How does the burning bush see me?

Here are lines from the Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai

How do the visions of the prophets see me?

The burning bush sees me as a man extinguished but alive.

And what does Ezekiel’s vision of the chariot say about me?

Look, down there is a man who has no wings,

Nor the face of a lion, an ox, or an eagle,

And he can walk in only one direction at a time.

He has no radiance about him, no brightness the color of amber,

just darkness within.  That is his soul.

But if we ever fall from our heights and crash to the ground,

He will pick up the scattered pieces,

And all his life, he will keep trying to put us together again,

to restore us, to raise us back up to the skies.[i]


[i] Amichai, Yehuda, Open Closed Open, Harcourt, 2000, p. 25


14 comments on “How does the burning bush see me?

  1. dmf says:

    yep Yehuda’s a classic, perhaps not so classic but very American is:

    Oh, little town far below
    with a ruler line of a road running through you,
    you anonymous cluster of houses and barns,
    miniaturized by this altitude
    in a land as parched as Bethlehem
    might have been somewhere around the year zero—

    a beautiful song should be written about you
    which choirs could sing in their lofts
    and carolers standing in a semicircle
    could carol in front of houses topped with snow.

    For surely some admirable person was born
    within the waffle-iron grid of your streets,
    who then went on to perform some small miracles,
    placing a hand on the head of a child
    or shaking a cigarette out of the pack for a stranger.

    But maybe it is best not to compose a hymn
    or chisel into tablets the code of his behavior
    or convene a tribunal of men in robes to explain his words.

    Let us not press the gold leaf of his name
    onto a page of vellum or hang his image from a nail.
    Better to fly over this little town with nothing
    but the hope that someone visits his grave

    once a year, pushing open the low iron gate
    then making her way toward him
    through the rows of the others
    before bending to prop up some flowers before the stone.

    “Flying Over West Texas at Christmas” by Billy Collins

  2. efmooney says:

    The opening puts me in question. The question is how a prophetic vision sees me. This reverses perspective, for I am not sharing a vision offered to me, or listening to a vision sent my way, or scrutinizing a prophet’s picture of things to decode its meaning, and its meaning for me. I’m being asked to circle up and around to occupy the place of the vision looking at me, as if, rather than looking at a bird circling above in the sky, I circle around to occupy the place of the bird looking down at me. “How do the visions see me?” And what is it to be extinguished but alive? A fiery bush can’t help but see me a lesser, extinguished being.

  3. Steve says:

    Maybe “visions” is short for the “things or beings envisioned” by the prophets – the burning bush in Moses’ case, the fiery chariot in Ezekial’s? (I think that’s called metonymy?) The poet is imagining how he appears to these envisioned beings, and in both cases he imagines that they see contrasts to themselves. The burning bush sees him as alive but only just: he doesn’t “burn” with life (in the sense, perhaps, that Blake’s tyger burns bright). The chariot’s four faces see him as lacking their mystic values (whatever they may be!) as well as their ability to soar. Notably, like the burning bush, the faces also see the poet as lacking radiance and brightness. What the envisioned beings see, in brief, is an absence of their own numinous radiance. However, they also see that what he lacks in himself he needs to see and believe in, to place outside himself and to adore. Hence the wonderful image of the poet who, should these fabulous beings fall to the ground and shatter to pieces, would spend his life reconstructing them and restoring them to the heavens. And that, I guess, is what the poet is trying to do?

    • dmf says:

      or perhaps the poet was giving us a bit of humpty-dumpty?

      Sunday Morning
      by Wallace Stevens

      Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
      Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
      And the green freedom of a cockatoo
      Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
      The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
      She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
      Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
      As a calm darkens among water-lights.
      The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
      Seem things in some procession of the dead,
      Winding across wide water, without sound.
      The day is like wide water, without sound,
      Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
      Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
      Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.

      Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
      What is divinity if it can come
      Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
      Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
      In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
      In any balm or beauty of the earth,
      Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
      Divinity must live within herself:
      Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
      Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
      Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
      Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
      All pleasures and all pains, remembering
      The bough of summer and the winter branch.
      These are the measures destined for her soul

      • Steve says:

        A much better poem, I must say! And you may be right about the shattered chariot. What are the chances that something like that could ever be pieced back together again – in flying condition? The faces say that “all his life [the poet] will keep trying to put us together again.” They don’t suggest that he could succeed. In fact, now that you point it out, there is something a little pathetic in the image: the attempt to mend something broken beyond mending.

        On the other hand, the chariot hasn’t actually fallen, has it?

      • Steve says:

        You’re being impish, sir. I think we can safely say that Amichai and Ed don’t have flying saucers on their minds, and neither do I. However, now that UFOs have sifted down into the collective unconscious, I agree that it’s sometimes difficult to read of those peculiar sky-wheels without having to shoo away the unwanted association. Harrumph, harrumph.

  4. efmooney says:

    My, my what a ruckus that poem starts!

    • dmfant says:

      I think that AY would appreciate a ruckus as I think he was disturbed by his encounters and meant to be disturbing

      • Steve says:

        UFOs are pretty disturbing, alright. I saw one with two fellow witnesses in 1969, and it has stayed with me all these years. Actually, it was an illumination of klieglight intensity that “tracked” our car from above for about ten seconds until the driver slammed on the breaks and we skidded to halt in a cloud of roadside dust. That was a heck of a long time to be under a microscope, believe me. Obviously I have no idea what it was and am more than happy to accept ball lightning or what have you for an explanation, even though the “inspection” from above occurred on a moonless and cloudless night. For all that, I do not let it intrude on my Bible reading, especially as I indulge the latter so seldom. So…I was not mocking UFOs or you, but only giving you what I intended as a gentle ribbing for straying off topic. On the other hand, maybe you weren’t straying. I don’t know a thing about Amichai or his poetry apart from Ed’s quotation. No ruckus intended.

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