In his beautiful, haunting poem, Summer Evening By A Window With Psalms, widely renowned Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wishes for a more peaceful and compassionate world, far away from the suffering that he has so often witnessed.
In the third stanza in particular, Amichai draws on images from the Psalms:
I think: how many still waters
would be able to provide a night of stillness,
and how many green pastures, wide as deserts,
would provide an hour of tranquility
and how many valleys of the shadow of death
do we need for there to be a merciful shadow
in the harsh sunlight.
What, indeed, would it take—how many still waters, how many green pastures, how many valleys of the shadow of death would it take for there to be consolation in the modern world? Given the atrocities of the 20th century through which Amichai lived, one can hardly imagine how many it would take. Continue reading
Original copy of Amichai’s poem, “Yom Kippur.” Reproduced courtesy of Hana Amichai from the archives of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
Yehuda Amichai frequently argues with God in his poems.
Raised in an Orthodox household, Amichai stopped practicing when he became a teenager — much to the dismay of his father. They argued about God and Jewish ritual practice for years. In fact, Amichai continued to argue with him long after his father died.
A couple of new books have recently come out about Yehuda Amichai.
First, the publication of Robert Alter’s new book, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, is a compilation of a variety of previous translations as well as many poems that have never been translated into English before. Alter, who is the preeminent Hebrew literature translator and critic, has done a fine job assembling all of the poems together in one volume, old and new. Plus, he has added an informative introduction that places Amichai’s work in the context of modern poetry and contemporary Hebrew literature. Continue reading
Earlier this month, a tribute was held to Yehuda Amichai and his poetry in San Francisco. Participating were Hana Amichai, his wife, Emmanuela Amichai, his daughter, Hebrew literary critic and translator Robert Alter, poet and translator Chana Bloch and comparative literature critic and translator Chana Kronfeld. The gathering was in honor of a new book of Amichai’s poetry in English, “The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.” Continue reading
After I selected the poems for The Amichai Windows, I soon realized that I would have to translate them myself. There were good translations, of course. But in each one there was always something that I would have done differently. And so I began to think about translating Amichai and how best to do it. Continue reading
Today, the day before Yom Kippur, marks the 15th anniversary since Yehuda Amichai’s death on Sept. 22, 2000. In his honor, I am posting my translation of his poem, “Yom Kippur,” which is included in The Amichai Windows. Continue reading
“Poetry is what gets lost in translation,” Robert Frost is often quoted as saying.
It’s true, but it’s not true. The original connotations and impact of a poem is lost in translation, that’s true. One can not move from one country to another without a sense of dislocation, of newness, of discovery. But, that’s just it. A new language presents the opportunity for the poet to be discovered by a new audience — and for the poem to resonate in new ways. It might not be the same as the original but it can take on a life of its own. Continue reading