From Man You Came and to Man You Shall Return Analysis

Yehuda Amichai

The Poem

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.)

Forms and Devices

Although Amichai was born in southern Germany, his extended family sailed to Palestine in the mid-1930’s, avoiding the Holocaust. Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish family and attending the Orthodox Ma’aleh high school, the poet became accustomed in his youth to the stately cadences of the Hebrew Bible, which had the greatest influence on his own poetry. Typically, Hebrew biblical poetry has little or no metrical scheme but is organized instead on symmetry of units, called parallelism. The main type of parallelism used in “From Man You Came and to Man You Shall Return” is repetition. In much biblical poetry, symmetry is achieved by the repetition of three or more words in each unit or line.

Significantly, given the biblical reference of the title of this poem, the form also echoes biblical technique. “Death in war begins” is the unifying phrase that opens the poem and recurs twice in the second stanza. In the third stanza, the phrase “do not weep for” in the first line is reversed to “Weep for” in the second, creating another type of parallelism, antithesis. “Weep for” is repeated again in the third, fifth, sixth, and seventh lines of the third stanza, and with each repetition the poem grows stronger and more memorable. This third stanza is written in the third person; the poet is speaking directly to the reader and establishes a sense of intimacy enhanced by the simplicity of the vocabulary and references to such humble items as...

(The entire section is 434 words.)