You are on page 1of 7

The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai: Has Elvis Left The Building?

Yehuda Amichai, the assumed name of Ludwig Pfeuffer, is arguably the de facto poet laureate of Israel if not that of modern day Judaism in general. His background suffering on the front lines of four military conflicts as well as the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah1, served to convince him of God’s relative neglect of His “children”. His poetry as well as his prose cry out for more involvement from the Creator, begging for direct intervention, pleading for compassion, mercy, and – if nothing else – recognition from “the Father”. Alienation and loneliness are overarching themes in his works in general. There is no better example of Amichai’s entreaties than that found in his poem God Has Pity On Kindergarten Children:

God has pity on kindergarten children, He pities school children – less. But adults he pities not at all.

He abandons them, And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours In the scorching sand To reach the dressing station, Streaming with blood.

But perhaps He will have pity on those who love truly And take care of them And shade them Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench.
1

The Haganah was the defense force of the Jewish settlements in what was at that time Mandate Palestine, a poorly defined area encompassing Palestine and what was then known as the Transjordan. The Mandate was established by the League of Nations via the Balfour Declaration shortly after World War I and persisted until 1948 when the Zionist state of Israel was established.

more evident position of alienation from God in times of greatest need (Aberbach. the prayer for the dead. Amichai shows an abject frustration and delusionment with God.Perhaps even we will spend on them Our last pennies of kindness Inherited from mother. World War II journalist but probably originating with Capt. Can tell you that the world is empty of mercy. experiences which resulted in his rejection of the positive “there are no atheists in foxholes”2 to a more negative and. I. If God was not full of mercy. . why there is so little of it found free in his world: God-Full-of-Mercy. and how could a God that is supposedly benevolent allow such things to happen? This frustration and its resultant skepticism stem in no small measure from his combat experiences. I. Mercy would have been in the world. who brought corpses down from the hills. why He keeps it for His unique disposition. who plucked flowers in the hills And looked down into all the valleys. So that their own happiness will protect us Now and on other days. Amichai’s profound sense of alienation surfaces again in his Poem God Full Of Mercy. 2004). Who stood without a decision at my window. Not just in Him. who was King of Salt at the seashore. asking in so many words a question each of us addresses at some time in our lives: why do bad things happen to good people. 2 Attributed to Ernie Pyle. William Cummings in his sermon delivered at the Battle of Bataan (Pacific Theater) in 1942. some would say. I. a work which asks in no uncertain terms why it is that He is the only repository of mercy.

I. Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy There would be mercy in the world. God created human beings. Whose heart lifted weights of anguish In the horrible contests. Prayer created God. In one of the poetic vignettes in Open. Amichai almost appears to call into question God’s origin as well as His existence: I declare with perfect faith that prayer preceded God. who must decipher riddles I don't want to decipher. forcing us to consider the juxtaposition of Genesis 1:1 with John 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”3 3 Genesis 1:1 (NIV) . Not just in Him. Close. human beings created prayers That create the God that creates human beings. who use only a small part Of the words in the dictionary. I. Open. This prompts his readers to ask the same questions of their faith.Who counted the steps of angels.

I believe Amichai sees God in such a flippant light at best. Amichai issues a challenge to God in the phrases relating to “our King” when he points out that God could. Interestingly. like all kings: Bread of memory and circuses of forgetting. in some ways recapitulating the foxhole dichotomy (vide supra). Through him all things were made. suffering. she is purported to have quipped: “Let them eat cake”. a passive spectator in His creation. Bread and longing. and the Word was God. why does He even bother to care at all 4 5 John 1:1-2 (NIV) See http://www. deserting his children even while He lives. Herein. he asks the Creator for an explanation for God’s persistence. and not only him but Jews.”4 Amichai was hardly an orthodox or even a devout and practicing Jew in the religious sense. He dilates his feelings in a poignant stanza from his Achziv Poems. and the Word was with God. Stanza 7 in his poem Gods Come and Go. Amichai clearly indicates his disappointment in God as a father. longing for God And for a better world. and poverty of the lower and lower middle classes.thedrunkenboat. What does a father do whose children are orphans while he is still alive? What can a father do whose children are dead and he remains a mourning father to the end of days? Weep and not weep.com/amichai. My Father my King. suggesting that if God cares so little for His people. He was with God in the beginning.htm for the full text of this work. choosing instead to mourn their passings instead. When asked what should be done to alleviate the pain. what can a king do In the Republic of pain? Give them Bread and circuses. This harkens to the aphorism attributed to Marie Antoinette. His impressions and writings are as much a reflection of his use of religious metaphor in a somewhat antithetical and ironic manner as they are commentaries on God’s involvement or lack thereof in the lives of men and of the human condition in general. alleviate suffering in ways beyond those of show-time fluff. Our Father our King. . not remember and not forget.“In the beginning was the Word. we get a definite sense of Amichai’s feeling that God has completely let him down. Prayers Remain Forever5. as king. without him nothing was made that has been made. and all of humanity: Our Father our King. the state of Israel.

000 years later in Mark’s gospel. but you do not answer. by night. we hear the converse of this last line. but I find no rest. why have you not forsaken me!? (emphasis added) This is in direct opposition to both the Tanakh as well as what is written in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In the first verses of Psalm 22. “Eloi. Eloi. my God. Christ asking not why God (his Father) had not left but why he had: And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice. why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me. so far from my cries of anguish? My God. Eli.6 These are echoed 1.Far from here. in another continent of time. why have you forsaken me?”)7 6 7 Psalm 22:1-2 Mark 15:34 (NIV) . I see clearly the dead rabbis of my childhood holding high above their heads the tombstones. Their souls tied to my knotted life. Eli. my God. David asking My God. lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God. I cry out by day.

to the place appointed for all the living. Yehuda. but you do not answer.”8 Unlike Job. God alive and leaving His orphaned people to fend for themselves.Yehuda Amichai clearly has a rather pessimistic and jaded view of God the Creator. David. "The Openness of God: Does Prayer Change God?. was left to his own devices to accept or not accept a role as a God apologist.Fall (2001): 149-166. . who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years. Chana Bloch. Amichai. but you merely look at me. I think it is fair to say that Amichai would say that “God is not dead. or at least not to the point of hearing an answer to his questions. Print. God. William. New York: Harcourt. He. God the Father. You turn on me ruthlessly. He simply doesn’t care very much”. recent developments in modern science and the increasing secularization of European society had effectively 'killed' the Abrahamic God. and Chana Kronfeld. as he lamented: “I cry out to you. just as we. Open Closed Open: Poems. Nietzsche was not referring to the literal “God Being”. Amichai never had a chance to speak with God. and God the King. 8 9 Job 30:20-23 (NIV) In Nietzsche's view. His view was akin to that of Job. 2000. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that “God is dead”9. accepting God’s withdrawal as fact. I stand up. however. He chose not to make excuses for God.Summer/Fall (2004): 279-287. Print." The Masters Seminary Journal 12/2. Works Cited/Consulted Aberbach." Judaism 53. "Religious Metaphor and Its Denial in the Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. you toss me about in the storm. Print. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind. a blameless and upright man chosen by God for arbitrary testing and persecution by Satan. Barrick. with the might of your hand you attack me. I know you will bring me down to death.

. n..Read and Enjoy Poetry. "Judaism.com>." Famous Poets and Poems .Yehuda Amichai. Greensboro NC. 2007."Famous Poets and Poems . <http://famouspoetsandpoems.d. Saab. 15 Mar. Web. University of North Carolina . N. Class lecture. Ann.p. 1 Jan.Greensboro." Current Problems in the Middle East. 2012. Blackboard.