Between things falling and things taking place
Is there a place for the lingering, for the lasting?
Between things dying and things that are living
Is there a place for tranquil home life,
For one to sit in place, seeing, being seen?
I decide, a solitary judge sitting on the bench
No plaintiffs and no accused
Only lots of witness, lots of testimonies.
In my youth I knew about human sickness,
I understood sick animals.
As an adult I learned that trees also
Can be sick, suffering in silence.
I will yet live to understand a sick rock,
A suffering stone, a languishing ledge.
So will the world come full circle within me. The inanimate
Speak silence and the living will ultimately be silent. This is my place
And so may I be magnified [et-gadel] and so may I be sanctified [et-kadesh].
The final line (which is also the title) of Yehuda Amichai’s poem imitates the well-known cadence of Judaism’s most famous statement made in the presence of grief: yit-gadal v’yit- kadash—May [the great Name] be magnified and sanctified. Clearly mindful of the Kaddish/Sanctification, the poet offers a personal journey that grows into a resolve to live in the presence of loss: Not yit-gadal /may it [the great name] be magnified, but et-gadel/may I be magnified, strengthened in the presence of loss.
Overwhelmed by a world of change and loss from which there is no respite, the poet asks: How can there be room for anything else, for lingering, for tranquility?
As a presiding judge, he is ready and perhaps eager to assign guilt in order to explain loss. There is no lack of witness or testimony. But loss, sickness and suffering are not matters of justice. No sentence metes out meaning; no verdict or explanation ensures the tranquility that he seeks.
Nonetheless, witness and testimony have their effect: There is a growing awareness of suffering and loss and their languages, including the language of silence which is the native tongue of the inanimate and the final language of the living.
So will the world come full circle/yit-agel. Yit-agel echoes the Kaddish (yit–gadal…) even as it stands in dramatic contrast to the same root’s meaning in that ancient prayer: Yit-agel is a slow process of “coming full circle.” The Kaddish, however, hopes for results quickly, in a time close at hand/ba’agalah u-viz’man kariv.
The poet calls the world that he comes to recognize by a rare name based upon the Hebrew word meaning, “place.” Throughout the poem, he paints elaborately with the root color of that word: The one who despaired of a tranquil place in the beginning finds that there is within him an expanding world-place; in that place he perceives that loss is a condition of all existence. This is my place, he says. If there is tranquility, it is to be found in the presence of loss.
The conversation between the Kaddish and the poet becomes more provocative at the end: The Kaddish proposes to magnify and sanctify God’s Name in the world. For the poet, it is the human who must be magnified and sanctified, strengthened and dedicated to living his life in the presence of loss. May it happen quickly, at a time close at hand.