Jean Paul Sartre: “It’s quite an undertaking to start loving somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment right at the start where you have to jump across an abyss: if you think about it you don’t do it.”
When I first started reading Amichai’s poetry I would structure it in any way that felt right. It was quite arbitrary really. Once I reached the half of it, I stopped and took a second look at the poem I just read and asked myself: is there an underling structure here? This is what I came up with.
Each poem in “Amichai’s love poetry” is representing a different image of the lovers; they are like two associations in one mind, as he is referred to, so is she, they are like two lightbulbs in a lamp, each one alone too dark but together lighted they are a festival of light; she is the walled public garden of the city and he the road which moves away from her. They are like two stones at the bottom of a hill, secluded and alone, they are two numbers standing alone and combining; he is like soft water in a pipe, waiting to be summoned by the turning of conceits, affirm the isolated perfection of love. Amichai has this stunning obsession of cutting everything into two.
The couplets which owe something to “Metaphysical” conceits, affirm the isolated perfection of love, yet even at their most serene the lovers are separate entities, two lightbulbs, two stones, two numbers. The poems offer an apparent affirmation of love, yet separateness and isolation are implicit in them.
The “Ahavah be emet” (true love) , the coupling of both spirit and flesh is still undiscovered and it is only for a brief moment that the bulbs achieve a festival of light, unbounded unity in each other. Love has proof in continuity and real love perhaps in eternity, yet the nature of Amichai’s conceits confirms only its uncertainty and brevity.
The poet suggested in “God has pity on kindergarten children” that only true or real lovers may be worthy of God’s grace. The notion of separateness offered by the couplets in “Pine cones” implying that the lovers have failed to achieve perfect unity, indicates their separation also from God.
Lack of completeness is hinted; on the surface the stories are idyllic expressions of love framed by staples of romantic convention, rain, sun, spring, flowers, grass, and the full moon. The woman’s body is “full of lizards, they all love sun” her eyes, breasts and things compose the sensual picture and complement the earth images providing the cycle’s setting. On the surface, peace and tranquility accompany unconditional and perfect love, yet notes of unease penetrate the harmony of body and nature, the hint of conflict about what is only an act of love, not perfect love itself:
“Your heart plays blood-catch
In your veins
Your eyes are still as warm as beds
Time has been lying in
Your thighs are two sweet yesterdays
I’ll come to you
All 150 psalms
Roar at once”
Human love cannot save the lovers from the terrible trial because it is never more than transitory and even though it may hasten the salvation of the world which is an idea Amichai expresses in later poetry, salvation will not be extended to the lovers. Attempts to fix love within a solid and protective frame usually fail.
Images of enclosure occur throughout all Amichai’s love poetry. Solid controlled images which have their place in a defined environment: the public garden is walled, the road is in a city, the water in a pipe, the numbers occur in their framework of arithmetical sums, the bulbs are part of a lamp.
Amichai’s images, rather, echo the phrase from a legal contract “together and severally” which he transposed to serve as the refrain for one of his early love poems ‘’both of us together and each alone” his walled garden, Noah’s ark, a box, a house: all suggest a safe bolt-hole in some guarded space, far away from the attempts of God and man to disturb the lovers. Isolation enclosure and secrecy are the necessary ingredients for love.
Real love in the sense of love that survives separation, that is not a breach but in Donne’s words an expansion is hardly a factory in the lyric of the “I“ experience.
“If we won’t stay together we won’t stay at all; even more so we won’t love”.
Society, social duty and identity take on the implicit guise of “them” those that break into love’s dwelling with love consequently unable to survive the social and spiritual environment in which the “ I “ is placed.
The intruding force remains unspecified: it is partly war, partly social duty, but there is more: we are led once again to the notion of “mixture” which dominates the love poetry: Eros and the world of faith cannot coexist, human love is unable to resist the onslaught of guilt.
If guilt is taken to be part of them, the intruders and destroyers of love, then they symbolizes not only the practical burdens of social duty but also spiritual obligations , God and his deputies, angels and the father, upon all of whom responsibility for moral vigilance has been placed:
“In the sand we were two headed Cerberus
With bared teeth, in the afternoon
Your one leg was in the east and the second in the west
With me in the middle, crouched on my forelegs
Suspiciously looking from side roaring terribly
To warm them off my prey”
The ephemerality of love is captured in words suggesting illusion or transience. Yet the poem presents lost of objects, trivial but real, as a contrast to these signs of transience, nipples, buckles, feathers and so on. These objects define the love more effectively than the words of passage, without necessarily bearing any relationship to each other, but together creating a context for love. Each object carries its own significance as part of love, each to be recalled as an association of it or a spur to memory.
Similarly words and phrases offer not a description but an impression of the woman, her changing and contrary faces and her evanescent nature of which a part is mirror the key to the notion of illusion.
The very nature of love is an illusion for the lovers, sing together the incomprehensible abandoning the decipherment of the real to the enjoyment of whatever they are able to possess.
Amichai’s contrasting of words and body compliments the juxtaposition of unchanging concrete objects with the woman and with love, both of whose nature constantly changing. The very ephemerality of love is due to its foundation on words, rather than the body. Spoken words shift and pass like sand, while writing is a concrete as the objects listed. If there is no love there is no writing, and without the involvement of bodies there is no love.
I think there is a clear distinction between great love poems and poems of great love. I mean Amichai’s poems are the latter kind because love itself is their subject, albeit love which is sought, imagined, idealized or delusory, its greatness only potential or possible.
The “I “does not speak to the beloved in the sense of courtship or flattery. The female partner is described through extravagant images but they serve often to distance her, as if the hyperbole dehumanizes rather than endears her.
More often than not it is her body which is described but she remains faceless and nameless.
The overt sexuality of many of the body images indicates that she is little more than a means towards some kind of self-realization on the part of the lover.
Rarely is the woman transmitted to us as an object of deep affection, more often she is an adversary stronger that he, to be overcome not only by physical love but by the lover’s need for an even more exalted experience.
More importantly, the poetry seems to be aspiring toward a concept which can be defined as “true love” following Amichai’s own reference to “ha ohavim be emet” in God has pity on kindergarten children.
The idea of “be-emet” (Truly) in relation to love “actual” real or perhaps great love , the nature of which he does not clarify, seems to refer to an emotional transcendence which endows the lovers with the security of a special kind of knowledge, of perception that survives the material pressures of their live:
“But perhaps he will pity those who love truly
And care for them
And shade them
Like a tree over the sleeper
On the public bench’’
They never attain the higher reality of “real love” however the love represented in the poetry can be passionate, satisfying, hopeless, disappointing, exalted or ecstatic but it does not provide unity of the souls with the unity of bodies, nor a marriage of true minds, this projected unity is alluded to in a poem in which the lover describes how “ we were such a good and loving invention” / “an airplane made from man and wife”/ “wings and everything” /etc.
Generally, however the love described in not purified or endowed with grace, nor does it assure the lovers of immortality. Whatever is meant by “ Ahavat be emet” (true love) , the lover do not achieve it and what they do possess, according to the poetry is insufficient, Amichai’s love poetry offers not an affirmation of true love only speculation as its nature and a consuming need to experience it.
Without this kind of love, the true love, the union of Amichai’s lovers is that the bodies only, any other view of love apart from the shadowy notion of real love approaches the dangerous territory of the spirit of faith. He rejects the possible allegory.
I think reading Amichai’s love poems brought me back to my favorite movie “ Wings of desire” by Wim Wenders, I’ve always knew that this kind of true metaphysical love requires a jump:
“Now it’s serious. At last it’s becoming serious. So I’ve grown older. Was I the only one who wasn’t serious? Is it our times that are not serious? I was never lonely neither when I was alone, nor with others. But I would have liked to be alone at last. Loneliness means I’m finally whole. Now I can say it as tonight, I’m at last alone. I must put an end to coincidence. The new moon of decision. I don’t know if there’s destiny but there’s a decision. Decide! We are now the times. Not only the whole town – the whole world is taking part in our decision. We two are now more than us two. We incarnate something. We’re representing the people now. And the whole place is full of those who are dreaming the same dream. We are deciding everyone’s game. I am ready. Now it’s your turn. You hold the game in your hand. Now or never. You need me. You will need me. There’s no greater story than ours, that of man and woman. It will be a story of giants… invisible… transposable… a story of new ancestors. Look. My eyes. They are the picture of necessity, of the future of everyone in the place. Last night I dreamt of a stranger… of my man. Only with him could I be alone, open up to him, wholly open, wholly for him. Welcome him wholly into me. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know… it’s you. » Wings of desire- Wim Wenders.
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