The Diameter of the Bomb

July 13, 2006 at 4:01 pm 10 comments

Yehuda Amichai

Listen [1]

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective
range – about seven meters.
And in it four dead and eleven wounded.
And around them in a greater circle
of pain and time are scattered
two hospitals and one cemetery.
But the young woman who was
buried where she came from
over a hundred kilometres away
enlarges the circle greatly.
And the lone man who weeps over her death
in a far corner of a distant country
includes the whole world in the circle.
And I won’t speak at all about the crying of orphans
that reaches to the seat of God
and from there onward, making
the circle without end and without God.

(Translated from the Hebrew by Yehuda Amichai and Ted Hughes.)

In his Introduction to Amichai’s Selected Poems (Faber and Faber 2000), Hughes writes “He found a voice not just for a people in crisis but for the resurrection of a people, an ancient people, which was simultaneously the creation of a new people – what was simultaneously that people’s emergence as a central character in a global political drama at the crux of two deadlocked civilisations.”

Who but Amichai can we turn to then, when horrors like the bombs in Bombay strike us? Amichai’s poems have an incredible ability to reach beyond the individual – they are not poems of personal grief, not simply poems that speak to the sadness of any one people, they are poems about the loss of all people everywhere. And yet for all the sorrow and outrage in them, for all the crying sense of injustice, they are also startlingly modern, unflinchingly matter of fact.

The Diameter of the Bomb is an excellent example. Amichai starts clinically, with the basic facts – details about the size of the bomb, its effective radius, the number of casualties, then slowly the details become people, the statistics turn human, and we are shown the real human cost of terrorism. But the circle does not stop there, the shock waves of Amichai’s poem ripple further, going past God and Heaven to an infinite emptiness. There is no God, or none that we can trust, there is only endless circle suffering that now includes us all.

The Diameter of the Bomb has long been one of my ‘favourite’ Amichai poems – and seeing the footage of the Bombay blasts on television it was the first poem I thought of.


Notes and Links:

[1] This recording is taken from The National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership’s Recording of A Ritual for Beginning to Remember – a collection of recordings put together to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11. The Diameter of the Bomb is the first piece of the second part of the recording, which goes on beyond the Amichai poem (the other pieces are interesting and apt as well). You can find the full recording here.
[2] The translation of the poem being recited is different from the one I’ve posted here. I understand there’s a Stephen Mitchell translation of Amichai and I suspect that may be the version used. I’m not sure. At any rate, I personally like the Amichai-Hughes translations, and the basic sense of the poem stays pretty much the same.

For more commentary, see Minstrels

And more on Amichai here

Finally, you can find the Hebrew Text here. As the link shows, there’s also a setting of the poem for mezzo soprano and digital audio by Jonathan Berger.

Entry filed under: Falstaff, Hebrew, Ted Hughes, Yehuda Amichai.

I Come and Stand at Every Door Sunset

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. blackmamba  |  July 13, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    The violent history, its constant reminders and facing battle (as most have to enroll in the army), makes artists from Israeli like snipers – aiming directly at the left side of your chest – and someone like Amichai rarely misses the mark. excellent poem.
    Another Amichai that comes to mind – ‘Tourist’ – which is actually about so many among us, as we stand and watch tragedies repeat themselves.

    Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
    They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
    They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
    And they laugh behind heavy curtains
    In their hotels.
    They have their pictures taken
    Together with our famous dead
    At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
    And on Ammunition Hill.
    They weep over our sweet boys
    And lust after our tough girls
    And hang up their underwear
    To dry quickly
    In cool, blue bathrooms.

    Once I sat on the steps by agate at David’s Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!” I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

    The last line is bang on target.

  • 2. The Game « pō’ĭ-trē  |  November 15, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    […] poem is one of my personal favorites from that book, vaguely reminiscent of Amichai’s The Diameter of the Bomb, but with the additional idea of a heirarchical chess game, of the way we are all pawns in someone […]

  • […] I ran across this poem by Yehuda Amichai and was moved by its perspective. At first, it reads as a scientific account of a bomb. The masterful thing he accomplishes, however, is a brisk narrowing to an emotional viewpoint. It startles you to feel that way so fast. Hear an audio version of The Diameter of a Bomb on audiopoetry’s blog. […]

  • 4. writerlulu  |  April 9, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Great. I love your site and will add a link on my blog. Thanks for creating an audio repository for all of the poetry fans out there!

  • 5. vanessa  |  September 25, 2009 at 7:25 am

    when was the poem diameter of the bomb created

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