Shimoni (Originally Shimonovitz), David

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SHIMONI (originally Shimonovitz), DAVID

SHIMONI (originally Shimonovitz ), DAVID (1886–1956), Hebrew poet. He was born in Bobruisk, district of Minsk, Russia, the son of a learned maskil. Shimoni studied with private tutors and read avidly, especially in the impressive library belonging to the father of his childhood friend, Berl *Katznelson. He soon began to write, publishing his first poem, a free translation from the Russian of Simon *Frug, in Gan Sha'ashu'im. His first original poem, "Siḥat Resisim" (1902), appeared in the children's paper Olam Katan, but his career is considered to have begun with the poem "Bein ha-Shemashot" (1902), published with *Bialik's encouragement in Lu'aḥ Aḥi'asaf (no. 12, 1904). His early lyric poems appeared in the best Hebrew journals such as Ha-Zeman, Ha-Ẓefirah, Ha-Shilo'aḥ, and Ha-Me'orer. For a short period he was employed in drawing revolutionary posters in Russian (1906), and from that year he also published poems in Yiddish. Because of government restrictions placed on the admission of Jews, he was not admitted to the university, so in 1909 he immigrated to Ereẓ Israel, where he stayed about a year. He worked in orange groves and as a watchman in Reḥovot and Petaḥ Tikvah, becoming particularly friendly with A.D. *Gordon and J.Ḥ. *Brenner. He also spent two months touring the country, and for the rest of his life drew on his impressions of that trip. He first wrote of these travels in Ha-Zeman, and later in his poetry. From 1911 to 1914 he studied Oriental philology and philosophy at various German universities. In 1911 his first collection of poems, Yeshimon, followed in 1912 by his second, Sa'ar u-Demamah, were published in Warsaw. He then began publishing his first idylls ("Yardenit" in Ha-Shilo'aḥ, "Ba-Ya'ar be-Ḥaderah" in Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, "Milḥemet Yehudah ve-ha-Galil" in Moledet) and initiated in Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir the series "Ba-Ḥashai," which combined poetry, prose, and reflections. On the outbreak of World War i he returned to Russia, and spent the war in his native town and in St. Petersburg. At the beginning of the Revolution he moved to Moscow, where he became secretary to the editorial board of the newspaper Ha-Am. He also had original works and translations published by the *Stybel press. Cycles of his poems and his translations of Tolstoy, Lermontov, Pushkin, and Heine appeared in the first volumes of Ha-Tekufah.

After numerous attempts he left Russia and returned to Ereẓ Israel in 1921, where he produced Mi-Midbar le-Midbar, echoes of his wanderings at the end of the war and during the revolution, the idylls Yovel ha-Eglonim, Ba-Derekh, Leket, Ha-Yoreh, Me-Aggadot Ẓefat, and the poems Eshet Iyyov and Be-Veit ha-Neḥashim. In 1925 he settled in Tel Aviv and taught Bible and Hebrew literature at the Herzliyyah secondary school until the end of his life. He continued to write idylls (Maẓẓevah, Si'onah), dramatic poems, lyrics, chapters of Ba-Ḥashai, and introduced a type of satire and fable which mainly served as vehicles for his reaction to the events of the day. In addition to his literary work he plunged into public activity, becoming a member and eventually chairman of the *Academy of the Hebrew Language; the Writers' Association, Genazim, and the Israel Chapter of Friends of the Hebrew University.

Shimoni's poetry expresses Second Aliyah ideals and describes pioneer life in Ereẓ Israel. He belonged to the circle of leading Hebrew poets who were under the influence of Bialik and were the chief spokesmen of Hebrew literature for more than a generation. These poets shared the heritage of life in the Jewish towns of Europe, which had been shattered by history, and the attempts at rebuilding a new national life in Ereẓ Israel. Shimoni is known primarily through his idylls, which were avidly read by two generations of pioneers and are still an integral part of the Israel school curriculum. The pioneers, who sought in literature a confirmation and reaffirmation of their life, found in Shimoni's heroes an expression of the finest achievements of the ḥalutzim. For this reason the idylls overshadowed Shimoni's other work. The latter is characterized by two features: lyricism, poetry of the ego, of trouble and sadness; and didacticism, poetry which propagates ideas and educates through reproof and satire. Shimoni's early poetry was lyric – sad, gloomy, and severe. In later poems, although strong lyrical and elegiac elements are retained, the poet concerns himself more with public issues, contemporary problems, and the needs of the people.

