebrew poets in recent years.
Translations and Transformations
It is not only his original work which serves as paradigm and
pattern. His massive translations have blazed trails for many
vigorous successors and weak epigones. No other Hebrew poet
translated so compulsively, so much, so often. And no one was
better equipped for the onerous task.
His mastery of Hebrew, his knowledge of Greek and Latin,
Russian and Old Slavonic, Ukrainian and Serbian, German and
Yiddish, French and English, supplied him with unusual in-
sights into linguistic structures and styles. He made good use of
all these languages—with the exception of Yiddish and Ukrainian
—for his work of translation. Such was his cultural curiosity