The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Wildpeace” is a free-verse denunciation of war in elegiac mode. It is one of several poems pleading for peace by a poet who fought in two major wars and survived a bloody century. His fate was to always be in the location of some of the most violent conflicts. Though “Wildpeace” is one of Yehuda Amichai’s shorter poems, it is direct and pungent.

The poem is divided into two stanzas; the first has eighteen lines, and the second, no more than a coda, which reiterates and punctuates the larger statement, has only four. Without any tricks of rhyme or confining meter, impact is achieved by graceful rhythms. Some are the simple cadences of everyday life, while others echo stately pronouncements from antiquity. Likewise, words and images of both secular diplomats and holy prophets intermingle.

The poet’s cynicism is clear but never harsh. He distrusts the usual mechanics of peace: cease-fires that are often broken before the ink on peace documents is dried; the grand visions of ancient prophets whose knowledge cannot possibly encompass the modern apparatus of warfare; the platitudes of duplicitous statesmen. Eloquent words from Scripture about beating swords into plowshares are often quoted, even while a perverse society sends a message to the young, still in their playpens, that it is manly and commendable to murder for one’s country.

While Amichai has little use for the platitudes and clichés of the official peacemakers, and no faith in their lasting success, he still expresses the wistful hope that eventually the world will be exhausted with carnage and nauseated by the endless parade of orphans all wars leave behind, orphans who provide an unbroken line of desolation from antiquity into the modern age. At that time, finally, on fields formerly saturated with blood, peace may descend like the unpremeditated wildflowers of the field, which no one plants or tends. While the poet’s experiences in battle may have exhausted him, they have not yet led him to abandon hope. The life force that runs through nature may succeed where the words of prophets, messiahs, poets, diplomats, and statesmen have failed.

Wildpeace Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Amichai, a strong poetic voice in the latter half of the twentieth century, came to Israel from Germany as a youth. His first language was German, though his poetry was written in modern Hebrew. The American poet Robert Frost observed that poetry itself is what is lost in translation, and the philosopher George Santayana believed no poet could be great who did not write in the language of his mother’s lullabies. It is extraordinary that, despite these seeming obstacles, Amichai’s poetry has been enthusiastically translated into over thirty languages, and Israelis themselves have regarded him as a national treasure.

Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family, Amichai learned biblical Hebrew at an early age. He also read medieval mystical poetry, along with Jewish writings from the Diaspora in modern European languages. Later he discovered the major British and American poets, who expressed themselves in contemporary idioms. With this cultural backdrop, he came to his own writing with capable equipment.

Because modern Hebrew is a resurrected language developed from an ancient tongue previously preserved only in religious and scholarly usage, its words have connotative strata reaching back thousands of years. Contemporary referents are constantly playing themselves off against ancient associations. Biblical refrains, Talmudic allusions, and lamentations from the Diaspora still lurk behind modern Hebrew words. Much ironic tension in modern Hebrew poetry results from the historical and sacred associations of a Hebrew word confronting its now secular usage. For example, in Amichai’s poetry a lamb is never simply a farm animal providing wool for clothing or food for nourishment. It is the metaphor of biblical poets for all gentle creatures brutally slaughtered.

Even while regarded as one of the most accessible of the major poets of his time, Amichai occasionally resorts to an old rabbinical trick of employing...

(The entire section is 795 words.)