The Selected Poetry Of Yehuda Amichaiby Yehuda Amichai
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) was Israel's most popular poet, as well as a literary figure of international reputation. In this collection, renowned translators Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell have selected Amichai's most beloved poems, including forty poems from his later work. A new foreword by C.K. Williams, written especially for this edition, addresses Amichai’s enduring legacy and sets his poetry in the context of the new millennium.
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The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai
By Chana Bloch, Stephen Mitchell
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2013 Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell
All rights reserved.
God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children
God has pity on kindergarten children.
He has less pity on school children.
And on grownups he has no pity at all,
he leaves them alone,
and sometimes they must crawl on all fours
in the burning sand
to reach the first-aid station
covered with blood.
But perhaps he will watch over true lovers
and have mercy on them and shelter them
like a tree over the old man
sleeping on a public bench.
Perhaps we too will give them
the last rare coins of compassion
that Mother handed down to us,
so that their happiness will protect us
now and in other days.
The U.N. Headquarters in the High Commissioner's House in Jerusalem
The mediators, the peacemakers, the compromise-shapers, the comforters
live in the white house
and get their nourishment from far away,
through winding pipes, through dark veins, like a fetus.
And their secretaries are lipsticked and laughing,
and their sturdy chauffeurs wait below, like horses in a stable,
and the trees that shade them have their roots in no-man's-land
and the illusions are children who went out to find cyclamen in the field
and do not come back.
And the thoughts pass overhead, restless, like reconnaissance planes,
and take photos and return and develop them
in dark sad rooms.
And I know they have very heavy chandeliers
and the boy-I-was sits on them and swings
out and back, out and back, out till there's no coming back.
And later on, night will arrive to draw
rusty and bent conclusions from our old lives,
and over all the houses a melody will gather the scattered words
like a hand gathering crumbs upon a table
after the meal, while the talk continues
and the children are already asleep.
And hopes come to me like bold seafarers,
like the discoverers of continents coming to an island,
and stay for a day or two
and rest ...
And then they set sail.
My father built over me a worry big as a shipyard
and I left it once, before I was finished,
and he remained there with his big, empty worry.
And my mother was like a tree on the shore
between her arms that stretched out toward me.
And in '31 my hands were joyous and small
and in '41 they learned to use a gun
and when I first fell in love
my thoughts were like a bunch of colored balloons
and the girl's white hand held them all
by a thin string—then let them fly away.
And in '51 the motion of my life
was like the motion of many slaves chained to a ship,
and my father's face like the headlight on the front of a train
growing smaller and smaller in the distance,
and my mother closed all the many clouds inside her brown closet,
and as I walked up my street
the twentieth century was the blood in my veins,
blood that wanted to get out in many wars
and through many openings,
that's why it knocks against my head from the inside
and reaches my heart in angry waves.
But now, in the spring of '52, I see
that more birds have returned than left last winter.
And I walk back down the hill to my house.
And in my room: the woman, whose body is heavy
and filled with time.
The Smell of Gasoline Ascends in My Nose
The smell of gasoline ascends in my nose.
Love, I'll protect you and hold you close
like an etrog in soft wool, so carefully—
my dead father used to do it that way.
Look, the olive-tree no longer grieves—
it knows there are seasons and a man must leave,
stand by my side and dry your face now
and smile as if in a family photo.
I've packed my wrinkled shirts and my trouble.
I will never forget you, girl of my final
window in front of the deserts that are
empty of windows, filled with war.
You used to laugh but now you keep quiet,
the beloved country never cries out,
the wind will rustle in the dry leaves soon—
when will I sleep beside you again?
In the earth there are raw materials that, unlike us,
have not been taken out of the darkness,
the army jet makes peace in the heavens
upon us and upon all lovers in autumn.
Six Poems for Tamar
The rain is speaking quietly,
you can sleep now.
Near my bed, the rustle of newspaper wings.
There are no other angels.
I'll wake up early and bribe the coming day
to be kind to us.
You had a laughter of grapes:
many round green laughs.
Your body is full of lizards.
All of them love the sun.
Flowers grew in the field, grass grew on my cheeks,
everything was possible.
You're always lying on
Every day of our life together
Ecclesiastes cancels a line of his book.
We are the saving evidence in the terrible trial.
We'll acquit them all!
Like the taste of blood in the mouth,
spring was upon us—suddenly.
The world is awake tonight.
It is lying on its back, with its eyes open.
The crescent moon fits the line of your cheek,
your breast fits the line of my cheek.
Your heart plays blood-catch
inside your veins.
Your eyes are still warm, like beds
time has slept in.
Your thighs are two sweet yesterdays,
I'm coming to you.
All hundred and fifty psalms
My eyes want to flow into each other
like two neighboring lakes.
To tell each other
everything they've seen.
My blood has many relatives.
They never visit.
But when they die,
my blood will inherit.
The soft hairs on the back of his neck
are the roots of his eyes.
His curly hair is
the sequel to his dreams.
His forehead: a sail; his arms: oars
to carry the soul inside his body to Jerusalem.
But in the white fist of his brain
he holds the black seeds of his happy childhood.
When he reaches the beloved, bone-dry land—
always something is excreted,
My father was a tree in a grove of fathers,
covered with green moss.
Oh widows of the flesh, orphans of the blood,
I've got to escape.
Eyes sharp as can-openers
pried open heavy secrets.
But through the wound in my chest
God peers into the universe.
I am the door
to his apartment.
When I Was a Child
When I was a child
grasses and masts stood at the seashore,
and as I lay there
I thought they were all the same
because all of them rose into the sky above me.
Only my mother's words went with me
like a sandwich wrapped in rustling waxpaper,
and I didn't know when my father would come back
because there was another forest beyond the clearing.
Everything stretched out a hand,
a bull gored the sun with its horns,
and in the nights the light of the streets caressed
my cheeks along with the walls,
and the moon, like a large pitcher, leaned over
and watered my thirsty sleep.
Look: Thoughts and Dreams
Look: thoughts and dreams are weaving over us
their warp and woof, their wide camouflage-net,
and the reconnaissance planes and God
will never know
what we really want
and where we are going.
Only the voice that rises at the end of a question
still rises above the world and hangs there,
even if it was made by
mortar shells, like a ripped flag,
like a mutilated cloud.
Look, we too are going
in the reverse-flower-way:
to begin with a calyx exulting toward the light,
to descend with the stem growing more and more solemn,
to arrive at the closed earth and to wait there for a while,
and to end as a root, in the darkness, in the deep womb.
From We Loved Here
My father spent four years inside their war,
and did not hate his enemies, or love.
And yet I know that somehow, even there,
he was already forming me, out of
his calms, so few and scattered, which he gleaned
among the bombs exploding and the smoke,
and put them in his knapsack, in between
the remnants of his mother's hardening cake.
And in his eyes he took the nameless dead,
he stored them, so that someday I might know
and love them in his glance—so that I would
not die in horror, as they all had done....
He filled his eyes with them, and yet in vain:
to all my wars, unwilling, I must go.
The lips of dead men whisper where they lie
deep down, their innocent voices hushed in earth,
and now the trees and flowers grow terribly
exaggerated, as they blossom forth.
Bandages are again torn off in haste,
the earth does not want healing, it wants pain.
And spring is not serenity, not rest,
ever, and spring is enemy terrain.
With the other lovers, we were sent to learn
about the strange land where the rainbow ends,
to see if it was possible to advance.
And we already knew: the dead return,
and we already knew: the fiercest wind
comes forth now from inside a young girl's hand.
In the long nights our room was closed off and
sealed, like a grave inside a pyramid.
Above us: foreign silence, heaped like sand
for aeons at the entrance to our bed.
And when our bodies lie stretched out in sleep,
upon the walls, again, is sketched the last
appointment that our patient souls must keep.
Do you see them now? A narrow boat drifts past;
two figures stand inside it; others row.
And stars peer out, the stars of different lives;
are carried by the Nile of time, below.
And like two mummies, we have been wrapped tight
in love. And after centuries, dawn arrives;
a cheerful archaeologist—with the light.
A preface first: the two of them, the brittle
calm, necessity, and sun, and shade,
an anxious father, cities braced for battle,
and from afar, unrecognizable dead.
The story's climax now—the war. First leave,
and smoke instead of streets, and he and she
together, and a mother from her grave
comforting: It'll be all right, don't worry.
And the last laugh is this: the way she put
his army cap on, walking to the mirror.
And was so lovely, and the cap just fit.
And then, behind the houses, in the yard,
a separation like cold-blooded murder,
and night arriving, like an afterword.
God's Hand in the World
God's hand is in the world
like my mother's hand in the guts of the slaughtered chicken
on Sabbath eve.
What does God see through the window
while his hands reach into the world?
What does my mother see?
My pain is already a grandfather:
it has begotten two generations
of pains that look like it.
My hopes have erected white housing projects
far away from the crowds inside me.
My girlfriend forgot her love on the sidewalk
like a bicycle. All night outside, in the dew.
Children mark the eras of my life
and the eras of Jerusalem
with moon chalk on the street.
God's hand in the world.
Sort of an Apocalypse
The man under his fig tree telephoned the man under his vine:
"Tonight they definitely might come. Assign
positions, armor-plate the leaves, secure the tree,
tell the dead to report home immediately."
The white lamb leaned over, said to the wolf:
"Humans are bleating and my heart aches with grief.
I'm afraid they'll get to gunpoint, to bayonets in the dust.
At our next meeting this matter will be discussed."
All the nations (united) will flow to Jerusalem
to see if the Torah has gone out. And then,
inasmuch as it's spring, they'll come down
and pick flowers from all around.
And they'll beat swords into plowshares and plowshares into swords,
and so on and so on, and back and forth.
Perhaps from being beaten thinner and thinner,
the iron of hatred will vanish, forever.
And That Is Your Glory
(Phrase from the liturgy of the Days of Awe)
I've yoked together my large silence and my small outcry
like an ox and an ass. I've been through low and through high.
I've been in Jerusalem, in Rome. And perhaps in Mecca anon.
But now God is hiding, and man cries Where have you gone.
And that is your glory.
Underneath the world, God lies stretched on his back,
always repairing, always things get out of whack.
I wanted to see him all, but I see no more
than the soles of his shoes and I'm sadder than I was before.
And that is his glory.
Even the trees went out once to choose a king.
A thousand times I've given my life one more fling.
At the end of the street somebody stands and picks:
this one and this one and this one and this one and this.
And that is your glory.
Perhaps like an ancient statue that has no arms
our life, without deeds and heroes, has greater charms.
Ungird my T-shirt, love; this was my final bout.
I fought all the knights, until the electricity gave out.
And that is my glory.
Rest your mind, it ran with me all the way,
it's exhausted now and needs to knock off for the day.
I see you standing by the wide-open fridge door, revealed
from head to toe in a light from another world.
And that is my glory
and that is his glory
and that is your glory.
Of Three or Four in a Room
Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window.
He must see the evil among thorns
and the fires on the hill.
And how people who went out of their houses whole
are given back in the evening like small change.
Of three or four in a room
there is always one who stands beside the window,
his dark hair above his thoughts.
Behind him, words.
And in front of him, voices wandering without a knapsack,
hearts without provisions, prophecies without water,
large stones that have been returned
and stay sealed, like letters that have no
address and no one to receive them.
Excerpted from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai by Chana Bloch, Stephen Mitchell. Copyright © 2013 Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) is widely considered the greatest contemporary Israeli poet, and a pioneering stylist in modern Hebrew.
C.K. Williams is a poet, translator, and critic, and winner of the Pulizter Prize for Poetry for Repair (1999). His most recent collection is Writers Writing Dying (2012).
Chana Bloch's many books include The Song of Songs: A New Translation and The Windows: New and Selected Poetry of Dahlia Ravikovitch. Stephen Mitchell's numerous translations include The Book of Job, A Book of Psalms, and Genesis.
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