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Karni, Yehudah

(1884–1949), Hebrew poet. Yehudah Karni was born in Pinsk and received a Hebrew and general education. At the age of 13 he published his first poem, “Gemul ha-meshorer” (The Poet’s Recompense; 1897) in Ha-Tsefirah and continued to write poetry in Hebrew and Yiddish for the organs of the Zionist socialist Po‘ale Tsiyon movement. His true “arrival” as a poet came when his piece “Yesh na‘arah temimah” (There Is an Innocent Young Girl) was published by Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik in Ha-Shiloaḥ in 1909.

Karni was active in communal affairs, and regularly attended Zionist congresses as a representative of the Po‘ale Tsiyon movement; also, from 1907 he served as the chief coordinator of Russian Zionists in Vilna. He frequently contributed poems and articles to the Zionist weekly Ha-‘Olam, and in 1912 accompanied the newspaper’s editorial board in its move to Odessa, where he assisted the editor, Alter Druyanow.

In 1921, Karni left the USSR with a group of writers who, with the help of Bialik, were able to immigrate to Palestine. From 1924 Karni was a member of the editorial board of the newspaper Ha-Arets, in which he published thousands of opinion editorials and poems. Most of his poems from the period before his immigration were compiled in She‘arim (Gates; 1923). Other anthologies of his work include Bi-She‘arayikh moledet (In Your Gates, Homeland; 1938), Yerushalayim (1944), and Shir va-dem‘a (A Poem and a Tear; 1945). A three-volume edition of his writings was published in 1992.

Judging by his age alone, Karni should have neatly fit into the group of poets who made their mark in the Hebrew literary world at the turn of the twentieth century (the group included Ya‘akov Fichmann, Ya‘akov Cahan, Zalman Shneour, Ya‘akov Steinberg, Yitsḥak Katzenelson, and David Shimonovitz). Indeed, he too was greatly influenced by Bialik’s poetry, to the extent that Karni virtually imitated the latter’s content and form as well as rhythmic, rhetorical, and linguistic devices. Nonetheless, Karni’s style was distinctive. While his early poems consisted of long, free-flowing unbroken lyrics, and presented the internal and complex drama of the ego immersed in discovering its place in the world, his later works are different. He traveled a slow, sluggish, and hesitant path before eventually composing enduring works, and he refrained from constructing a tangible poetic zone in which man connects with nature. In so doing, Karni distanced himself from more confining forms of lyric poetry.

Karni’s story is that of the poet as emissary, and it fluctuates between the speaker’s predisposition for melancholic, inward-focused seclusion, and the position of the wrathful prophet confronting his public. The poetry that Karni composed in Eastern Europe adopts a quasi-midway position between the chiefly romantic style of Bialik and his successors, and the modernism that burst upon the post–World War I Hebrew literary scene. And indeed, after Karni’s immigration to Palestine he eagerly faced the challenge that the new landscape threw his way by adopting a modernist deconstructionist approach, and by choosing a distinctive expressionistic idiom to describe the arid desert land and the ecstatic pioneering work that was being performed upon it.

Suggested Reading

Dan Miron, “Bi-Tenu‘at metutelet: Shirat Yehudah Karni be-hitpatḥutah,” in Shirim by Yehudah Karni, vol. 1, pp. 11–153 (Jerusalem, 1992); Eisig Silberschlag, From Renaissance to Renaissance, vol. 2, Hebrew Literature in the Land of Israel, 1870–1970, pp. 50–52 (New York, 1977).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 1282, Glenn Family, Papers, 1908-1978.



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler