Cover image for Open closed open : poems
Open closed open : poems
Amichai, Yehuda.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Patuaḥ sagur patuaḥ. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
vi, 184 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PJ5054.A65 P3813 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Amichai writes of the language of love, and tea with roasted almonds, of desire and love. Of a Jewish cemetery whose groundskeeper is an expert on flowers and seasons of the year, but no expert on buried Jews; of Russian shirts embroidered in the colors of love and death; of Jerusalem, the city where everything sails: the flags, the prayer shawls, the caftans, the monks' robes, the kaffiyehs, and young women's dresses. The poet tenderly, mischievously, breaks open the grand diction of the revered Jewish verses and supplications and suddenly discovers the light that his own experience casts upon them. Here, the bread of memory and the circuses of forgetting, nostalgia for God and a better world, dust and heat, and tamarisk trees that stand as flight attendants for the next millennium, saying, "You can still get a seat on the third millennium before liftoff." Open Closed Open-poems at once meditative and playful, anxious and full of hope, sung in a language of biblical directness and meaning, that through the microcosm of the everyday give us the gift of the world at large.

Author Notes

Yehuda Amichai was born in Germany and immigrated to Palestine in 1936. His novels and poetry are innovative in their use of Hebrew terms. Following World War II and Israel's War of Independence in 1948, Amichai began to introduce new words of technical, legal, and administrative meaning into his poetry to replace sacral phrases.

Amichai's poetry reflects the modernizing of the Hebrew language within the last 45 years. "One of Amichai's most characteristic effects in his poetry is the mingling of past and present, ancient and modern, person and place: the here and now for him inevitably recalls the past" (Judaica Book News).

One of Israel's most highly regarded poets, Amichai shared the Israel Prize for Literature with Amir Gilboa in 1981.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Amichai, Israel's best-known poet, is now in his mid-70s, and he writes with the casual wisdom and generous humor of a master. The glide of his lines, translated so adeptly into English, usher the reader into the complexity of his thoughts and the shifting shadows and light of his emotions as surely as music cues a dancer. His imagery is vital and unexpected, and many poems possess the power of compassionate sermons. Amichai writes that he feels as though he's being ground between two grindstones--Jewish history and world history--and, indeed, the past, be it biblical or Holocaust-bound, is everywhere present in his work. In fact, his touchstone is a shard from a broken tombstone on which the word "Amen" is carved, and his poems deliberately bridge the chasm between remembering and forgetting. "Change is God," Amichai intones, but "prayers are here to stay." --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Constructing a lineage in which to place himself, Amichai begins these verses of personal and cultural history with a stone from a destroyed Jewish graveyard; and moves on to enact the story of David, recall poems by Ibn Ezra, and even consider Jesus as an instance of "Jewish Travel." Within this vast context, the 25 longish poems of the collection, originally written in Hebrew, offer everyday acts of alternately joyous and somber reverence for God, "with the same body/ that stoops to pick up a fallen something from the floor." Amichai, who emigrated to Palestine in 1936 and is now 76, places imagined Holocaust memories ("I wasn't among the six million who died in the Shoah./ I wasn't even among the survivors") adjacent to irreverent reconfigurations of Torah characters, investigates "The Language of Love and Tea with Roasted Almonds," and asks "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Why Jerusalem." The English-only text is generally well-rendered by poet Bloch and Hebrew scholar Kronfeld, but the rhymes can show jingly signs of strain: "Our father Jacob, on the beaten track/ carries a ladder on his back// like a window washer to the VIPs./ He does God's windows, if you please." Despite the moments of levity, mortality dominates each anecdote, whether it be a story of romantic, familial or ancestral love: "The memorial forest where we made love/ burned down in a great conflagration// but the two of us stayed alive and in love in memory of the burnt ones the forest remembered." The book becomes more personally confessional as it progresses (poem 22 is titled "My Son Was Drafted"), as the poet reminisces on his youth, first love and adoration of children. Death, finally, becomes a form of remembrance, where "not even a single act of remembering will seep in/ and disturb memory's eternal rest." This is a searching late book from a writer who acknowledges the high stakes of writing and of life as lived daily. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



I Wasn't One of the Six Million: And What Is My Life Span? Open Closed Open 1 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. 2 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 dark-years, 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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. 7 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 (c) 2000 by Yehuda Amichai Copyright (c) 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. Excerpted from Open Closed Open by Yehuda Amichai All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.