Amichai, Yehuda

With reference to at least 2-3 of Amichai’s poems, identify the main stylistic elements of his work and comment on their effectiveness. The main stylistic elements of the work of Yehuda Amichai greatly reflect the time in which he was writing and the place in which he was located whilst writing. Being born in Germany in 1924 and then living in Israel in the 20th century meant that Amichai was exposed to a turbulent stage in world history as Israel had only just been created as a separate state after World War II and Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish race.
At this time politics, war and religion were all at the centre of the world’s attention, and particularly for the Jewish people living in Israel as there was the constant threat of violence from the Arab people in neighbouring Palestine. Throughout his work, Amichai is able to effectively convey the disruption and confusion caused by this conflict by using techniques such as scattered imagery and irregular structure.
To better understand the effectiveness of the stylistic elements used by Amichai, it is important to look at how he uses these techniques in his works. The first area of focus that is important to understand Amichai’s style is to study where and when each poem is set. With contextual background it seems to be that nearly all of his poems are set in Israel or some sort of similar desert-like place. ‘God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children’ is one of Amichai’s earliest works and it gives a good indication as to the importance of place in his poetry.

The importance of place is that in many of his works the setting is very much abstract and sense of a place in which the poem is set appears to change constantly, making the poem more universal and often with religious additions to the poems the setting is taken to a metaphysical, God like, all seeing dimension. In ‘God Has pity on Kindergarten Children’, Amichai changes place from a ‘first-aid station’ to a desert like place as he describes ‘sand’ before moving to a ‘public bench’ and lastly a ‘school’.
Then the idea of a metaphysical dimension is introduced with the reference to God and religion suggesting that God is all seeing and is watching over the world from the place in which he is located. The idea of there being another dimension from which God can look down on the world is reiterated in the poem, ‘God’s Hand in the World’ where Amichai asks the question, ‘What does God see through the window while his hands reach into the world? ’ These religious images ink to the creation of a metaphysical place within the poems and they provoke the reader to think about how Amichai see’s religion and how he responds to his own thoughts about God and his faith in general. The religious imagery that is recurring in many of his poems leads the reader to a conclusion that this is one of the main themes which much of Amichai’s work is centred around. The next key feature is the focus on time and how this affects the subject of his work whether it is a person, object or place.
Amichai uses many ellipses in his work which makes the poems very radical which is mirrored in the constant change of place and the progression in time. In the poem, ‘There Are Candles That Remember’ there are three main measures of time given; the first is ‘twenty-four hours’ which is followed by ‘eight hours’ and then there is a reference to candles that are ‘eternal’. In this poem, Amichai appears to be measuring life, and in particular his life, against the age of Israel which is a very new country in this period.
The inclusion of ‘antiquities’ shows another dimension in the time references in the poem as it shows the past, but not the recent past as ‘antiquities’ signifies relics that are possibly thousands of years old. In some of Amichai’s poems there is modulation in tense, ‘God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children’ shows modulation between stanza one and the other two stanzas with the shift from present tense to future tense.
There is also modulation in ‘There Are Candles That Remember’ however it is internal modulation in the lines, ‘Late in my life I had a daughter who will be twenty-two in the year 2000. Her name is Emanuella…’ In these two lines the tense changes from past to future to present with the words ‘had’ followed by ‘will’ and ‘is’ which is another way in which Amichai shows the radical and unpredictable nature of his work. Prominent in Amichai’s work is the inclusion of fragmented and scattered imagery and structure.
The sudden shifts between subject matter in many stanzas are mirrored by the non-clustered imagery within the poems. ‘There Are Candles That Remember’ has an irregular structure with lots of enjambed lines leaving the poem without a strong structure. The imagery within the poem also contains many non-sequential and strange images such as the ‘candles that remember’ where Amichai has personified the candles, this is then followed by the metaphorical reference to a ‘bowl full of precious liquid’. The images that follow are unrelated to the ones already mentioned, like the imile of the diaspora of old people that are said to be ‘scattered about like antiquities’ and then the comparison to how Amichai’s soul is ‘built like mountain terraces’. This style of scattered and mostly unrelated imagery helps to add to the sense of confusion and chaos in the life that he lives especially in the time in which he is living as the creation of the new country of Israel along with the conflict between the world superpowers meant that the 20th century was a time when tension and war were ever present threats to peace.
Some of Amichai’s imagery that is used in his work is very graphic and the use of the human body no matter how much or little is prominent in many of the poems. One of the best examples of this use of imagery is the poem, ‘A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention’ which opens with the image of a surgical procedure as the opening line reads, ‘They amputated your thighs from my hips. ’ The body part imagery makes the poem seem more physical and possibly is an attempt by Amichai to highlight the loss of intimacy with someone that he loved. A Dog After Love’ is a good example of the use of body part imagery as well as an example of the indignation felt by Amichai which is expressed through his poetry. His anger and frustration is usually caused by love, politics and religion, and in the case of ‘A Dog After Love’ it is the loss of love that causes the anger expressed by Amichai. This poem probably shows the most violent and graphic response to the loss of love as Amichai writes, ‘I hope it will find you and rip your lovers balls to shreds and bite off his cock’.
This image effectively conveys the indignation felt by Amichai in a highly graphic way which makes it more impacting on the reader and therefore it has a greater immediate effect. Overall the main stylistic devices used by Amichai are the scattered imagery, irregular structures, often undefined place and changing times in which the poems are set. Furthermore, his work is always very personal with a great use of the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ in almost all of his poetry.
All of these elements help to create very unique poetry that often has an impacting effect on the reader as the individual style of Amichai’s writing makes it necessary for the reader to think carefully about what he is writing about and what emotions he is trying to convey. Personally, I feel that Amichai’s work very effectively conveys the emotion felt by the events he is writing about and the personal nature of his work sometimes provokes sympathy, sadness, happiness or disdain which is a sign of an effective style of writing.

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