Yehuda Amichai: "The two of us together and each one alone" (From Hebrew)

Here's a poem which I literally cannot read without crying (you can tell in the recording.) It's by Yehuda Amichai, a Hebrew author who drew material from every aspect of living Israeli language, be it fossilized biblical idioms, youth-slang, nursery rhymes, legalese, or popular songs- often mixing them together to invent new expressions, and sometimes even new registers of language to suit his needs, as he does in the following poem (published in 1955 in his first book).  

The two of us together and each one alone1
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Hebrew

Look sweetie- one more summer's turned dark
And my dad hasn't come to the amusement park.
The seesaw still goes up and down.
The two of us together and each one alone.

The horizon loses its ships off the shore.
Hard to hold onto a thing anymore.
The fighters crouched behind the hill.
How much we need of mercy still!
The two of us together and each one alone.

The moon is sawing the clouds in two.
Let hand-to-hand love bring me against you.

We alone will make love where the two camps fight.
Perhaps we can still make everything right.
The two of us together and each one alone.
 

My love has changed me, it seems plain, 
As the salt sea to drops of sweet first rain.
I am brought to you slowly, and I fall.
Receive me. No angel redeems us at all.
Because the two of us are together. Each is alone.

Notes:

1- According to one of my Israeli correspondents, the refrain/title of this poem is taken from a lease contract. שניהם ביחד וכל אחד לחוד (literally "Both of them together and each one alone") is Israeli contractual language corresponding to the more opaque phrase "both jointly and severally" in English legalese (i.e. describing the liability of a husband and wife, both as a couple and as individuals, entering into a contractual obligation in common law legal systems.)


The Original:

יהודה עמיחי
שנינו ביחד וכל אחד לחוד

ילדה שלי, עוד קיץ עבר
ואבי לא בא ללונה פארק.
הנדנדות מוסיפות לנוד.
שנינו ביחד וכל אחד לחוד.

אופק הים מאבד ספינותיו -
קשה לשמר על משהו עכשיו.
מאחורי ההר חכו הלוחמים.
כמה זקוקים אנו לרחמים.
שנינו ביחד וכל אחד לחוד.

ירח מנסר את העבים לשניים -
בואי ונצא לאהבת בינים.
רק שנינו נאהב לפני המחנות.
אולי אפשר עוד הכל לשנות.
שנינו ביחד וכל אחד לחוד.

אהבתי הפכה אותי כנראה
כים מלוח לטפות מתוקות של יורה;
אני מובא אליך לאט ונופל.
קבליני. אין לנו מלאך גואל.
כי שנינו ביחד .כל אחד לחוד.

9 comments:

  1. apart from being awkward this translation gets the central metaphor wrong in the climactic stanza. It should be, "My love has transformed me, it seems/like the salt sea, to sweet drops of rain/I am borne across to you and fall."

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  2. This reminds me of Thomas Hardy's "Neutral Tones"  in the precision and refined meloncholy with which it captures the emotional dynamics of a dysfunctional relationship. I like the more quirky and droll elements, though they can at times interrupt the mental flow like a clown-horn. Still, a fine piece og work.

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  3. Thank you for these translations, for like the millionth time. Not only do you expose me to poets which I would otherwise have no idea about (i.e., if it weren't for you, I would never have thought modern Hebrew poetry was so interesting), but you do an amazing job with the translation: They are enjoyable as standalone poems, and your notes are always interesting and relevant.

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  4. Could you try to be MORE anti-Israel?

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  5. I'm not anti-Israel. Pro-Palestine (to a degree) perhaps, but not Anti-Israel. The two are not the same. If I were, I can't imagine I'd have gone to the trouble of learning Modern Hebrew and studying modern Israeli literature. Incidentally, I would suggest that you find one thing I've stated on this page that is demonstrably untrue, or one fact that is not corroborated by Israeli historians (unless you're using Ephraim Karsh's definition of what counts as an Israeli historian.) I would further suggest you take a look at other translations of Amichai that I've done, such as this:

    http://poemsintranslation.blogspot.com/2009/06/yehuda-amichai-ein-yahav-from-modern.html

    Note the notes.

    And just in case you're curious, neither am I uncritical of Palestine or the Arab world more generally as you can see here:

    http://blogicarian.blogspot.com/2012/02/everybodys-asshole-about-palestine.html

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  6. There's no such THING as Palestine, Palestine IS a name FOR Israel created by the ancient Romans, your use of language itself belies your anti Israel bias and just because you've translated the work of Israeli poets and taken the trouble to learn Hebrew doesn't prove a damn thing.

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  7. In what way does this simple love poem reflect Amichai's "fear that Israel was being turned into a garrison state", as you blithely put it, or any political agenda at all for that that matter? you are projecting your anti-Israel bias onto a poem that doesn't even have anything to do with politics at all.

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  8. This is one of my favorite poems of all time by the way, which is why I looked for the translation in the first place. For you to read political messages into it that simply aren't there is both self-serving and offensive.

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  9. Benjamin and Barbara Harshav's translation of the poem is much different than yours. I cans see you have deliberately translated the words to give them a political slant, with phrases like "the two camps fight" that do not appear in other translations. The Harshavs translated it "the two of us will love before the hosts". This can be read in a number of ways but the way you translated it is overtly political and creates the impression that you are only using translation to promote your agenda.

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