Love, War and History: Israel's Yehuda Amichai Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai talks to Henry Lyman, in an excerpt from Lyman's long-running public-radio series Poems to the Listener.
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Love, War and History: Israel's Yehuda Amichai

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Love, War and History: Israel's Yehuda Amichai

Love, War and History: Israel's Yehuda Amichai

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

Amichai grew up to be a schoolteacher, fought in four wars, and became the poetic voice of Israel. He was known for his love poetry and his profoundly playful humor. But on a week when we're all confronting the darker corners of human reality, I'd like to share a poem that mirrors Amichai's own quest for understanding. Here's Yehuda Amichai reciting the English translation of his poem, "All These Make a Dance Rhythm."

YEHUDA AMICHAI: A while back, I found an old photo of myself with a little girl who died long ago. We were sitting together, hugging as children do, in front of a wall where a pear tree stood, her one hand on my shoulder and the other one free reaching out from the dead to me now. And I knew that the hope of the dead is their past, and God has taken it.

LYMAN: Who is that little girl?

AMICHAI: The little girl was killed late in the Holocaust, because we left Germany in 1935 when everything was still...

LYMAN: And you were just 12, 13?

AMICHAI: I was 11...

LYMAN: Eleven, yeah.

AMICHAI: ...in '35. And she was a young Jewish girl. We went to the same class. And we had a - it was a very beautiful relationship between two 10-year- olds, a boy and girl, it was really - it was - had nothing erotic in it, but it was a deep involvement of both of us. And so I found this picture and - if I were to rearrange this, I would see that her latest photo, because it actually means that there must be someone to whom this whole thing is totally in order. We just don't realize, everything is chaotic. But it's actually all written in a scrapbook of a great master.

LYMAN: So there is a dancing master?

AMICHAI: There is a dancing master or composer or whatever, or bandmaster.

LYMAN: Who takes the past, takes life.

AMICHAI: Yes.

LYMAN: Yehuda Amichai lived in Jerusalem until his death in September of 2000.

ELLIOTT: Yehuda Amichai's poem "All These Make a Dance Rhythm" was translated by Chana Bloch. To hear Henry Lyman's full interview with Amichai, go to our Web site, npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: This is NPR News.

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