- What Did I Learn in the Wars
What did I learn in the wars:To march in time to swinging arms and legsLike pumps pumping an empty well.
To march in a row and be alone in the middle,To dig into pillows, featherbeds, the body of a beloved woman,And to yell "Mama," when she cannot hear,And to yell "God," when I don't believe in Him,And even if I did believe in HimI wouldn't have told Him about the warAs you don't tell a child about grown-ups' horrors.
What else did I learn. I learned to reserve a path for retreat.In foreign lands I rent a room in a hotelNear the airport or railroad station.And even in the wedding hallsAlways to watch the little doorWith the exit sign in red letters.
A battle too beginsLike rhythmical drums for dancing and endsWith a "retreat at dawn." Forbidden loveAnd battle, the two of them sometimes end like this.
But above all I learned the wisdom of camouflage,Not to stand out, not to be recognized,Not to be apart from what's around me,Even not from my beloved.Let them think I am a bush or a lamb,A tree, a shadow of a tree,A doubt, a shadow of a doubt,A living hedge, a dead stone,A house, a corner of a house. [End Page 97]
If I were a prophet I would have dimmed the glow of the visionAnd darkened my faith with black paperAnd covered the magic with nets.
And when my time comes, I shall don the camouflage garb of my end:The white of clouds and a lot of sky blueAnd stars that have no end. [End Page 98]
Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany in 1924 to an orthodox Jewish family. In 1935, he emigrated with his family to Eretz Yisrael, living briefly in Petach Tikvah before settling in Jerusalem. In World War ii he fought with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, and upon his discharge in 1946, he joined the Palmach and fought for the Jewish Defense Forces in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He later attended Hebrew University, studying Biblical texts and Hebrew literature, and taught in secondary schools. An advocate of peace and reconciliation with the Arab world, Amichai published eleven volumes of poetry in Hebrew, two novels, and a book of short stories. Before his death in Jerusalem in 2000, his work had been translated into more than thirty languages.
Benjamin Harshav is professor of comparative literature and professor of Slavic languages and literatures at Yale University. He is also professor emeritus of literary theory and poetics at Tel Aviv University, where he taught until 1987, and founding editor of the journal Poetics Today. In 2005, he was awarded Israel's distinguished EMET Prize for excellence in academic and professional achievements.
Co-translator Barbara Harshav has translated more than thirty books from French, German, Hebrew, and Yiddish and teaches translation at Yale University. Among her awards is the 2004 Times Literary Supplement-Porjes Prize for Hebrew-English translation.