Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 984
In the first line, "Not like a cypress," the use of the negative keeps readers in suspense. They know more is to come. Because the speaker is stating that he is not like something, readers know, or at least imagine, that the speaker must be preparing to tell them what he is like.
In the second line, the speaker qualifies the first line with "not all at once, not all of me." In other words, he catches his readers by surprise. In this line, the speaker limits the image of the first line. He is somewhat but not completely like a cypress. Again, Amichai arouses the curiosity of his readers. What parts of the cypress are like the speaker? What parts of the speaker are like the cypress?
In the third line, the speaker does not attempt to answer specific questions about the cypress but moves to another image that offers clues to what the speaker is like. He is "like the grass, in thousands of cautious green exits." This image is offered in contrast to the cypress tree. Readers are led to compare the two images. A tree is stiff; grass is willowy and soft, more reflective of the changes in the atmosphere in which it exists.
The second part of the line is puzzling. The introduction of the word "thousands" offers a sense of comfort, as in protection by sheer mass, as in a field in which there are thousands of blades of grass. The speaker transforms that feeling with the word "cautious," which implies danger that may be real or merely perceived. In addition, the caution is applied to the phrase "green exits," which symbolizes a sense of leaving or getting away.
Lines 4 and 5 carry a similar feeling of caution but a more playful one: "to be hiding like many children / while one of them seeks." With these lines, the speaker introduces the childhood game of hide-and-seek, carrying with it a sense of caution but without a sense of danger. The caution is gentle because it is encapsulated in the desire to win a childhood game.
The pattern of the poem is set in the first stanza, in which the speaker establishes what he is not like and then provides the reader with an image that better defines him. This pattern is repeated in the second stanza: "And not like the single man, / like Saul, whom the multitude found / and made king." The story of Saul appears in the Bible. Saul was the first king of Israel, a mighty warrior, handsome and popular, who ruled from 1020 to 1000 B.C.E. According to some stories, however, Saul was also weak and was eventually defeated. The speaker in the poem insinuates that he does not want to be like Saul.
The poem continues by replacing the image of Saul with that of something more natural, more neutral, and more nourishing.
But like the rain, in many places
from many clouds, to be absorbed, to be drunk
by many mouths, to be breathed in
like the air all year long
and scattered like blossoming in springtime.
Saul, in contrast, was a soldier who fought and killed for more land. There are suggestions that he was also greedy and jealous. The speaker likens himself not to Saul and his weaknesses but to something more giving. There is also the contrast between the phrase "the single man" in line 6 and the references to the "many" later in the same stanza. There is mention of "many places," "many clouds," and "many mouths." There are also references to the air and the breathing of it "all year long," which provides a sense of the almost eternal. The confines of the image in the beginning of this stanza are contrasted to the boundlessness of rain and air.
In the third stanza, the speaker states that he is "Not the sharp ring that wakes up / the doctor on call,"; there is an abruptness, a sense of emergency, and a disruption of sleep in these lines—all uncomfortable notions. Awakening a doctor from sleep can mean that a life is in danger. The speaker, however, is not a "sharp ring" but is a "tapping, on many small windows / at side entrances, with many heartbeats."
The sound, in other words, is soft and so far away as to almost be inaudible, like a heartbeat. Yet the mention of a heartbeat adds depth to the sound, for it is the sound of life. It is, in contrast to the call in the night, an image of the soft continuance of health rather than the fearful scream of emergency.
In the final stanza, the speaker quiets the images to almost a whisper, beginning with "the quiet exit, like smoke." The going away is carried over from the first stanza with the use of the word "exit." The almost quiet images continue with the mention of the lack of "shofar-blasts," which in Hebrew belief announce a great event. The exit to which the speaker refers is not a great event that needs to be emphasized. It is merely like
… a statesman resigning,
children tired from play,
a stone as it almost stops rolling
down the steep hill….
It is quiet, almost a missed event and yet at the same time something very expected and natural.
The "quiet exit" occurs
… in the place
where the plain of great renunciation begins,
from which, like prayers that are answered,
dust rises in many myriads of grains.
The last lines suggest a death and rebirth. Someone has quietly left, having renounced all connections to his material life, and has become ethereal, like prayers. From that leaving point, however, arises a great sign of life as the dust, possibly the dust of the departed, rises once again in the form of "grains," which are a symbol of food and thus of life.
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