Shimoni's lyricism revealed from his early youth a complex personality – serious, skeptical, and reflective – always wandering and seeking and meditating on the fundamental questions of existence and the tragic history of his people. The older he grew the more severe and uncompromising became his attitude toward life. As his sense of duty increased, it pushed the demands of his ego aside, and, together with his honesty and moral strictness, impelled him to abandon individualism for the nationalist idea. Shimoni expressed a feeling of alienation, a division between the real world – strange and hostile – and the imaginary region he craved for – between the "northern land" and the "eastern land." His youthful wanderings and the horrors of World War i explain something of Shimoni's tendency to see the dark side of life, but this tendency was reinforced by trends in Russian literature, especially the Byronism in Lermontov's and Pushkin's works, which he translated into Hebrew. Shimoni's writings also bear the influence of the fin-de-siècle.

In his first creative period, Shimoni sees life as a false vision, with sorrow and death as reality. His poems are full of shadows, twilight glimmerings, the sadness of falling leaves, the howling of winds, and lowering storms. They frequently contain expressions of ruined hopes, loss of youth, the paleness of shrouds, the death throes of eras, as if to say that while the whole world is feasting and bathed in light, the poet stands like a stranger at the roadside. They also communicate the sentiments of a young Jew longing to get into the great world which has never accepted him. Shimoni's poetry has nothing of the jubilation of youth, and even love is not able to disperse the clouds of his grief. He wrote a few love poems in his first creative period which occasionally reflect a moment of forgetfulness or a longing for oblivion and repose, but rarely the intoxication and exultation of happiness. Generally it is the girl who looks for love, while the grave youth sings to his beloved the song of "twilight."

Shimoni and Nature

Shimoni's strong affection for nature is revealed in his memoirs, where he stresses that from his youth he had a tendency to seclude himself in nature and attempt to penetrate the secrets of existence. When he was unable to wander and enjoy "the wide open spaces" he would soar in his imagination to lands where he could find solace from the real world. In fact, he makes use of nature mainly for giving utterance to his innermost thoughts; yet he wrote only a few epic nature poems. Almost everywhere his lively sense of scenery and his clear vision are engulfed in lyrical sentimentality. Shimoni turns mostly to nature's dark, sad side, recognizing that everything is ephemeral.

It was only some years after Shimoni's first visit to Ereẓ Israel that his impressions of the country began to dominate his spirit and his poetry. When he went back to Europe he wrote yearning poems about the landscape of Ereẓ Israel. When he returned to Ereẓ Israel, he experienced the difficulty of liberating himself from the landscape of his childhood and acquiring an intimate knowledge of a new one. In a poem written in 1924 he expresses his weariness of the over-abundant and brilliant light in the country, and his longing for Russia's foggy days.

The Romantic Character of His Poetry

In his first creative period, the poet is remote from contemporary social and national problems and for the most part renounces the outer world. Only occasionally does he mention the wretched and dismal existence of the Jews, the horror of World War i, or react indirectly to various events of his time and place. He aspires to what is not of this world, and there, in the imaginary distances of time and place, he hopes to find his lost destiny. A long series of similes and images also gives expression to his yearning for that "somewhere" (including Zion) and his strong attraction to the unknown region of his heart's desire. Now and then one hears in Shimoni's poems the voice of revolt, which is hardly related to a real and clear-cut struggle, but is romantically vague.

From Regret to the Reality of Life

Although Shimoni's lyric poetry is melancholy, it should not be regarded as poetry of destruction and despair. In his somber meditation there are occasional flashes of humor, the play of opposites, in which some inner vitality courses.

In this very period of Weltschmerz and depression one can discern in his work the seeds from which his idylls grew. Among his numerous poems of sorrow there are some which look on the bright side of life and discover the source of joy. Slowly the poet achieves the will to live and contentment with that which exists. Shimoni, like many of his generation, was captivated by the romanticism of *Ḥibbat Zion and Zionism. Doubtless there was also a romantic influence, but immigration to Ereẓ Israel was much more than a matter of romanticism. When Shimoni settled permanently in the country, he abandoned most of the motifs of his lyrics. Influenced by Brenner, Shimoni, in the middle of his writing career, turned increasingly to topical poetry. Written in a militant and aggressive spirit, this poetry deliberately encouraged national service. Shimoni, ruled by a sense of national and public duty, was to write more and more poems in response to the events of the times, warning against weaknesses and dangers with the lashing tongue of the preacher, the bitterness of the satirist, beginning with Al Sefod (1921), continuing with Ereẓ Yisrael (1929), Lo! Et Damenu Lo Nafkir (1936), Hithakhi Ahvat Yisrael… (1939), and ending with a great number of poems of protest from the days of war, destruction, and ghettos.

