Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai

by Elie, Managing Editor

4/2 - Richard Siken Tells Me We'll Never Get Used To It, by Po, EIC
4/3 - William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say, by Layah, CD
4/4 - We Are All Writers On the Same Dreadful Typewriter 
as Allen Ginsberg, by Jenny, EE
4/5 - Pablo Neruda and the Quest for Surrender, by Elie, ME
4/6 - Let's Shake the Dust, Anis Mojgani, by Layah, CD
4/11 - Terrence Hayes, Kanye West, and How to Get Through Winter, 
by Elie, ME
4/12 - Sylvia Plath Died Before I Had Time, by Po, EIC 
4/16 - Billy Corgan Blinks With Fists, by Jenny, EE 
4/17 - Andrea Gibson Just Takes Me, by Po, EIC 
4/18 - Famous Like Naomi Shihab Nye, by Po, EIC
4/19 - Tell Me What Is, Tadeusz Rozewicz, by Layah, CD
4/23 - Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai, by Elie, ME

I think what I enjoy most about Yehuda Amichai’s poetry is how devoutly religious he comes across.

While it’s true that his verse bleeds with what any rabbi knowledgeable of Maimonides’s principles of faith would call heresy, there’s an underlying appreciation for Jewish tradition and culture that seeps through his poems.

“Our Father, Our King.” What does a father do
when his children are orphans and he
is still alive?

-God Changes, Prayers Are Here to Stay, 7: 1-3

To listen to Amichai’s words pour out is to hear the void between the religious and the secular get colored in. Rebbi Nachman of Breslov, the great Chassidic leader, once famously said that “all of this world is but a narrow bridge.” The same could quite cogently be said of the space that exists in between a life of religious observance and what lies beyond such boundaries.

Yehuda Amichai has known of this bridge for a long time.

He writes poetry that succeeds in evoking Israel as it is in the present day and as it was in the days of the Holy Temple, in ways that highlight the clash between the sacred and profane.

We are all children of Abraham
but also the grandchildren of Terah, Abraham’s father.
And maybe it’s high time the grandchildren
did unto the father as he did unto his
when he shattered his idols and images, his religion, his faith.
That too would be the beginning of a new religion.

-God Changes, Prayers Are Here to Stay, 9: 1-6 

His words offer advice on how to best meditate. On how to best crest on the spiritual high of living in a land with as rich a history as the Gallillee. Or Jericho. Or Jerusalem. Or Haifa. Or anywhere on the dusty soil of the Bible’s patriarchs.

In Kfar Blum, between the hills of Golan and the hills of Galillee,
my friend told me: “These hills were once seashore,
we are standing on what was once the floor of the sea.”
What does that require of us? To be quieter,
more transparent, to turn inward like fossil shells,
to be light and floating as seaweed.

-Israeli Travel: Otherness is All, Otherness is Love, 10: 1-6

I’ve only ever read him in translation., and it’s always been enough. With other Israeli poets, such as Etgar Keret, I have tried to read them in the original.  I have never felt a compulsion to read Amichai’s songs as he intended, in his own tongue. The English excels in transferring over his message of the struggle for the great simplicity of life.

Because that’s what he writes about, really. The great simplicity of life. The need to wake up, eat breakfast, speak to people, do a little work, think about God, eat lunch, maybe get outdoors, think about God a little more, have dinner with family, maybe have sex, and then go to sleep. Simple, isn’t it?

But still the bridge. The lone path that swings unsteadily between the past and the present, the heart and the body, the devout and the lecherous, this world and the great blankness beyond it.

Yehuda Amichai has known of this bridge for a long time.



  1. […] Like Naomi Shihab Nye, by Po, EIC 4/19 – Tell Me What Is, Tadeusz Rozewicz, by Layah, CD 4/23 – Crossing the Bridge with Yehuda Amichai, by Elie, ME 4/24 – The Whole World Rhymes With Shel Silverstein, by Layah, CD 4/25 – E.E. Cummings […]

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LANDFILLS is a grassroots literary, arts and culture online collective based in Chicago. All work is original, except the featured images that accompany text posts (which are blatantly stolen from Complaints should be directed to Po via Twitter.
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