Poem of the Week / Hanoch Levin Foresees His Death

'When the doctors told you: 'He’s dead' – you burst out crying and then were silent.'

I Thought That for Us It Would Be Different

Hanoch Levin


I thought that for us it would be different:

that when the doctors say: “He’s dead” –

you would not give up,

hours, days, years

you’d still lie over me

your mouth to mine.

But when the doctors told you: “He’s dead” –

you burst out crying and then were silent,

meaning you did not rise, did not rebel,

meaning you were reconciled, meaning

I go this way, you go that.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden.

***

“I thought it would be different” was first published in Haaretz in Hebrew on January 1, 1999, and the English translation was published in Haaretz Magazine on January 15, 1999. It appears in Levin’s volume of poetry “Life of the Dead” (Hakibbutz Hameuchad/ Siman Kriah, 1999).

Playwright, theater director and poet Hanoch Levin died at the age of 55 after a long illness on August 18, 1999. His legacy includes 11 volumes of plays, two volumes of prose, two volumes of skits and songs, a volume of "last works,” two children's books and a book of poems.

Beginning with his earliest satirical works, Levin “left behind deep impressions on Israeli society," writes Haaretz theater critic Michael Handelzalts, in “All About Jewish Theater.” "In all of his writings, both satirical and dramatic, he dissected Israeli society and described it in detail: the crudeness, the insensitivity, the interpersonal violence, the oppression, the gluttony, the intolerance and the cruelty.”

In this poem, there is no such detail: only an “I” and a (feminine) “you” and a universal human situation. Like the Irish airman imagined by William Butler Yeats, by the end of this poem the speaker seems to accept his fate with a kind of equilibrium, a stillness after the turbulence depicted in the first lines.

Musings:

*Many dramatists have written lyric poetry as well as plays – William Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bertolt Brecht, Federico Garcia Lorca and Ntozake Shange, to name a few. It is possible to earn a living writing for the theater; it is nearly impossible to earn a living writing lyric poetry. Could poetry then be said to be a “purer” or more "honest" genre that more accurately transmits the writer’s voice? 

Gadi Dagan