Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Thirty-Nine (Amichai)

San Carlos Wildflowers
John Fowler

This week I've fallen in love with a new (to me) poet, Yehuda Amichai, whose selected poems I picked up at Half Price Books a few weeks ago and have been devouring since. Amichai writes in Hebrew and has been translated into more than forty languages. The poems in The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (the collection I've been reading) were translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.

According to another well-known translator, Robert Alter, "Yehuda Amichai, it has been remarked with some justice, is the most widely translated Hebrew poet since King David.” And I have to say, I can see why. The poems are stunning. Both universal and deeply personal, they deal with the most important aspects of humanity through compelling, brilliant metaphors and images.

Before you read the poem I've selected for this week's Mnemosyne, here are a few lines that really struck me from other poems: "God's hand is in the world / like my mother's hand in the guts of the slaughtered chicken / on Sabbath eve" (From "God's Hand in the World," translated by Stephen Mitchell). And from another poem ("Yehuda Ha-Levi"), also translated by Stephen Mitchell: "But in the white fist of his brain / he holds the black seeds of his happy childhood. / When he reaches the belovèd, bone-dry land-- / he will sow."

Yehuda Amichai
Photo by Layle Silbert

By Yehuda Amichai
Translated By Chana Bloch

Not the peace of a cease-fire,
not even the vision of the wolf and the lamb,
but rather
as in the heart when the excitement is over
and you can talk only about a great weariness.
I know that I know how to kill,
that makes me an adult.
And my son plays with a toy gun that knows
how to open and close its eyes and say Mama.
A peace
without the big noise of beating swords into ploughshares,
without words, without
the thud of the heavy rubber stamp: let it be
light, floating, like lazy white foam.
A little rest for the wounds—
who speaks of healing?
(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
to the next, as in a relay race:
the baton never falls.)

Let it come
like wildflowers,
suddenly, because the field
must have it: wildpeace.


  1. Thank you for helping me to now discover the phenomenal poetry of Yehuda Amichai. These lines from his poem here are especially remarkable to me:

    "(And the howl of the orphans is passed from one generation
    to the next, as in a relay race:
    the baton never falls."

    You’ve added yet another outstanding, Mnemosyne blog entry, Melissa!

    Sincerest regards,
    R Jeffreys

  2. Thank you, Jeff! It means so much to me that you take the time to give me feedback about your favorite lines. Those are some of my favorites too! I'm looking forward to sharing one you your great discoveries for next week's Mnemosyne!

    Kindest regards,