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Through a glass, darkly

by
18 March 2022

We continue our Lent series, drawn from a book of seasonal poems chosen and with commentary by Richard Harries

Surachet Shotivaranon/Alamy

And that is your glory

I’ve yoked together my large silence and my small outcry
like an ox and an ass. I’ve been through low and through
   high.
I’ve been in Jerusalem, in Rome. And perhaps in Mecca
   anon.
But now God is hiding, and man cries Where have you gone.
And that is your glory.

Underneath the world, God lies stretched on his back,
always repairing, always things get out of whack.
I wanted to see him all, but I see no more
than the soles of his shoes and I’m sadder than I was before.
And that is his glory.

Even the trees went out once to choose a king.
A thousand times I’ve given my life one more fling.
At the end of the street somebody stands and picks:
this one and this one and this one and this one and this.
And that is your glory.

Perhaps like an ancient statue that has no arms
our life, without deeds and heroes, has greater charms.
Ungird my T-shirt, love; this was my final bout.
I fought all the knights, until the electricity gave out.
And that is my glory.

Rest your mind, it ran with me all the way,
it’s exhausted now and needs to knock off for the day.
I see you standing by the wide-open fridge door, revealed
from head to toe in a light from another world.
And that is my glory.
and that is his glory.
and that is your glory.

Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000)

 

YEHUDA AMICHAI was born in Germany, but, in 1935, aged 12, he emigrated to Palestine. He fought as a volunteer for the British Army, and, on his discharge, trained as a teacher, changing his name from Ludwig Pfeuffer to Yehuda Amichai, meaning “my people lives”. He fought for Israel in the wars of the following decades, while teaching and writing — novels and stories as well as poetry. He won many prizes, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize on many occasions.

Amichai’s poetry is both accessible and highly respected by international critics. It reflects both individual experience and wider philosophical questions on the meaning of life and politics, and has an endearing quality. Brought up in a strictly Orthodox family, he wrote poetry, as in the poem quoted above, that wrestles with the question of God. He said that the language of prayer is entirely natural to him. His poetry, written in Hebrew, contains many nuances that, according to critics, cannot really be captured in translation. Nevertheless, he has been translated into 40 languages.

 

IN THE first verse of the poem above, the poet laments the apparent absence of God, despite searching in his own experience and the world’s religions. The paradox is that he proclaims this as God’s glory.

The second verse brilliantly combines the image of God as a mechanic lying on his back under a car and the Jewish mystical idea of God repairing the world. This, in turn, is linked with the image of Moses, who could not see the glory of God, only his back. Again, this is said to be the Divine Glory.

The third verse refers to Judges 9.8-15, in which an allegory is told about the trees choosing a king. The fourth verse compares the poet who has given his all, and is stripped down like a statue without arms. But, again, there is the paradox: “And that is my glory.”

Finally, we have the wonderful closing verse when, exhausted, having given up, he sees someone standing by an open fridge door, revealed “from head to toe in light from another world”, and that is a three-fold glory — not only that of the poet but also that of the person seen and God. It’s as though only when we have exhausted all the usual routes to see God, and just relax, we see God all around us.


The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford.


Hearing God in Poetry: Fifty poems for Lent and Easter by Richard Harries is published by SPCK at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £7.99); 978-0-281-08629-0.

“And That is Your Glory” from The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, with a New Foreword by C. K. Williams, © 1986, 1996, 2013 by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. Published by the University of California Press. ISBN #: 978-0-520-27583-6.

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