Sunday, November 28, 2004

Yehuda Amichai, part 2

I have been thinking more about the last two lines of Amichai's poem History:

A foreign language passes by in the street
like three angels from long, long ago.

And I am struck by how complex and how powerful this simple sentence is. The languages connect back to events in Amichai's life, to major events in History--WWII, Israeli independence and the resulting turmoil in the Middle East. He was a Jew born in Germany, who spoke Hebrew. So this language could be German with all the implications that tongue holds for a Jewish person who lived during and after WWII and the Holocaust. But for a native German, Hebrew is also a foreign language and comes with the implications of being a stranger in your native country as well as in your adopted country (Amichai immigrated to Palestine in 1935, where Arabic was spoken.) And Arabic has all the implications of the conflicts, violence, and turmoil that have characterized the 60-year relationship between Israel and the Arab world, which Amichai participated in as a soldier. And the ancient angels muddy the waters by bringing 3000 years of biblical history into the mix. Are they the angels of Sodom, precursors to destruction? Are they related to the Angel of Death, a precursor to Moses leading the Jews to the promised land? No matter how hard we try we, like the speaker in Amichai's poem, can not escape the violate mix created by the intersection of German, Hebrew and Arabic, nor the religions they represent.

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