Yehuda Amichai's "Near the Wall of a House"
Near the Wall of a House
Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.
A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.
And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.
Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.
Reading of Amichai's "Near the Wall of a House"
Amichai's "Near a Wall of a House," is a versanelle, which expands its focus through a divine realization, one begun in utterly humble circumstances. The speaker realizes and celebrates the immensity of a divine experience, in which he received "visions of God." This twelve-line poem, which offers many of the qualities of a versanelle, masterfully increases its scope as it progresses through each tercet.
First Tercet: "Near the wall of a house painted"
The speaker opens with a stirring contrast of claims. His somewhat unlikely location has offered him "visions" of the Divine. This inauspicious place is near a gray house with a wall. While not reporting the actual building material of which the house is contracted, the speaker does want his listener to know that the house's paint gives it a rock or stone-like appearance. The claim of seeing a divine vision against such rough material is jarring in its contrast.
This particular contrast between the artificiality of the house's appearance and the profound experience of intimations of the Divine could not be more intense. The claim resonates in the reader's consciousness as an enigmatic presence that begs resolution. Like a mystery story, it urges the mind to both contemplate and question simultaneously.
Second Tercet: "A sleepless night that gives others a headache"
Unlike other people suffering long, dark nights of insomnia who have been left only with "a headache," this speaker avers that he was blessed with "flowers / opening beautifully inside [his] brain." His sleeplessness forced his mind to contemplate the "visions" and instead of leaving pain, these divine images transformed into natural beauty in the speaker's mind.
"Flowers," of course, is a metaphor that compares the fragrant beauty of envisioning the Celestial Reality to understanding and appreciating Its natural counterpart. A flower is a nearly perfect metaphor for God because it is also a nearly perfect symbol representing the Divine.
Third Tercet: "And he who was lost like a dog"
The incident of Divine Visualization has filled the speaker with the intuitive appreciation that human mercy exists, even in a place where a human being may become lost "like a dog."
Although the human experience may sometimes ape that of the lower mammals, the knowledge that the Divine Presence may appear at any time, because eternally omnipresent and omniscient, uplifts the human soul to hope, love, and faith: what was lost will be found "and brought back home again."
Fourth Tercet: "Love is not the last room: there are others"
The speaker then summarizes the importance of the divine visitation: despite the magnitude of human love, the speaker now realizes that it "is not the last room": the human soul does not stop at human love.
The soul in its expansiveness presents other "rooms," that is, other possibilities. And the most crucial awareness that the experience has afforded the speaker is that the soul, because united with the Divine eternally, is like "the whole length of the corridor / that has no end."
Biographical Sketch of Poet Yehuda Amicha
Yehuda Amichai's poetry grew along with his adopted country. The poet left Germany as the Nazi power was rising. As an Israeli citizen, he became a freedom fighter.
Israel's best known poet, Yehuda Amichai was born in 1924 in Wurzburg, Germany. His family moved to Eretz Israel in 1935. After completing his high school studies, he served in the British Army's Jewish Brigade in World War II and with the Palmach unit during the War of Independence in 1948.
The poet studied at Hebrew University, majoring in literature and Biblical Studies. After completing his university studies, he taught at several different academic institutions in Israel and in other countries, including the United States, where he was visiting professor at the University of California in 1971 and 1976.
Amichai was also a visiting poet at New York University in 1987. It is thought that Yehuda Amichai has been "the most widely translated Hebrew poet since King David."
Amichai's influence was strong in the United States, where his readings drew large audiences. His style is considered accessible like Robert Frost, while also including the use of many poetic devices in Hebrew that are untranslatable.
The activist poet began using a colloquial style in the 1950s that broke with the more traditional, classic verse and proved to be highly successful for the poet's career.
Influenced by W. H Auden and Dylan Thomas, Amichai became a true craftsman, employing the unique resources of the Hebrew language including its sounds, idioms, levels of diction, and word associations.
But the poet also took full advantage of the long Hebrew literary tradition of almost three thousand years. His life and poetry were both strongly influenced by Israel's struggle to existence.
Amichai has remarked, "My personal history has coincided with a larger history. For me it's always been one and the same."
Amichai's poetry had wide influence from students to world leaders: Yitzhak Rabin included in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech lines from the poet's widely noted poem, "God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children."
Amichai was awarded many prizes for his poetry, including the 1982 Israel Prize. His literary reputation rests primarily on his more than eighty collection of poetry.
(Readers who are interested in experiencing other poems by this poet may find this collection useful: The Selected Poetry Of Yehuda Amichai. This collection also includes "Near the Wall of a House.")
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes