Amichai’s Yom Kippur

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.

One of the difficulties in translating this poem occurs towards the end, in which Amichai uses the Hebrew word, “nishbar.”The word means “shattered,” generally speaking. But Amichai applies the word both to the light itself streaming through the window as well as to words and people. Technically speaking, “refracted” would be a better choice when the word is applied to light, but I decided to stick with “shattered.”

To me, this is the key concept of the poem. By repeating the word, “shattered,” it not only echoes the original Hebrew, but helps lend an emotional depth in English, too. in my mind, it helps to convey the power of the poem, of everything being shattered in his world.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur without my father and without my mother
is not Yom Kippur.

From the blessing of their hands upon my head
only the tremor remains like the tremor of a motor
that has not stopped even after their death.

My mother died just five years ago.
She is still caught in the bureaucratic process
between the heavenly offices above and the paperwork below.

My father, who died long ago, has already been resurrected
in other places but not in my place.

Yom Kippur without my father and without my mother
is not Yom Kippur.
Therefore I eat in order to remember
and drink in order not to forget
and arrange the vows
and classify the oaths by time and degree.

By day we cried out, “Forgive us,”
and in the evening we cried out, “Open the gates of heaven for us,”
but I say forget for our sake, forget us, leave us be
at the time of the locking of the gates, for day is done.
The last rays of sunlight are shattered
in the synagogue’s stained-glass window.
The sunlight is not shattered,
we are shattered,
the word “shattered” is shattered.

–Translated by Rick Black —

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Filed under Hebrew Poetry, Translating Amichai, Yehuda Amichai

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