Displaying neither surprising values nor new forms, Shimoni's poems did not receive great attention when they appeared. His style was generally that of the "classical" Hebrew poetry of his time, but he was one of the last to adopt it, when the style had already begun to decline and was exhibiting signs of weakness. Other young poets had embraced new methods. Although aware of these techniques, Shimoni kept to regular rhymes, a definite meter, and a symmetrical construction. Even when the poem is full of grief and stormy protest, the lines and rhymes are clear, considered, and subdued. The seriousness and severity of the poems is somewhat softened by a simple lucid style, whose elements and phrases are casual and ordinary. Shimoni was known as "an abstainer from form" because of his lack of original patterns, embellishments or surprising phrases. The numerous repetitions of the same motifs, the occasionally excessive length, the many allegorical features and general feeling of weariness sometimes lend the poems a gray, monotonous character. As against this, the reader is taken by the purity and veracity of the descriptions, the sincerity of feeling and the warm spirituality. It was to this that Bialik referred when he said of Shimoni: "His clothes are simple but he himself is festive."

Like other Hebrew poets, Shimoni changed from the Ashkenazi to the Sephardi accentuation at a fairly late stage. From 1932 onward his poems rhyme and scan according to the Sephardi accentuation, whereas all his earlier poems (i.e., the majority of his lyrics) must be read with the Ashkenazi penultimate meter stress and tonal emphasis if they are to be fully enjoyed. Shimoni's work is collected in (1) Ketavim, 4 vols.(1925–32); Mivḥar Ketavim, 2 vols. (1960), continued in 1965 by Dvir Publishing House (not completed). For translations of Shimoni's works into English see Goell, bibliography, index.


J. Klausner, David Shimoni, ha-Meshorer ve-Hogeh ha-De'ot (1948) (incl. bibl. by B. Shohetman); ibid., introd. to D. Shimoni, Idylls (Eng. 1957); A. Kariv, Iyyunim (1950), 318–20; Y. Keshet, Be-Dor Oleh (1950), 135–71; M. Ribalow, Im ha-Kad el ha-Mabbu'a (1950), 84–120; D. Sadan, Avnei Boḥan (1951), 96–102; idem, Bein Din le-Ḥeshbon (1963), 59–65; A. Barash, Ketavim, 3 (1952), 26f., 146f.; F. Lachower, Shirah u-Mahashavah (1953), 61–66; D. Kimḥi, Soferim (1953), 93–97; D. Zakkai, Keẓarot (1954), 394; Z. Shazar, Or Ishim (1955), 191–9; H. Bavli, Ruḥot Nifgashot (1958), 68–78; J. Fichmann, Be-Terem Aviv (1959), 126–56; S. Kremer, Ḥillufei Mishmarot (1959), 93–100; I. Lichtenbaum, Soferei Yisrael (1959), 119–22; I. Kohen, Sha'ar ha-Te'amim (1962) 185–8; idem, Sha'ar ha-Soferim (1962), 182–97; S.Y. Penueli, Sifrut ki-Feshutah (1963), 173–83; D.A. Friedman, Iyyunei Shirah (1964), 262–87; A. Blum (ed.), Tenu'at ha-Avodah ba-Ḥinnukh uva-Hora'ah (1965); R. Katznelson-Shazar, Al Admat ha-Ivrit (1966), 139–43; M. Reicher, Ha-Telem ha-Arokh (1966), 111–4; E. Schweid, Shalosh Ashmurot ba-Sifrut ha-Ivrit (1967), 122–9; I. Hanani, in: Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir (1967); Waxman, Literature, 4 (1960), 312–7. add. bibliography: S. Weisblit, "Ḥaluẓiyut ve-Ḥaluẓim ba-Idiliyot shel Shimoni," in: Haumah, 55 (1978), 395–9; D. Laor, "D. ShimoniY.H. Brenner, Sippurah shel Yedidut," in: Sefer Yiẓḥak Bakon (1992), 157–201; Y.H. Halevi, "Pe'amei Mashiah: Ha-Yehudi mi-Teiman ve-Torat Ereẓ Yisrael 'al pi D. Shimoni," in: Mahut, 12 (1994), 78–98; Y. Oren, "Lo Shirah Nishkaḥat!" in: M'aof u-Ma'aseh, 6 (2000), 1–12.