Yehuda Amichai's "Near the Wall of a House"
Introduction and Text of "Near a Wall of a House"
In Yehuda Amichai's "Near a Wall of a House," 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.
*Versanelle: a short, usually 12 lines or fewer, lyric that comments on human nature or behavior, and may employ any of the usual poetic devices (term coined by Linda Sue Grimes)
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"
This versanelle expands its focus through a divine realization, one begun in utterly humble circumstances.
First Tercet: Contrasting Claims
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: Insomnia and Flowers
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: Intuitive Appreciation
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: Soul Expansiveness
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."
Portrait of Yehuda Amichai
Life Sketch of Yehuda Amichai
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.
Yehuda Amichai, Israel's best known poet, was born on May 3, 1924, in Würzburg, Germany. His family relocated to Eretz Israel in 1935. After graduating from high school, he enlisted and served in the British Army's Jewish Brigade in World War II and with the Palmach unit during the War of Independence in 1948.
Amichai studied at Hebrew University, where he majored in literature and Biblical Studies. After completing his university degree, he taught in several different academic institutions in Israel and abroad, including in the United States, where he served as visiting professor at the University of California, 1971 and again in 1976.
Amichai also served as a visiting poet at New York University in 1987. The poet has likely been "the most widely translated Hebrew poet since King David." Amichai's influence has been wide-spread and deep in the USA, where his readings continued to draw large audiences. His style has been considered quite accessible as was Robert Frost's, although his works include the use of many and varied poetic devices in Hebrew that remain untranslatable.
As an activist poet, Amichai began employing a colloquial style during the 1950s which departed from the traditional, classic verse yet proved to be quite successful for the poet's career. As he was influenced by W. H Auden and Dylan Thomas, Amichai has become a skillful craftsman, using all of the unique resources offered by the Hebrew language, including sounds, word association, levels of diction, and idiomatic expressions.
Amichai has also taken full advantage of the extensive Hebrew literary tradition of nearly three thousand years. Both his life and poetry have been deeply influenced by Israel's battle for existence. Amichai has quipped, "My personal history has coincided with a larger history. For me it's always been one and the same."
Amichai's poetry has included wide-ranging influence from students to world leaders: Yitzhak Rabin added in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech lines from the poet's widely anthologized poem, "God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children." Amichai has a been awarded numerous prizes for his poetry, which includes the 1982 Israel Prize. His literary reputation is based mainly on his eighty-plus collection of poetry.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes