From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

~ By the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

Amichai’s friend and translator Ted Hughes wrote, in the Times Literary Supplement, “I’ve become more than ever convinced that Amichai is one of the biggest, most essential, most durable poetic voices of this past century – one of the most intimate, alive and human, wise, humourous, true, loving, inwardly free and resourceful, at home in every human situation. One of the real treasures.”

This poem is commonly read as kind of a roadmap for peace. The whisper “in the place where the ruined house once stood” – an image of tentative hope – conjurs up equally powerful, though very distinct images for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But whether our ruined house is the Second Temple or a bulldozed home in the West Bank, the real muscle of the poem resides in what is hidden somewhat by its English translation. The Hebrew word translated as “right” in the poem’s title is not nachon (as in correct), but rather tsadekím, the plural of the adjective tsadeek, which means “righteous” or “just” in a theological sense. What Amichai is saying, then, is that from the place where we are righteous, holy, pious, just, in accordance with God’s plan, deeply, transcendently right, nothing living can ever grow, and no human voice, however muted, can be heard. Perhaps most importantly in this election year (and on Father’s Day), from the place where we are righteous, nothing can be rebuilt or healed. For Amichai, this righteousness implies fossilized rigidity and barreness, a kind of rigor mortis of the living.

– Vincen Barlett professor at Stanford

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