Tchernichowsky, Saul

(1875–1943)
   Hebrew poet. Tchernichowsky was an unusual figure in the modern Hebrew renaissance. His childhood was not spent in a shtetl or ghetto, but in the idyllic surroundings of a Crimean farm village, giving him a love of the Russian countryside. This inspired his early lyric poems, and a pagan attitude to life and nature. He rebelled against what he felt as the confines of Jewish orthodoxy and the arid intellectualism of Jewish culture.
   These tendencies were stimulated by his gift for languages. Russian, German, French and English brought him into the mainstream of the 19–century Romantic movement in Europe; while Greek and Latin gave him access to the ancient classics. He expanded the literary sources of Hebrew poetry, deflated its didactic tone, and gave it a freer range of metrical form, especially the narrative epic and ballad. A large and handsome man with wavy, black hair and a thick moustache, he projected a Byronesque image.
   Yet Tchernichowsky was not an assimilationist. His agnostic leanings were combined with sentimental memories of his early Jewish upbringing; his involvement in European languages and culture with a Hebrew style full of biblical rhythms; and his distaste for a crumbling Diaspora heritage with a passionate Zionist commitment.
   At the age of fourteen, he was sent to school in Odessa, then a lively centre of Hebrew letters and of the Chovevei Zion (‘Lovers of Zion’) movement. As a Jew, he failed to gain admission to a Russian university and studied medicine in Heidelberg and Lausanne. In 1910 he set up a practice in St Petersburg, and served as an army surgeon in World War I. After the Russian revolution of 1917, he eked out a precarious existence in Odessa before leaving Russia for good and settling in Berlin (1922–31).
   He emigrated to Palestine in 1931 and lived there till his death. He was employed as a medical inspector of schools, edited a dictionary of scientific and medical terms in Hebrew, and resumed his writing after a few years. His poetry increasingly reflected the Jewish tragedy in Europe and his own fervent nationalism.
   Tchernichowsky’s output included short stories, critical essays, and translations into Hebrew of major classics: Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Macbeth, works of Goethe and Molière, and the great Finnish epic cycle of the Kallevvalach.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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