When this collection was published in 1998 in Israel, it was the first volume of Amichai's verse in nearly a decade and was greeted as a magnum opus; now that it can be read in English, in an adroit translation, it is clear that the critical reception on his home turf was well merited. Given that the poet is 75, it is understandable that the tone is somewhat valedictory—but there has always been a somewhat melancholic undertone to Amichai’s writing, an awareness of the gradual decay of the body and the wearing away of the spirit. More than ever, Amichai's poems are about the idea of embodied language, of the place of the body in history as the crossroads of the personal and the political: `Jewish history and world history / grind me between them like two grindstones, sometimes / to a powder,` he writes early in the volume. For much of this book, Amichai is poised between `the cycle of departure and return` and `the cycle of remembering and forgetting,` two central themes in Jewish history and belief that have run through his work since his first published poems. He plays on those themes in densely allusive and yet conversational verse, redolent of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish prayer book. The tone, as always, is wry, sardonic, bittersweet, and even at 75 Amichai can still summon up the energy for a slice of erotic longing.
A major work by one of the world's great living poets—but not, one hopes, the last word.