Poem of the Week / This Is the Poem That Could Replace 'Hatikvah'

Shaul Tchernichovsky's vision of a Zionist, socialist dream has been suggested as a substitute or alternative for Israel's national anthem.

I Believe

Shaul Tchernichovsky

Rejoice, rejoice now in the dreams
I the dreamer am he who speaks
Rejoice, for I’ll have faith in mankind
For in mankind I believe.

For my soul still yearns for freedom
I’ve not sold it to a calf of gold
For I shall yet have faith in mankind
In its spirit great and bold

That will cast off binding chains
Raise us up, hold high our heads
Workers will not die of hunger
For souls – release, for poor folk – bread.

Rejoice for I have faith in friendship
I’ll find a heart – in this I’ve faith –
A heart that shares in all my hopes,
A heart that feels both joy and pain.

And I shall keep faith in the future,
Though the day be yet unseen
Surely it will come when nations
All live in blessed peace.

Then my people too will flourish
And a generation shall arise
In the land, shake off its chains
And see light in every eye.

It shall live, love, accomplish, labor
In the land it is alive
Not in the future, not in heaven –
And its spirit shall henceforth thrive.

A poet shall sing a new anthem,
His heart aware of beauty sublime
For him, that young man, above my tomb
Blossoms in a wreath shall twine.

Written in Odessa in 1892. Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden.

***

There’s hardly a town in Israel that doesn’t have a street or a school named after poet, translator, physician and writer Shaul Tchernichovsky (1875 – 1943) and there is nary a sing-along – still a popular form of entertainment among Israelis – at which his lyrics are not sung.

Tchernichovsky was born in the Ukraine to a modern religious family, studied languages in Odessa where he became involved in Zionist activities, studied medicine in Heidelberg, served as a doctor in the Russian Army in World War I and after some years in search of a livelihood realized his goal of coming to Palestine in 1931 when he was commissioned to edit The Book of Medical and Scientific Terms (in Latin, Hebrew and English). Subsequently he became the physician of the municipal schools in Tel Aviv and in 1936 he signed a contract with the Schocken Publishing House and moved to Jerusalem. Tchernichovsky is famed for both his poetry and his translations of the ancient classics.

“I Believe” is one of his very early poems, full of the hopes of a young, idealistic writer. In the first two stanzas, the vision is universal and humanistic. In the third, Tchernichovsky envisions liberty and social justice; in the fourth, fraternity; in the fifth universal peace; and in the sixth and seventh the Zionist future in “the land.” In the final stanza the poet – all of 22 years old when he wrote the poem – with some perspicacity imagines his lasting legacy. In addition to the many other honors that have accrued to Tchernichovsky, he has been commemorated on the Bank of Israel’s new NIS 50 banknote.

Tchernichovsky died on Oct. 14, 1943, at the San Simone monastery in Jerusalem, while he was on holiday with his wife. Author Meir Shalev recounts, in a book about Tchernichovsky's death: “The Yishuv [pre-state Jewish community] leaders made every effort to conceal that he had died at a monastery, even though he was just there on a week’s vacation. They spirited his body away to Hadassah Mount Scopus, and only then announced his death.”

Read the Hebrew original here and listen to Nehama Hendel sing it to the tune of a Russian folk song adapted by Tuvia Shlonsky.


Musings:

* It has been suggested that this song be declared a substitute or alternative for the national anthem, “Hatikvah.” Is there merit to this proposal?
 

Wikipedia