Dec 112012

Well, this poem only directly calls to mind its titular figure in the first four lines; the rest turns to Amiḥai’s daddy and/or God issues, which is not entirely unexpected. But since we’ve had ibn Gabirol on the mind anyway…

Yehuda Amiḥai (1924 – 2000)
Ibn Gabirol

At times pus,
at times poetry —

Always something flowing out,
always pain.

My father was a tree in the forefathers’ grove,
covered in green moss.

Oh, widows of flesh, orphans of blood,
I have to get out.

Eyes as sharp as can openers
cut open weighty secrets.

But through the wound in my chest
God peers out at the world.

I’m the door
in his dwelling.

יהודה עמיחי
אבן גבירול

פְּעַמִים מֻגְלָה,
פְּעַמִים שִׁירָה —

תָּמִיד מַשֶּׁהוּ נִפְרָשׁ,
תָּמִיד כְּאֵב.

אָבִי הָיָה עֵץ בְּחֻרְשַׁת אָבוֹת,
מְכֻסֶּה טַחַב יָרֹק.

הוֹי, אַלְמְנוֹת הַבָּשָׂר, יְתוֹמֵי הַדָּם,
אֲנִי צָרִיךְ לִבְרֹחַ.

עֵינַיִם חַדּוֹת כְּפוֹתְחָנִים
פָּתְחוּ סוֹדוֹת כְּבֵדִים.

אֲבָל דֶּרֶךְ הַפֶּצַע בְּחָזִי
מֵצִיץ אֱלֹהִים לַתֵּבֵל.

אֲנִי הַדֶּלֶת


Paʕamím mugláh,
Paʕamím shiráh —

Tamíd máshehu nifrásh,
Tamíd ke’éiv.

‘Aví hayáh ʕeitz be-ḥurshát ‘avót,
Mekhuséh táḥav yarók.

Hoi, ‘almenót ha-basár, yetoméi ha-dám,
‘Aní tzaríkh livróaḥ.

ʕeináyim ḥadót ke-potḥaním
Patḥú sodót keveidím.

‘Avál dérekh ha-pétzaʕ be-ḥazí
Meitzítz ‘elohím la-teivéil.

‘Aní ha-délet

  4 Responses to “Yehuda Amiḥai, “Ibn Gabirol””

  1. One of my favourite Amihai pieces!
    Some thoughts:
    One could read the whole poem as speaking as ibn Gabirol (who himself lost his father at an early age). Reading ibn Gabirol’s poetry, I can easily imagine him feeling like he is carrying a weighty secret, or surrounded by eyes sharp as can-openers. In fact I seem to recall hearing a seminar from Raymond Scheindlin where he made that exact point about ibn Gabirol. And ibn Gabirol’s poetry could, in a sense, be seen as the expression of “the wound in his chest” from which G!d peeks into the world, especially given his mystical tendencies.
    And that last piece about G!d peeking into the world, to me, has echoes of Job 19:26, classically translated as “through my flesh I shall see G!d”, although there’s no direct parallel in the Hebrew.

  2. Is the ! in “G!d” supposed to be pronounced as an alveolar click? If not, it should be!

    Interesting thoughts. It hadn’t occurred to me to read the whole thing in ibn Gabirol’s voice. I think I associated majority of the poem with Amihai himself partly because he does talk about his own father frequently (and the next poem in the book I was reading was just “Avi”), and partly because of the modern vocabulary (I mean, at least I don’t think there were can openers in Andalusia). The modernity of the can-opener also made me puzzle over the appropriate translation of “dirah”: is it in the modern sense, or in the more Talmudic/literary sense where it’s a generalized dwelling-place? I suppose it doesn’t really matter since the image of the wounded poet as the portal through which the divine appears comes through whether it’s an apartment or an abode. And none of that really argues against a reading of the whole poem with ibn Gabirol as the speaker, although it seems to me the sudden appearance of modern Hebrew vocabulary at least serves to encourage the identification of Amihai himself as a parallel speaker.

    Good catch on the Job, too. Learning things!

  3. Fair enough! I think it can certainly be both (although now that you pointed it out, I like the idea of “door in his dwelling” for “hadelet bedirato” just for the alliteration.

    And oddly enough, although I’ve studied linguistics for years, I never thought to think of my practice of writing G!d with ! with the IPA symbol. I love it! I originally borrowed the idea from my friend Josh Schwartz, as a way of showing that G!d is an expansive and exciting force rather than something that can be subtracted or missing (as might come to mind when writing G-d). I have friends who write G?d as an ideological statement as well.

  4. You’re right. “Door in his dwelling” does maintain the alliteration. I’m going to change it. With the power of the Internet, by G-click-d, I can do that.

    Also, you have the enormously distinct and special honor of leaving this website’s 200th comment. ‘Alf mabruk ʕalik. Do not become unduly wild in your celebrations.

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