Page 176 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
fascinating embrace o f contradictory ideas and conflicting emo­
tions.
Shneour’sHebrew poetry is actually unequalled in its portrayal
o f the dilemmas and traumas o f modern Jewish identity. It gives
impassioned expression to the desire o f the modern Jew to
embrace and be accepted by the Gentile world at the same time
that it voices his disillusionment and frustration with that world
for its refusal to accept him as a Jew. The sense o f psychological
upheaval and the explorations into decadence, nihilism and athe­
ism in Shneour’s work made him the harbinger o f modern
Hebrew poetry with its surprising juxtapositions o f the sacred
and the demonic.2 Shneour’s poetry is also characterized by a
wealth o f original and striking imagery, metaphor and allegory,
and by grotesque distortions, piercing insights and a language
which, while loyal to classical Hebrew diction, studiously avoids
the trite and the commonplace.
Zalman Shneour was born in the city o f Shklov in White Russia
in 1887. His birthplace figures prominently in many o f his most
successful novels. A descendant o f the founder o f the Habad
school o f Hasidism, Rabbi Shneour Zalman o f Ladi, he would
later depict his illustrious forbear in a five-volume historical novel
in Yiddish which also appeared in a one-volume Hebrew abridge­
ment by the author.3The young Shneour received a traditional
education but also studied secular subjects in the local Jewish gov­
ernment school. A difficult childhood and a particularly
unhappy relationship with his mother (who is never mentioned in
his writings) led to his leaving home shortly after his bar-mitzvah
year. He went to Odessa where he was warmly welcomed by
Bialik who recognized his poetic talent, encouraged him and
tutored him in the Bible. Bialik saw in Shneour’s earliest poems
the signs o f a “young eagle destined to grow up to soar to the
heights.” Later he characterized Shneour as the “young Samson”
o f Hebrew literature.
EARLY CONTACTS
Bialik secured employment for the fledgling poet in a Hebrew
publishing house in Warsaw where he served for a short time as
2 cf. Moshe Gil,
Ketavim Nivharim
(Jerusalem, 1970), p. 137.
3
Keyset un Rebe,
five volumes (N ew York, 1944-1952);
Ha-Gaon veha-Rav
(Te l
Aviv, 1958).