Sonnet Summary Notes

Sonnet About The Poet

Yehuda Amichai (1924 – 2000) is one of the most celebrated modem poets of Israel. His poems written in Hebrew, have been translated into forty languages. Yehuda Amichai is so widely read and translated that he has been remarked as the most translated Hebrew poet since Kind David. Bom in Germany in 1924, Amichai left that country at age twelve with his family and journeyed to Palestine.

During the 1948 Arab – Israeli war, he fought with the Israeli defense forces. In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War. The rigors and horrors ofhis service in this conflict inform his poetry, although he is never ideological.

Amichai believed that all poetry was political as real poems deal with a human response to reality, and politics is part ofreality, history in the making. He remarked, “Even if a poet writes about sitting in a glass house drinking tea, it reflects politics”. It was during the war that Amichai began to be interested in poetry. He was influenced by the poems of Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot.

Sonnet Summary

The poem ‘Sonnet (My Father)’ is written by Yehuda Amichai, a well-known Israeli poet in Hebrew, the language of the Israelites and later translated into forty languages. The poet, Amichai writes this poem to make a contrast between his father views and his own views, regarding war and enemies of the nation.

The poet begins the poem by stating that his father fought ‘their’ war, for four years or so. (The poet’s father had served in the World War -1 on the side of the Germans). The father fought in the war in a rather detached manner. He did not hate or love his enemies, because they really weren’t his enemies. His father was fighting another man’s enemy and hence he could have a detached attitude about whom he fought with or with whom he fought against. The poet is right in describing his lather’s attitude as his lather was fighting ‘their’ war.

The poet says that his father was “Already he was forming me, I know / daily out of tranquilities;” Amichai’s father thought of his son when he had sometime between fighting the war, to introspect about what knowledge (forming) of war could he inculcate in his son. These tranquilities (periods of peace in between wars) were scraped (gleaned) by his father, to think about his son. The father had stored all his thoughts – “into his ragged knapsack with / The leftovers of my mother’s hardening cake”.

The poet felt that whatever knowledge or wisdom his father wanted him to imbibe from him were of not much use to him. His son had no use for his father’s wisdom. The son could not afford to accept the wisdom and vision of his father. His father hoped that he had fought the last war to end all wars. His father thought that the war he was fighting would be the last war.

His son would never need to fight wars. But his father was wrong. The poet had to fight in many more wars. Hence he felt that his father’s wisdom was as stale as his mother’s left over cake, it was distasteful. It was of no use to him.

His father had seen numerous nameless soldiers die in World War -1. They had given up their lives for the sake of their children thinking that their children would live in peace after the war. They gave up their lives so that their children would never fight another war and die like them dreadfully.

But the poet says that his father was wrong. There were many more wars after World – War -1. Unlike his father who had fought other people’s war, the poet had to go out and fight his own enemies, the enemy of his people and country.

Every generation that goes to war hopes that the next will not have to do likewise. The hope is often misplaced as when ‘The War to End All Wars ’ proved to be no such thing in the face of its even more deadly and infinitely more tragic sequel (World War-II).

Yehuda Amichai’s father, with whom this poem begins, served in World War I on the side of Germans. Later Amichai himself volunteered and fought in World War – II in the British army as a member of the Jewish Brigade and then as a Commando in the Negev Brigade during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, of which Amichai mentions at the end of this poem.

In the case of the father fighting for the German’s, the war was rightly described as ‘theirs. Yet for Amichai the wars are understood as being as much his own, fighting as a Jew for his people, the Israelis. (Amichai would later fight yet again in the Sinai war, and again after that, two decades later in the Yom Kipper war).

The poem ‘Sonnet: My Father ’ is tragic, Amichai’s father had hoped to give his son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in some sense loved – a love which his son was to experience by seeing through his father’s gaze yet the son cannot afford to accept that wisdom and vision like the leftovers of his mother’s cake in the father’s Knapsack, such understanding can no longer give sustenance. There is no place for universal love now, as he goes to fight for his people.

In the logic of the poem, though, the son will not be able to develop an understanding like that of his father in the wars he goes to fight. His father could only do so because he fought in someone else’s (their) war in which he could afford to see enemy soldiers in a detached way. The son, now fighting a war of his own, will be forced to have a different perspective.

All the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to impart it to his own children. The wisdom of his father is dead, collateral damage in the cause of a people’s nationhood.

Sonnet Glossary

  • Tranquility : quiet and peaceful, free from agitation of the mind
  • Glean : to gather, collect, search care hilly
  • Ragged : in bad condition especially because of being torn
  • Knapsack : A bag of canvas strapped on the back and used for carrying supplies or personal belongings
  • Unforsaken : Reclaim

Sonnet Questions And Answers

Comprehension Questions

Question 1.
Who fought the war for four years?
Answer:
The poet’s father fought the war for four years.

