This morning (22 September 2000
) Yehuda Amichai died in Jerusalem
. The not-very-highbrow Israeli electronic media
ran this item as the first story
on all news broadcast
Amichai was probably the greatest Hebrew-language poet in the generation that came after Nathan Altermann. His poems have an amazing ring to them, as Amichai gives literal minded interpretations to everyday phrases. Thus, describing what will happen when the Messiah comes, he says "And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares / And vice versa". But most are impossible to translate:
God is full of mercy.
Were it not that God was full of mercy,
There'd be mercy in the world not just in Him.
(all translations mine, without the Hebrew text in front of me; since he translated some of his work to English, you should go pick up a much better translation.
) In Hebrew, the first 2
lines are an amazing play on words
, a pun
even. And then he goes on to explain why
he thinks there is no mercy in this world...
His Hebrew was always easy, but never simple. He always had something to say (though it was not always pleasant). In some ways he was an e e cummings, but unlike him kept to "proper" grammar.
Amichai fought in the War of Independence in 1948; this formed a basis for much of his earlier work. But he also wrote about love, about his memories of his father, and about Jerusalem.
I don't think I ever saw him. Sometimes he'd be on TV for one reason or another, saying interesting things, but nothing like his poems; I'd usually get bored and go do something else. But I already miss him.