Haim Gouri, who died on Wednesday at the age of ninety-four, was a member of the first generation of 20th-century Hebrew poets native to the land of Israel. In 1948, while serving in the Palmach, his unit was involved in the intense fighting for Sha’ar Ha-Gai (Bab el-Wad in Arabic), a key point along the road linking Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The battle inspired one of Gouri’s best known poems, often sung on Israel’s Day of Remembrance, of which a new translation by Vivian Eden has just been published. It opens thus:
Here I’m passing by. I stand beside the rock,
A black asphalt highway, mountain ridges, stones.
Evening darkens slowly and a sea breeze blows.
Over Beit Mahsir, the first starlight glows.
Remember our names for all time.
Where convoys to the city broke through
Our dead lie sprawled by the roadside.
The iron skeleton, like my comrade, is mute.