Saturday, March 13, 2010

In the Middle of This Century - Y. Amichai

Another by Yehuda Amichai (see also Quick and Bitter A Precise Woman).  A graduate student somewhere has probably done a thesis contrasting and comparing the effect of war on the love poetry of soldier-poets of the 20th century.  Or should. 
Amichai would be in unique in that group: he fought in three - 1948, 1956, 1973 - being from a country (Israel) that is on permanent war-footing.  I never forget that and how it must permeate every aspect of connecting with another person: from heightening the urgency and the sensory/emotional experience to the hyper-reality of loss.  This poem speaks so much to that: the need to connect, the uncertainty beyond the moment, and how two form an oasis when they meet... It evokes the total arc and experience of a love affair: beautiful and brilliant as that Judean sun, finite as the inevitable sunset, yet hopeful (and cyclical) as the also inevitable sunrise. It leaves me with the same feeling as watching "The English Patient" and the final scenes of "Black Orpheus": drained, sad, yet hopeful.

In the middle of this century we turned to each other
with half faces and full eyes
like an ancient Egyptian picture
and for a short while.

I stroked your hair
in the opposite direction to your journey.
We called to each other,
like calling out the names of towns
where nobody stops  
along the route.

Lovely is the world rising early to evil,
lovely is the world falling asleep to sin and pity,
in the mingling of ourselves, you and I,
lovely is the world.

The earth drinks men and their loves
like wine,
to forget.
It can't.
And like the contours of the Judean Hills,
we should never find peace.

In the middle of this century we turned to each other,
I saw your body, throwing shade, waiting for me,
the leather straps for a long journey
already tightening across my chest.
I spoke in praise of your mortal hips,
you spoke in praise of my passing face.

I stroked your hair in the direction of your journey,
I touched your flesh, prophet of your end,
I touched your hand, which has never slept,
I touched your mouth, which may yet sing.

Dust from the desert covered the table
at which we did not eat.
But with my finger I wrote on it
the letters of your name.
Yehuda Amichai  (Israeli)                                 

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