Page 243 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 25

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S
ilber schlag
— S
a u l
T
sch ern ich ow sk y
223
that he even translated from translations: the Babylonian epic
of Gilgamesh, Akhnaton’s “Hymn to the Sun,” poems from the
Old Icelandic
Edda
and the Finnish epic
Kalevala ,
some Georgian
and Persian and Swedish lyrics. Many heterogeneous poets are
represented in Tschernichowsky’s translations: Burns and Byron,
Shelley and Francis Thompson, Heine and Dehmel, Alfred de
Musset and Jose Maria de Heredia, Bunin and Pushkin. And
Homer. His love for the grand design and his love for the clas-
sics—especially his love for the classics—qualified him for his
translations of the entire Iliad and the entire Odyssey. He also
translated “The Syracusans” of Theocritus, the frivolous and
often trivial poems of Anacreon and two dialogues of Plato—
the
Symposium
and the
Phaedrus.
Such was his love for the
Greek language that he even translated the so-called kleptic
poems of modern Grecee. Tschernichowsky also rendered eighteen
lyrics of Horace into Hebrew. They testify to his great skill in
transposing Latin
gravitas
into the Hebrew brand of moral
seriousness. Over and above the Greek, the Babylonian and the
Finnish epics, he also translated Longfellow’s
H iawatha
and
Evangeline,
Goethe’s
R e ineke Fuchs,
fragments of a Serbian epic,
and the old Slavonic poem
The Lay of the Host of Igor
which
attracted numerous translators of note, Rainer Maria Rilke
among them.
Less successful were Tschernichowsky’s translations from
dramatic literature.
Oed ipus R ex
of Sophocles and
Malade Ima-
ginaire
of Moliere are among the better dramatic translations.
His
Macbeth
and
Tw e lfth N igh t
will rank as his poorest transla-
tions. Tschernichowsky had no flair for the drama. His only
original play
Bar Kohba
is far from brilliant. The meter, iambic
pentameter borrowed from Greek tragedy, was not the best
prosodic device for a Hebrew tragedy. Nor was the theme suit-
able to his genius. In his poem “Facing the Sea” he expressed
the need for revaluating the hero who struck terror into the
heart of imperial Rome. But the monologs and dialogs of the
plays are often lifeless. The characters mouth cliches: Simon
talks strength, Akibah pretends to words of wisdom. The in-
vented characters—Habibah, who is torn between love for Simon
and her people, the Samaritans, as well as her wily father—are
well-drawn characters. But the play offers no surprises, no de-
nouement worthy of a great poet.
The stories and essays of Tschernichowsky never equaled
his poetry. Some of his stories and essays are thinly disguised
exercises in autobiography. As such they have value because they
open up windows on the poet’s formative years, in Mikhailovka
where he spent his childhood, in Odessa where he studied, in
Heidelberg where he acquired the art and science of medicine.
In the tradition of the great Jewish poets who were also phy-