Lauded for its startling directness and austere language, “A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention” in many ways epitomizes the stylistic tendencies for which Amichai’s poetry is best known. Notably minimalistic, the original Hebrew version contains a mere eleven lines and thirty-five words. Benjamin and Barbara Harshav’s English translation is only slightly more expansive at seventy-two words. Still, the poem contains a wealth of insight about the nature of human relationships.
A number of critics have noted the pronounced influence of the English metaphysical school, particularly of John Donne and George Herbert, in Amichai’s poetry. Critic Edward Hirsch compares “A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention” to the classic Donne works “The Good-Morrow” and “The Canonization,” citing its incisive attempts at combining erotic, religious, and political imagery to characterize the nature of matrimony. For example, in the poem’s remarkably imaginative central conceit, the speaker compares his betrothal to his wife to an amputation. The ensuing consummation of the marriage is likened to “An aeroplane made from a man and wife.” The poem’s closing lines beautifully describe the ambivalence of their tragic, brief union as a period in which they “hovered,” albeit like a malfunctioning aircraft, “a little above the earth.”
In the manner of Donne, Amichai chooses to draw original and enormously provocative comparisons between things that are seemingly unlike, such as marriage and amputation, divorce and airplane flight.