Near the Wall of a House (from poetry 180)
Yehuda Amichai (trans. by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell)
Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.
A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.
And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.
Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.
The poem turns on what is visible/invisible, image/being (to a degree: both the previous are outside/inside), and – almost hidden – the speaker/others. Visible/invisible: the house itself; our speaker is near a wall, meaning he only sees part of it or no part of it at all. Image/being: the painting of a wall hides what it truly is, or so attempts. “Like stone”/ “like a dog” / “like a human being:” more images, specifically likenesses. Flowers are given, albeit in what seems to be a dream; they create a link between the stanzas concerning what seems to be stone, and the dog/human being. What are the “visions of God,” exactly?
“A sleepless night that gives others a headache” – what are they seeing in the darkness? They could be seeing the same as our speaker: those flowers blossoming inside one’s head could be painful. They could also be near the wall of a house whose appearance was questionable; those flowers may be near the house themselves. They most certainly feel lost, like a dog, and are recovered as (“like”) human beings.
There are two assumptions in this attempt to find meaning. First, that the speaker experiences what others have experienced, and second, that all the imagery given is related and not discrete. The second is obviously more controversial than the first, and justifies a total separation between the speaker and others if rejected outright. The poem itself mentions rooms, implying that the stanzas stand separate. The first feels less speculative taken by itself, though. The speaker’s crazy-talk follows from “visions of God” and the prophecy of the third stanza. The imagery, strangely enough, follows logically from what we recognize the speaker’s speech to be.
The poem presumably started in the day and moved to “a sleepless night.” Then we were lost, found, brought back home again. The dog – the issue of loyalty we feel and is felt toward us – moves us well away from stone, from flowers, toward the human. But the likeness of the human leads back to home, what we thought stone, strangely as the flowers were real in the sense they were a bridge between inanimate/animate. The flowers indicate growth. In the last stanza, we are definitely inside the home. We thought love “the last room;” our speaker moves willingly, we may be more fixed in our beliefs. Because he sees love as possibility, he not only sees others, but he cannot help seeing others even alone. The infinitude of God, always on display.