Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 32

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Abraham Shlonsky (1900-1973)
Poet o f Modernism
o n e
occa s ion
Zalman Shazar aptly characterized Abraham
Shlonsky’s role in Hebrew literature when he said “i t is pos­
sible today to tell whether a certain poem was written before
Shlonsky or after him.” For Shlonsky, the exponent
par excel­
of modernism in Hebrew poetry, was perhaps most
instrumental in forsaking the fetters of traditional forms and
in charting a new course. Although he remained a highly in­
dividualistic poet, his work reflected the pain and joy of his
generation and he won recognition as the founder of an entire
literary school.
Born in 1900 in the Ukraine, Shlonsky grew up under the
twin influences of Zionism and Habad Hasidism. He was fond
of pointing ou t that his life paralleled the momentous events
and conflagrations of the 20th century. In his writing he
absorbed the influences of Russian and French literary move­
ments, especially symbolism, and cultivated an innovative style
tha t eschewed the traditional Hebrew syntax and idioms. These
influences were blended with his intense attachment to the soil
of the homeland and celebrated in poems tha t sang of the re­
demptive qualities of toil and halutziut.
While yet a boy of thirteen, Shlonsky was sent to Palestine
to study at the Herzliah gymnasium. World War I found him
back in his parents’ home in Russia to which he had returned
for a vacation. He knew no peace, however, un til he made his
way again in 1921 to Palestine where he was engaged for some
time as a laborer and later as a teacher. I t was then tha t he be­
came, together with Yitzhak Lamdan and U ri Zvi Greenberg,
a representative poet of the T h ird Aliyah. He discovered the
parched and thirsty landscape of the new land and expressed
the mood of the young halutzim who had forsaken their homes
to embark upon a new life. His poems of this period sang of