To the Sun

Among the great longer poems of the twentieth century, the circumstances under which Shaul Tchernikhovsky’s To the Sun was composed were perhaps the most unlikely. This sonnet cycle was written in Hebrew in war-torn Odessa in 1919, with Red and White forces struggling for control of the city. Tchernikhovsky, then forty-five, had served on the front lines as a doctor in the Russian army, an experience directly reflected in the seventh sonnet of the cycle. He grew up in a modest- sized town on the Ukrainian steppes, and Russian, not Yiddish, was his first language. The experience of being nurtured there through an intimate bond with nature is explicitly recalled in the first three sonnets of the cycle, as is his feeling of being torn away from that cherished bucolic realm when he came to Odessa while still in his teens. After his army service, working part time as a

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