ILLUSTRATION: Riccardo Vecchio; SOURCE: The New Yorker
Writing in The New Yorker, James Woods reviews Yehuda Amichai’s long-awaited collected poems, newly translated by eminent scholar Robert Alter. Some of the poems and Alter’s introduction to them first appeared in Broad Street’s “Dangerous Territory.”
Alter describes Amichai’s poetry as playing “vigorously and inventively with the formal properties and the cultural backgrounds of its Hebrew medium in ways that cannot easily cross the barrier of translation.” For Wood, this appraisal rings true—but so do Alter’s translations.
Amichai, recognized as one of Israel’s finest poets, is one of the first poets to write in colloquial Hebrew and is famed for having his works translated into over 40 languages. Despite his ability to captivate international readers and break language barriers, Alter and Wood admit that there are references to Hebrew culture that non-speakers miss. Nonetheless, Amichai is praised for his use of the plain words of everyday speech that make it universally appealing to his readers far and near, regardless of native tongue.
Here, enjoy one of Amichai’s translated poems previously published in Broad Street, as well a revisit to “Dangerous Territories,” where you can find more of his poetry and Alter’s introduction.
We Did It
by Yehuda Amichai
We did it before the mirror
and in the light. We did it in darkness,
in the water and in the high grass.
We did it in honor of man
and in honor of beast and in honor of God.
But they didn’t want to know about us,
they had already seen that sort of thing.
We did it with flair and in colors,
with the mingling of reddish hair and brown
and with difficult exercises
gladdening the heart. We did it
like the wheel-shaped angels and the holy beasts
and the divine chariot of the prophets.
We did it with six wings
and six legs, but the heavens
were hard over us
like the summer earth beneath us.