Question 2.
What does “their” in first line refer to?
a) Israeli
b) Palestinian
c) German
d) French
Answer:
c) German

Question 3.
When did the father find moments of tranquility?
Answer:
The poet’s father found tranguility between ‘bombs and smoke ’, i.e., when their was a short period of peace between battles.

Question 4.
What was the condition of the knapsack carried by the father to the war field?
Answer:
The Knapsack was ragged.

Question 5.
What had become of the cake sent by the mother?
Answer:
The cake was hardening, i.e., it was becoming stale.

Question 6.
The father’s eyes were filled with ________.
a) Hatred
b) Love
c) Envy
d) Anger
Answer:
b) Love

Question 7.
Did the son share the same wisdom as of his father’s?
Answer:
No. The poet’s father believed that he had fought the last war to end all war’s, but the poet had to fight his own wars for the sake of his country (Israel).

II. Answer the following questions in a short paragraph each:

Question 1.
What is the difference between the wars fought by the father and the son?
Answer:
The poet’s father fought ‘their’ war. It means that the Father did not fight the war for the sake of his country, but on the side of the ‘German’s in the First World War. The son fought his own war for the sake of his country.

Question 2.
What is the wisdom the father intends to pass on to his son?
Answer:
The poet’s father had hoped to give his son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in some sense loved – a love which his son was to experience by seeing through his father’s gaze (vision). His father wanted him to understand that he would not have to fight another war after the World War – 1. His father believed that he had fought the lastwar, a war to end all wars.

Question 3.
Why is the wisdom imparted by the father unsustainable as the cake in the knapsack?
Answer:
Similar to the hardened cake in his father’s Knapzack, his father’s vision or rather wisdom is of no use to the poet. His father had fought ‘their’ war (the German’s war) and hence could be detached or bereft of any agonostic feeling towards his enemies. His father was not fighting his own war for the sake of his country (Israel). So he could love his enemies. He was fighting someone else’s war.

But the poet cannot affored to accept his father’s wisdom and vision like the left overs of his mother’s cake in the father’s knapsack. Such understanding can no longer give sustenance. There is no place for universal love now, as the son had go and fight for his people (Israelites). Hence his son will view the war he is now fighting with a different perspective. The wisdom of his father is dead, and of no use to the son.

Question 4.
What is the son’s perspective about war?
Answer:
The son is now fighting his own war for the sake of his own people and country (Israel). He cannot view his enemies in a detached way. He cannot come to love them as they are his enemies, and the enemies of his people and country. All the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to impart it to his own children. There is no place for love, when people go to fight for their own people.

III. Answer the following questions in about a page each:

Question 1.
Comment on the different perspectives on wars shared by the father and the son.
Answer:
The poet states that his father fought ‘their’ war, for four years or so. (The poet’s father had served in the World War -1 on the side of the Germans). The father fought in the war in a rather detached manner. He did not hate or love his enemies, because they really weren’t his enemies. His father was fighting another man’s enemy and hence he could have a detached attitude about whom he fought with or with whom he fought against. The poet is right in describing his father’s attitude as his father was fighting ‘their’ war.

The poet felt that whatever knowledge or wisdom his father wanted him to imbibe from him were of not much use to him. His son had no use for his father’s wisdom. The son could not afford to accept the wisdom and vision of his father. His father hoped that he had fought the last war to end all wars. His father thought that the war he was fighting would be the last war. His son would never need to fight wars. But his father was wrong.

The poet had to fight in many more wars. Hence he felt that his father’s wisdom was as stale as his mother’s left over cake, it was distasteful. It was of no use to him. His father had seen numerous nameless soldiers die in World War -1. They had given up their lives for the sake of their children thinking that their children would live in peace after the war. They gave up their lives so that their children would never fight another war and die like them dreadfully. But the poet says that his father was wrong. There were many more wars after World – War -1.

Germans. Later Amichai himself volunteered and fought in World War – II in the British my as a member of the Jewish Brigade and then as a Commanded the Negev Brigade during the 1948 Arab – Israeli war, of which michai mentions at the end of this poemJn the case of the father fighting for the German’s, the war was rightly described as the for Amichai, the wars are understood as being as much his own, fighting as a Jew for his people, the Israelis. fight yet again in the Sinai war, again after in that, two decades later in the Yom Kipper war).

Amichai’s father had hoped to gives son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in so me Sense loved – a love which his son was to experience by through his father’s gaze yet the son cannot afford to accept vision like the Leftovers of his mother’s cake father such understanding can no longer give sustenance. There no place for universal love now, as he goes to people.

