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Yehuda Amichai’s poem “We Did It” is among his best-known; it inspired Stuart Dybek’s wonderful and much-anthologized story “We Didn’t.” In Broad Street’s debut, Robert Alter, the renowned translator of Hebrew literature (including several books of the Bible), discusses how he worked to sharpen the language to more closely hew to Amichai’s meaning. Compare Alter’s previously unpublished version below to this earlier version—particularly the closing lines.

We Did It

by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Robert Alter

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.

(image source)

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