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Shimonovitz, David

(1886–1956), poet and translator, known in Hebrew as David Shim‘oni. Born in Bobruisk, Belorussia, David Shimonovitz moved to Palestine in 1909, where he stayed for about a year, working as a laborer and watchman at various moshavim (communal settlements). There he formed close friendships with the Hebrew writers Aharon David Gordon and Yosef Ḥayim Brenner.

In 1910, Shimonovitz returned to Russia, but soon left for Germany to study oriental languages and philosophy in Berlin, Würzburg, and Heidelberg. During World War I he worked in Moscow as a journalist for the daily Ha-‘Am and the periodical Ha-Tekufah. In 1920, he immigrated to Palestine, married, and settled in Rehovot. Three years later he moved to Tel Aviv, where he taught Hebrew, comparative literature, and biblical studies at the Herzliya gymnasium. There he played an active role in the public literary life, becoming one of the most prominent poets during the renaissance period of Hebrew literature.

In 1899, Shimonovitz published his first poem, an adaptation of a Russian piece by Shimen Frug. From then on, he continued to write poetry in Hebrew and in Yiddish, publishing them in the era’s most important journals. In 1911 his first book of poems, Yeshimon (Wilderness) was published in Warsaw, followed a year later by a second anthology, Sa‘ar u-demamah (Storm and Stillness).

Shimonovitz’s earliest works centered on the theme of eternal suffering. His style was neoromantic and somewhat mystical, as reflected in the titles he chose: “‘Etsev tamir lan be-nishmati” (Concealed Sadness Is Lodged in My Soul), “Mit’abel ziv ḥakhlil” (Mourning in Ruddy Splendor), and “‘Aririm” (The Forsaken; 1908), among others. While in Germany, Shimonovitz adopted the idyll as his genre, a change accounting for most of his subsequent fame. The first of his these, Yardenit (A Woman from the Jordan) was published in 1913. A year later he published his second idyll, Ba-Ya‘ar be-Ḥaderah (In the Forest in Ḥaderah), patterned on the classical style that had been introduced by Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, and written in hexametric dactyls.

In his idylls, Shimonovitz depicted the lives of Jews who had arrived in Palestine on the Second Aliyah. Occasionally (again following Tshernichowsky’s example), he peppered the verses with a lighthearted tone (as in Milḥemet Yehudah veha-Galil (The War of Judah and the Galilee; 1914). The idylls he wrote after immigrating to Palestine (for example Yovel ha-‘eglonim [The Jubilee of Coachmen]; 1922) sharply focus on the outlook and experiences of laborers and farmers. Many consider the finest examples of this genre to be his Matsevah (Gravestone; 1936) and Resise lailah (Dewdrops of the Night; 1936–1939).

Shimonovitz also composed allegories and lyrical satires, and worked as a translator. Working for the Stybel Publishing Company through the 1920s, he translated Heinrich Heine, Leo Tolstoy, and Alexander Pushkin. Shimonovitz considered his translations of Mikhail Lermontov’s poetry (compiled in 1956) to be of paramount importance. Indeed, Shimonovitz’s translations of Russian poetry into Hebrew provide keys to the complex and multifaceted question about the relationship between Hebrew renaissance poetry and Russian literary culture.

Suggested Reading

Joseph Klausner, David Shim‘oni (Shim‘onovits): Ha-Meshorer ve-hogeh ha-de‘ot (Jerusalem, 1947/48); Getzel Kressel, “Shim‘oni (mi-kodem: Shim‘onovits), David,” in Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ba-dorot ha-aḥaronim, vol. 2, cols. 950–952 (Merḥavyah, Isr., 1967).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler