Poetry and Stories by Yehuda Amichai

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Our member Elizabeth Sharkey writes:

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

When searching for poems simple enough for a beginning student of Hebrew to translate, I stumbled upon:

“I did not Kiss the Earth”

I did not kiss the earth
When they brought me, little, to this country
But now when I grew on it
It kisses me
It holds me
It moves next to me with love
In grass and darts, in sand and stone
In wars and in spring
Until the last kiss

I fell in love with Amichai’s poetry. I was nineteen and I wished to god I could write like him. Rereading this poem today, I still feel the same sense of awe that words can convey such beauty. It is rare to encounter such strange richness.

Most of Amichai’s poems are beautiful love poems, some however, are brutal and demanding.

Here is another poem of Amichai’s:

“The Diameter of the Bomb”

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making
a circle with no end and no God.

This poem reads like a news report clarifying for the reader what transpired while sparing us the complete devastation.
The bomb is measured, limited and quantifiable. Its diameter is only 30cm, yet what is touched, touches until all of humanity, even beyond, is included. Nothing is left in the end but loss. It is a poem that demands the reader return to the concentric circles ripple out pain.

Amichai’s poetry mirrors Israel and like Israel his poems juxtapose the secular and the holy, modernity and antiquity, and life and death. His poetry, like Israel can be brutal, tender, playful and serious.

There is one more line I’d like to share with you but I do not know which Amichai poem it comes from.

“Stay with me. I want to be you. Here is this burning country words must be our shade.”

In Israel and in the dispora, Amichai’s words shade us and stay with us, always.