Yehuda Amichai’s “From Man You Came and to Man You Shall Return” is a seventeen-line poem in four stanzas, the first consisting of three lines, the second of four lines, the third of seven lines, and the fourth of three lines. The lines are uneven in length and irregular in meter, but the poem may have a different prosody in Hebrew, the language in which Amichai wrote and from which his poems have been translated into at least thirty languages. The title is an integral part of this poem and provides the first surprise for the reader. The phrase “From Man You Came and to Man You Shall Return” strikes the reader with a certain irony; the framework is certainly familiar, one has heard it before, but it seems not quite right. Is this a familiar biblical edict? The reader is immediately drawn into the poem, trying to remember the wording of the original phrase. It does not take long to recall the source of the title, a sentence embedded in Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are,/ and to dust you shall return,” which the God of the Hebrew Bible said to Adam when He discovered Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit.
The three lines of the first stanza form an apparently simple statement,”Death in war begins/ With one young man/ Descending the stairs.” Readers are far from the field of battle, in the city or village, and one young man is leaving his home, yet the poet says that the casualty of war begins here. Although the statement appears simple,...
(The entire section is 523 words.)