Page 183 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

Basic HTML Version

GOLDSMITH /THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ZALMAN SHNEOUR
171
World War I and led to the fear o f total annihilation to which he
gave dynamic expression.” 12Shneour’s intense Jewishness inevi­
tably brought him into conflict with the values o f the modern
world. He ultimately rejected its pessimism and nihilism for the
healthy instincts o f the people o f his childhood, the simple Jews
o f Shklov.
Where are you now, you Jews like oaks, with
your broad-capped jack boots and squashed,
burnt noses like those o f lions? You coachmen,
butchers, watercarriers, plasterers, hewers o f wood
. ,.
You were the reservoir o f the healthy blood and the earthly
passions o f the people o f Israel
. . .
You preserved fo r us the sparks o f love and o f song;
the joy o f labor was kept latent in your bodies
. . .
Without your stubborn devotion, without your
peasant-like obstinacy, we should have rotted
utterly
. .
} 3
In the pioneers o f modern-day Israel Shneour saw the heirs o f
the earthy, muscular, optimistic Jews o f his birthplace.
The poet’s temperament and experience continued to serve
him well during the years o f tragedy and reconstruction from the
Holocaust to the early years o f Israel’s rebirth. His proclivity to
revolt and his nihilistic impulses rendered him singularly quali­
fied to respond to anti-Semitism (“The Testament o f Don
Henriques” ), to the Holocaust (“Philistines,” “Rabbi Levi
Yitzkhok Arraigns the Almighty Again” ) and to British duplicity
in Palestine in the years preceding the establishment o f Israel
(“The Burden o f Albion”). His militantJewish pride and commit­
ment to the moral vision o f Judaism, on the other hand, fortified
his prophetic stance in the poems about American Jewry (“Songs
o f America” ) and Israel (“The Disappointed”). The maturing o f
Shneour’s poetic gift is also discernible in his nature poetry which
he continued to write throughout his career (“The Bear,” “Forest
Chapters” ).
Shneour shared with Bialik and Tschernichowsky the urge to
revaluate the entire Jewish tradition and make it relevant to the
12 Moshe Basok,
Nofey Sifrut
(Te l Aviv, 1964), p. 36.
13 Zalman Shneour,
Song o f the Dnieper,
translated by Joseph Leftwich (N ew
York, 1945), pp. I I I - IV .