In the logic of the poem, though, the son will not be able to develop an understanding like that of his father in the was he goes to fight. His father could only do so because he fought in someone else’s (their) war in which he could afford to see enemy soldiers in a detached way. The son, now fighting a war of his own, will be forced to have a different perspective.

All the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to impart it to his own children. The wisdom of his father is dead, collateral damage in the cause of a people’s nationhood.

Question 2.
The son can never have the wisdom of forbearance which his forefathers had nor can he impart the same to the next generation. Substantiate.
Answer:
Yehuda Amichai’s father, served in World War I on the side of Germans. Later Amichai himself volunteered and fought in World War – II in the British army as a member of the Jewish Brigade and then as a Commando in the Negev Brigade during the 1948 Arab – Israeli war, of which Amichai mentions at the end of this poem. In the case of the father fighting for the German’s? the war was rightly described as ‘theirs’. Yet for Amichai, the wars are understood as being as much his own, fighting as a Jew for his people, the Israelis.

(Amichai would later fight yet again in the Sinai war, and again after that, two decades later in the Yom Kipper war). Amichai’s father had hoped to give his son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in some sense loved – a love which his son was to experience by seeing through his father’s gaze yet the son cannot afford to accept that wisdom and vision like the Leftovers of his mother’s cake in the father’s Knapsack, such understanding can no longer give sustenance.

There is no place for universal love now, as he goes to fight for his people.In the logic of the poem, though, the son will not be able to develop an understanding like that of his father in the wars he goes to fight. His father could only do so because he fought in someone else’s (their) war in which he could afford to see enemy soldiers in a detached way.

The son, now fighting a war of his own, will be forced to have a different perspective. All the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to impart it to his own children. The wisdom ofhis father is dead, collateral damage in the cause of a people’s nationhood.

Question 3.
Dreadful wars and its horrors can never work as a deterrent for the next generation. Comment.
Answer:
God created mankind and bestowed his blessings on human beings to live in peace and harmony. However, mankind found ways and means to disturb the basic phenomena of peace by associating itself with harmful acts related to conflicts and wars. The feet remains that wars have aided the individuals, communities and nation satisfy their false egos.

It is not to be forgotten that wars are re -; ed to temporary phases which have been in existence since times immemorial and shall continue for times to come, till replaced ultimately by peace. The mass killing of soldiers and of innocent civilians as well in war is not only permitted but also glorified in many modem cultures. Further, it is a pity that even at the of bloodbaths, war is accepted as an effective and justifiable way of protecting national interests and achieving diplomatic goals.

Each generation has its own reasons to fight wars In the given poem the father had his own reason to fight in a war and his son the poet had his own reasons to fight wars. Although the poet knew that millions of people died in the first world war it did not deter him to fight another war for his people and country.

All the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to impart his father’s wisdom of universal love to his own children. The wisdom of his father is dead, collateral dam ‘ i the cause of a people’s nationhood.

Sonnet Language Activity

Exercise 1

(a) Use the prepositions (in, into, on, over, under, above and below) suitably in the blanks given below:

  1. There was great rejoicing in the assembly when the Prime Minister walked into the parliament hall.
  2. The ceiling is directly above our heads while the floor is below.
  3. The man who stood over the bridge, watched the river flowing under
  4. The aircraft flew over the mighty Himalayas.

(b) Fill in the blanks with suitable prepositions :
There lived a saint in a hermitage. The saint would sit in the shade of a banyan tree and meditate. One day, a man jumped over the wall and got into the garden. He went and stood between two trees wondering which was to cut. Actually, he just wanted one branch of a tree. He climbed a tree and was about to cut a branch when the saint saw him.

“Can’t you let the tree sleep in peace? Just because a tree cannot speak, doesn’t mean that you can do anything with it!” The man realized his mistake. He fell at the saint’s feet and begged for his mercy. Don’t cut trees. They are our friends too.

Adjectives

Exercise 2

Choose the right adjective and fill in the blanks:
(long, brave, vast, blonde, happy, huge, nutritious, valuable, ancient, tiring, polite, blue)

  1. We wish you a happy Ugadi.
  2. Paris is a huge city.
  3. The brave soldier fought with enemies.
  4. He had a long and tiring day at work.
  5. What a polite child she is!” exclaimed the smiling granny.
  6. An ocean is a vast expanse of water.
  7. Alice has blonde hair and blue eyes.
  8. On the ground lay an ancient coin.
  9. A wise man gave us valuable advice.
  10. Mother gives us nutritious food.

English Summary

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