Shaul Tchernichovsky, 1927
20 August 1875|
Mykhailivka, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||14 October 1943
Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine
|Occupation||Poet, Essayist, Translator|
|Nationality||Russian by birth, immigrated to Palestine|
|Genre||Lyrical-erotic Poetry, Epic Poetry|
Shaul Tchernichovsky (20 August 1875 – 14 October 1943; Hebrew: שאול טשרניחובסקי; Russian: Саул Гутманович Черниховский), was a Russian-born Hebrew poet. He is considered one of the great Hebrew poets, identified with nature poetry, and as a poet greatly influenced by the culture of ancient Greece.
Shaul Tchernichovsky was born on 20 August 1875 in the village of Mykhailivka, Taurida Governorate (now in Zaporizhia Oblast, Ukraine). He started at a reformed religious primary school. At age 10 he changed to a Russian school.
He published his first poems in Odessa where he studied from 1890 to 1892. The first poem he published was "In My Dream".
From 1899 to 1906 he studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, finishing his medical studies in Lausanne. From then on, he mingled his activities as a doctor with his activities as a poet. After completing his studies he returned to Ukraine to practice in Kharkov and in Kiev. In the First World War he served as an army doctor in Minsk and in Saint Petersburg.
From 1925 to 1932 he was one of the editors of the newspaper Hatekufa. He also edited the section on medicine in the Hebrew encyclopedia Eshkol.
From 1929 to 1930 he spent time in America. In 1931 he immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine and settled there permanently. Besides being a poet, Tchernichovsky was known as an excellent translator. His translation of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey particularly earned recognition. He also translated Sophocles, Horace, Shakespeare, Molière, Pushkin, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Shelley, the Kalevala, the Gilgamesh Cycle, the Icelandic Edda, etc.
Tchernichovsky served as doctor of the Herzliya Hebrew High School in Tel Aviv. In his later years he served as doctor for the Tel Aviv schools. He was active in writers' organizations and a member of the Committee of the Hebrew Language. He was also the editor of the Hebrew terminology manual for medicine and the natural sciences.
He was a friend of the distinguished Klausner family of Jerusalem, including the child who would grow up to become the novelist Amos Oz, to whom he was "Uncle Shaul."
Shaul Tchernichovsky died in Jerusalem on 14 October 1943.
Awards and honours
After his death, the Tel Aviv municipality dedicated a prize for exemplary translation in his name. A school in Tel Aviv is named after him, as is the center for the Hebrew Writers Association in Israel. Many other towns in Israel have also named streets and schools after him.
In the poetry of Tchernichovsky there is a blend of the influences of Jewish cultural heritage and world cultural heritage. He writes on Hebrew subjects as in "In Endor", a poem about King Saul. Saul comes to the witch of Endor, who dramatically describes Saul's condition at the end of his life. Tchernichovsky particularly identified with the character of Saul, perhaps due to his own name. He further describes in the poem the tragic fall of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. In contrast, in the poem "Before a Statue of Apollo", the poet proves his affinity for Greek culture, identifying with the beauty it represents, even bowing down to it.
Tchernichovsky is the Hebrew poet most identified with the sonnet. He introduced the crown of sonnets (Hebrew: כליל סונטות) into the Hebrew language as a "sonnet" built of fifteen sonnets in which the final sonnet consists of the first lines of the other fourteen sonnets. Each of his crowns of sonnets concerns a particular topic, such as "On Blood" or "To the Sun".
Even with his yen for world culture, Tchernichovsky is identified with the fate of his people. In response to the Holocaust he wrote the poems "The Slain of Tirmonye" and "Ballads of Worms" that brought into expression his heart's murmurings concerning the tragic fate of the Jewish people.
Toward the end of his life he composed some poems that are centered on images from his childhood point of view. These poems, which can properly be termed idylls, are regarded by many as his most splendid poetic works. Some even believe that Tchernichovsky's idylls serve as an example and a model for all of the idylls that have been written in the Hebrew language.
Many of his poems have been set to music by the best Hebrew popular composers, such as Yoel Angel and Nahum Nardi. Singer-songwriters have also set his lyrics to music, as Shlomo Artzi did for They Say There Is a Land (omrim yeshna eretz, אומרים ישנה ארץ), which is also well known in the settings of Angel and of Miki Gavrielov. Oh My Land My Birthplace (hoy artzi moladeti, Hebrew: הו ארצי מולדתי) is better known in the setting by Naomi Shemer, as arranged by Gil Aldema. Shalosh atonot (Three Jenny-asses, Hebrew: שלוש אתונות) also became a popular song.
- Jewish Virtual Library, Shaul Tchernichovsky
- "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933–2004, Tel Aviv Municipality website (in Hebrew)".
- Nadav Shemer, Jerusalem Post, 3/10/2011
- The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself (2003), ISBN 0-8143-2485-1
- Abramson, Glenda (2008). Hebrew Writing of the First World War. Valentine Mitchell.
- The National Library of Israel's website about Tchernichovsky, including scanned books and manuscripts (in Hebrew)
- Tchernichovsky's complete works (in Hebrew) at Project Ben-Yehuda