Open Closed Open: Poems

Open Closed Open: Poems

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In poems marked by tenderness and mischief, humanity and humor, Yehuda Amichai breaks open the grand diction of revered Jewish verses and casts the light of his own experi­ence upon them. Here he tells of history, a nation, the self, love, and resurrection. Amichai’s last volume is one of medi­tation and hope, and stands as a testament to one of Israel’s greatest poets. Open closed open. Before we are born, everything is openin the universe without us. For as long as we live, everything is closedwithin us. And when we die, everything is open again.Open closed open. That’s all we are.


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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547563947

  • ISBN-10: 0547563949

  • Pages: 192

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2006


Yehuda Amichai

YEHUDA AMICHAI (1924–2000) has long been considered one of the great poets of the twentieth century. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Israel Prize, his country’s highest honor. His work has been translated into more than thirty-seven languages. Winner of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation
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  • reviews

    “He is one of our great poets . . . once one has heard his quiet, even tones, precise, distanced and passionate, one never forgets them."-The Times Literary Supplement “Open Closed Open is the uncanny record of genuine inspiration. Happy is the man who has so much in his soul."-Leon Wieseltier “Poets have always talked reverently about unlocking the human heart, but when “I read Amichai I wonder who before him actually managed it."-Ted Hughes

  • excerpts

    I Wasn’t One of the Six Million:

    And What Is My Life Span?

    Open Closed Open


    My life is the gardener of my body. The brain—a hothouse closed tight

    with its flowers and plants, alien and odd

    in their sensitivity, their terror of becoming extinct.

    The face—a formal French garden of symmetrical contours

    and circular paths of marble with statues and places to rest,

    places to touch and smell, to look out from, to lose yourself

    in a green maze, and Keep Off and Don’t Pick the Flowers.

    The upper body above the navel—an English park

    pretending to be free, no angles, no paving stones, naturelike,

    humanlike, in our image, after our likeness,

    its arms linking up with the big night all around.

    And my lower body, beneath the navel—sometimes a nature preserve,

    wild, frightening, amazing, an unpreserved preserve,

    and sometimes a Japanese garden, concentrated, full of

    forethought. And the penis and testes are smooth

    polished stones with dark vegetation between them,

    precise paths fraught with meaning

    and calm reflection. And the teachings of my father

    and the commandments of my mother

    are birds of chirp and song. And the woman I love

    is seasons and changing weather, and the children at play

    are my children. And the life my life.


    I’ve never been in those places where I’ve never been

    and never will be, I have no share in the infinity of light-years and


    but the darkness is mine, and the light, and my time

    is my own. The sand on the seashore—those infinite grains

    are the same sand where I made love in Achziv and Caesarea.

    The years of my life I have broken into hours, and the hours into minutes

    and seconds and fractions of seconds. These, only these,

    are the stars above me

    that cannot be numbered.


    And what is my life span? I’m like a man gone out of Egypt:

    the Red Sea parts, I cross on dry land,

    two walls of water, on my right hand and on my left.

    Pharaoh’s army and his horsemen behind me. Before me the desert,

    perhaps the Promised Land, too. That is my life span.


    Open closed open. Before we are born, everything is open

    in the universe without us. For as long as we live, everything is closed

    within us. And when we die, everything is open again.

    Open closed open. That’s all we are.


    What then is my life span? Like shooting a self-portrait.

    I set up the camera a few feet away on something stable

    (the one thing that’s stable in this world),

    I decide on a good place to stand, near a tree,

    run back to the camera, press the timer,

    run back again to that place near the tree,

    and I hear the ticking of time, the whirring

    like a distant prayer, the click of the shutter like an execution.

    That is my life span. God develops the picture

    in His big darkroom. And here is the picture:

    white hair on my head, eyes tired and heavy,

    eyebrows black, like the charred lintels

    above the windows in a house that burned down.

    My life span is over.


    I wasn’t one of the six million who died in the Shoah,

    I wasn’t even among the survivors.

    And I wasn’t one of the six hundred thousand who went out of Egypt.

    I came to the Promised Land by sea.

    No, I was not in that number, though I still have the fire and the smoke

    within me, pillars of fire and pillars of smoke that guide me

    by night and by day. I still have inside me the mad search

    for emergency exits, for soft places, for the nakedness

    of the land, for the escape into weakness and hope,

    I still have within me the lust to search for living water

    with quiet talk to the rock or with frenzied blows.

    Afterwards, silence: no questions, no answers.

    Jewish history and world history

    grind me between them like two grindstones, sometimes

    to a powder. And the solar year and the lunar year

    get ahead of each other or fall behind,

    leaping, they set my life in perpetual motion.

    Sometimes I fall into the gap between them to hide,

    or to sink all the way down.


    I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment

    millions of human beings are standing at crossroads

    and intersections, in jungles and deserts,

    showing each other where to turn, what the right way is,

    which direction. They explain exactly where to go,

    what is the quickest way to get there, when to stop

    and ask again. There, over there. The second

    turnoff, not the first, and from there left or right,

    near the white house, by the oak tree.

    They explain with excited voices, with a wave of the hand

    and a nod of the head: There, over there, not that there, the other there,

    as in some ancient rite. This too is a new religion.

    I believe with perfect faith that at this very moment.


    Compilation copyright © 2000 by Yehuda Amichai

    Copyright © 2000 by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld

    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or

    transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

    including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval

    system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

    Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work

    should be submitted online at or mailed

    to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,

    6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547563947

  • ISBN-10: 0547563949

  • Pages: 192

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2006

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