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1 Introduction camouflage as the key to the poetry of yehuda amichai One evening in 1997, I went to a university lecture in New York City with Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s best-known poet. We sat in a back row at the end of a crowded hall and waited for the speaker to begin, when suddenly he touched my arm and said, almost in a whisper, “Do you see, three rows in front of us, near the aisle, a woman sits? Her name is Ruth Z. Do you remember the poem about the one who ‘ran away to America’? I wrote it about her.” I knew the text. “The Rustle of History’s Wings, as They Said Then” is a bitter poem from 1980 fraught with details about a bygone love during curfew in Jerusalem , a love that eventually ended with a betrayal.1 I wanted to know more, yet something in the sound of the poet’s voice prevented me from asking any questions . I wondered why he revealed the subject of the poem to me, but in our subsequent meetings before his death in 2000, I did not dare inquire about the woman we had seen in the lecture hall. As fate would have it, two years after Amichai died, I sat face to face with the woman whose name and features were forever etched in my memory. A friend introduced me to her, saying, “You two have something in common. You both knew Amichai.” “I know,” I said. “How do you know?” asked Ruth, startled. “Amichaitoldmewhoyouweresomeyearsago.”IomittedAmichai’sreference to the poem about the woman who had deserted Israel for America. Later, however ,itbecamecleartomethatRuthZ.knew“History’sWings”verywell.Asamatter of fact, she alone knew the private history to which the poem’s lines allude. This time, I decided not to suppress the urge to investigate. “Would you be willing to tell me what happened between the two of you?” “Yes. Come see me and I’ll tell you.” A few months later, I went to Ruth’s home in New York. We sat in her apartment for many hours while she unveiled a story that had been kept hidden for half a century. As I listened to her, little by little a chapter opened in front of me about the love affair of Ruth Z. and Amichai, Amichai’s emergence as a poet, and the history of Israel and its people. After we became closer, Ruth confided to me that she had a stack of letters from Amichai that she had not touched in almost sixty years. The letters had been sealed in a dark tin box since April 1948. When Ruth opened the box, my heart skipped a beat. In front of me lay over one hundred pages filled with cramped handwriting, as well as a faded blue, hand-bound notebook and a tiny booklet held together by a rusty safety pin. I knew that these papers, strewn on Ruth’s coffee table, represented the earliest substantial body of Amichai’s writings in existence and that I was the first to see them besides Ruth. The magnitude of this finding overwhelmed me. I had spent the previous year at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University (where Amichai had deposited his papers shortly before his death), struggling to read tiny, ripped pads, and attempting to decipher lines that the poet had jotted to himself.2 The earliest documents in the archive are dated 1954, when Amichai was already thirty years old and was about to publish his first book of poems.3 And behold, there in Ruth’s living room, dozens of pages in meticulous Hebrew script, written by the poet when he was twenty-three, were spread in front of my eyes. The letters are numbered, as though Amichai wanted to facilitate scholarly citation or to maintain control over the continuity of his narrative.4 When Ruth and I started reading the densely written aerograms, I realized that they chronicled not only the days before the poet became a poet, but also the historical times before the State of Israel became a state. Over the weeks that followed, I felt as if I were participating in a séance. I heard the tale of those momentous months in two intersecting voices: the feminine voice of Ruth Z. at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the resurrected voice of Amichai, inscribed in blue ink on the face of lightweight paper, from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781584658122
Print ISBN
9781584657330
MARC Record
OCLC
471133869
Pages
468
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-07
Language
English
Open Access
N
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