Page 139 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

Basic HTML Version

tern for his epic: four trochaic beats which had their obvious
origins in Greece and their paradigmatic use in
Kalevala,
Lonn-
rot’s Finnish epic, which became a familiar poem to Hebrew
readers through the partial translation of Tschernichowsky. “Be­
fore the Tent of Timmurah,” a poem on an Indian theme,
breathes the letter and the spirit of English romanticism. It is
fathered by the Byronic plays,
Cain
and
Manfred
and, in imitative
similarity, it soars in rhetorical flights over pristine landscapes.
But its tensile strength is rooted in biblicism: in biblical style and
syntax, in biblical perception of life’s tragic inevitability. For Sil­
kiner was not only a prime connoisseur of the biblical text but an
expert in the understanding of the polarity of its primitivism and
sophistication.
Byronic romanticism and biblical ancientness are subtly woven
into the verses of Silkiner’s epic. That is his debt to English
literature and to his ancestral heritage. Both have been intercon­
nected since Anglo-Saxon times. But Silkiner, a connoisseur of
English and Hebrew literature in greater depth than many of his
contemporaries, fully knew and appreciated the debt of the
former to the latter. His strange and bold innovation — an Indian
milieu in Hebrew letters — was not only a thematic discovery and
revelation. It was a paradigmatic act of poetic strength. And it
spurred followers such as Ephraim E. Lisitzky and Israel Efros to
new efforts in new areas of poetry.
INDIAN FOLKLORE
The plot of the poem, easily summarized, presents Indian
characters with Indians beliefs and customs. And yet they seem to
have a long lineage in Hebrew literature. The folkloristic device
— father telling a tale to his daughter — was rather a common
device in the literatures of the world. A famous cradle song by
Aaron Luboshitzky (1874-1942), recited and sung in the early
years of the century, was cast in the form of a story related by
parent to child at bedtime. Though much less ambitious in length
and plot than “Before the Tent of Timmurah,” it manages to
convey the misery of exile and the hope of messianic return to the
Land of Israel. In Silkiner’s Indian epic it is an old Indian,
Timmurah, who recollects the past of his people and recounts its
vicissitudes to his daughter. Without any hope for a brighter