Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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when it goes in a different direction,
or the changing of the calendar
of “dew and showers” and “thou causest the rain to fall”
in the synagogue
when the seasons change.
We did our duty,
we arranged our lives in flowerbeds and shade,
straight paths and pleasant walks,
like the garden o f a mental hospital,
Our despair is tame and calms us
only hopes remain,
wild hopes whose cries
rend the night and tear the day.
We did our duty
we were like those who enter a cinema
passing those going out, flushed
or pale, crying silently or laughing aloud,
they enter without a second glance, without turning,
into the light and the darkness and the light.
We did our duty.
The long, almost epic poem is constructed, like
Yovlot milhamah,
upon the twin pillars of Amichai’s later verse: memory and sub­
terfuge or pretense. It is also suffused with pain whose exact
cause is never clearly stated. The poem rests upon the grandiose
declaration spoken with the apparently typical bravado of the
hero but which is almost immediately undermined. The
lofty cry becomes a rhetorical admission that our “duty” carries
with it something ambiguous: “We did our duty,” a proclama­
tion at once proud and wary, alert to the burden of carrying
out a command. The literal translation of the anaphora is “we
did what was placed upon us” but the poem at no time suggests
who or what prescribed the duty. In the interview Amichai said,
in the context of the 1948 war, “I did everything that I was
expected to do, but I didn’t ever enjoy it.”14 In the poem he
has transformed this single obligation into the collective, the
“I” to the “we,” in this way implying a generational responsibility
and confirming the ensuing postwar despair.
14. Karpel, op. cit., p. 89.