Perhaps the most unique characteristics of “Jerusalem 1967” are its length and figurative expansiveness. Known primarily for his distinctly concise lyric poems, here Amichai opens up and for once allows himself the space and abandon requisite of such a portentous subject. In a sense, Jerusalem serves both as the capital of Israel and the capital of the poem. Throughout its twenty-two thematically varied but stylistically cohesive sections, Amichai explores the countless notions—political, spiritual, and personal—that his adopted homeland and its luminous capital have come to embody in the two decades that it has been the poet’s home.
“Jerusalem 1967” does not attempt to define the city; Amichai never implies that such a feat is even possible. However, through a series of colorful vignettes he does attempt to evoke all of its vibrancy, complexity, and mystery. The opening stanzas of the poem describe Jerusalem as a place of refuge, its speaker exuberantly observing that “A person returning to Jerusalem feels that places/ That were painful no longer hurt.” By the middle sections, Jerusalem is paradoxically transformed into a haven of moral ambiguity, a place of “children growing half in the ethics of their fathers/ And half in the teachings of war.” In the concluding section of the poem the speaker is somehow able to reconcile himself to the fact that such an ancient and monolithic city cannot be summed up in a series of mere metaphors, no matter how bold or illustrative. Instead, all he can conclude is that Jerusalem “is built on varied foundations/ Of restrained scream.” It is indeed the city’s restraint, its silence, its stoic and unflinching obstinacy that makes it the evasive totem of awe that “Jerusalem 1967” purports it to be.