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 Compare Alter’s previously unpublished version below to this earlier version—particularly the closing lines.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.