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October 09, 2023


I believe it's Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell's translation, from the Selected Poems.

yes, this is great. it discloses the authentic and seemingly arbitrary or even heartless aspect of divine judgment, "gevurah." as job said of god: "though he slay me, yet i will honor him." as mel brooks asked of god: "why do you have to be so strict?"
- mitch s.

It's very close but not identical to the Bloch/Mitchell translation I have. Couple different words, slightly different lineation. But essentially that's the one. Maybe they tinkered with it at some point?

Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I tracked it down. "God Has Pity on the Kindergarten Children" is the first poem in the Selected Amichai translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell (Harper, 1986). Someone has indeed tinkered it with it but only very slightly. The variations from the text here are three: in the third to last line, there's a comma after "Mother handed down to us"; in the pentultimate line, "their happiness will protect us" [rather than "may protect us"]; and the last line is "now and in other days" [rather than "on other days"].

Leaving aside the ethical question of taking someone else's translation and making it your own just by changing one or two words, I wonder which version of the ending readers prefer. For what it's worth, I like "may" more than "will." Toward the very end of the 1850 edition of "The Prelude," Wordsworth changed "may" into "will" in the last clause of these lines from the original (1805) edition: "what we have loved, / Others will love; and we may teach them how." I've always felt that this change was a mistake.

The last line is indeed now and in other days, it is also the name of the anthology of poems from which this poem comes from. Now and in other days

This is a grand and famous poem. Does anyone know whose translation I have reproduced here? This is not a quiz. I have found several versions, but in none of them are the translators credited.

Thank you for posting Amichai's great poem, David. The news of the world is so distressing, so awful.

In the book, Poems by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Assia Gutmann with introduction by Michael Hamburger, first edition, copyright 1968, Harper & Row. I bought the book on Aug. 8, 1973 in Fresno Calif.
The book has Amichai's signature in Hebrew that I obtained after his reading. On page 15 we find:


God has pity on children in kindergartens,
He pities school children---less.
But adults he pities not at all.

He abandons them,
And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the roasting sand
To reach the dressing station,
and they are streaming with blood.

But perhaps
He will have pity on those who love truly
And take care of them.
Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench.

Perhaps even we will spend on them
Our last pennies of kindness
Inherited from mother,

So that their own happiness will protect us
Now and on other days.

We have the translator but clearly it differs from the one you have listed. I prefer what you list.

Much closer to the translation you list is found the book, The selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, page 6, copyright 1986 & 1996 Harper Collins & U. Calif. Press. This translation is very close but not identical to what you list, as you have observed. In addition to the changes you note, see in the last stanza "the last rare coins of charity", is in Bloch & Mitchell: "the last rare coins of compassion."

In the book, The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai edited by Robert Alter, FSG, copyright 2015, we have a translation by Benjamin and Barbara Harshaw. This translation is similar to Bloch & Mitchell with some few changes that differ from the ones you list.

Phil Levine read some of Amichai's poems in a writing class I took. Many of those poems appeared in American Poetry Review 1973. Could that be the source we are looking for?

As a Jew, I tend to return to Amichai's poetry during the High Holidays, his poems triggering reflections that penetrate. And now, when Jews were hiding under bushes pretending to be dead, for hours, I return again, his a poetry that hovers.

One word does indeed change the meaning, in the broader sense of "meaning." "On other days" would indicate days of the week, month or year; "in other days" is far broader, evoking "times" "eras" etc. Stick with Chana Bloch & Stephen Mitchell! Chana Bloch, whom I knew personally and who wrote to me about translating for many years between 1967 and 2013, worked with Amichai on the early versions of all the Selected Poems. Then, she and Stephen Mitchell fine-tuned the English versions for publication.

Thank you, Jacqueline.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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