Yehuda Amichai was one of Israel's foremost contemporary Hebrew poets. He will be remembered, too for his influence, far beyond his own literary achievements, on the creation of modern Israeli poetry.
Born in Germany to a religiously observant family, Amichai and his family emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1935, living briefly in Petach Tikvah before settling in Jerusalem. In World War II he fought with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, and upon his discharge in 1946, he joined the Palmach. During the War of Independence he fought in the Negev, on the southern front. Following the war, Amichai attended Hebrew University, studying Biblical texts and Hebrew literature, and then taught in secondary schools.
Amichai's first volume of poetry, "Achshav Uve-Yamim HaAharim" ("Now and in Other Days") was published in 1955 and aroused serious interest in readers and critics alike. This and subsequent volumes of poetry revealed that Amichai was engaged in a distinctly modern literary enterprise, both in content and in language. Subjects heretofore deemed prosaic became appropriate poetic images: tanks, airplanes, fuel, administrative contracts, and technological terms figure in his work, reflecting Amichai's conviction that a modern poetry must confront and reflect contemporary issues.
Concomitant with his non-traditional choice of subjects is Amichai's innovative use of the Hebrew language. Drawing from and interfacing various strata of language, from classical Hebrew to the post-modern colloquial, Amichai became known as the "poet who plays with words." Influenced by the wit and irony of modern English poetry, Amichai, also a master of understatement, coined new idioms and slang expressions, and incorporated prose phrases in his work. As with his imagery and subject matter, his linguistic versatility reflects his sense that language, including poetic language, emerges out of the modern technological society rather than classical texts only. Hence the citation of the Israel Prize, awarded to Amichai in 1982, which heralded "the revolutionary change in poetry's language" that the poet had begun through his work.
Amichai's poetry spans a range of emotions, from laughter to sadness to self-mockery. His work emphasizes the individual who, although conscious and integrally part of the collective experience, ultimately views the world through his personal lens. This individual perspective evinces a candid, honest approach to the outside world.
Amichai's canon is also impressive for the volume of work it encompasses, and many individual books of poetry appeared in rapid succession, as well as "Collected Poems" (1963) and "Selected Works" of 1981. "Shirei Yerushalayim" ("Poems of Jerusalem," 1987) is a bilingual edition accompanied by photographs of the city, a model Amichai used again in 1992 for other poems, scenes, and photos. Many of his poems refer to Jerusalem and to Jewish sources.
The last major volume of Amichai's poetry in English translation was published as a tribute in 1994: Yehuda Amichai : A life of poetry, 1948-1994, although he continued to publish in Hebrew until 1998 and some poems were published posthumously. In addition to his numerous volumes of poetry, Yehuda Amichai was the author of short stories, two novels, radio sketches, and children's literature. Much of his work has been translated into other languages.
Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature:
In Memoriam - Yehuda Amichai http://www.ithl.org.il/amichai/
Biography, reviews, publications, translations http://www.ithl.org.il/author_info.asp?id=13 [See below]
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Four Poems www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2001/12/A%20Touch%20of%20Grace-%20Yehuda%20Amichai
Two Poems www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2003/9/Yehuda%20Amichai-%20Poems
Reviews and Collections:
Posthumous Fragments, Yehuda Amihai [tr: Leon Wieseltier] www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2007/06/11/070611po_poem_amichai
Biography and context to Amihai http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/amichai.htm
In Memoriam Yehuda Amichai: Jerusalem's Poet, by Tekla Szymanski
Summer Evening by the Window with Psalms [tr: Robert Alter] www.newyorker.com/fiction/poetry/2008/07/28/080728po_poem_amichai [July 28, 2008]
Further collections http://www.poemhunter.com/yehuda-amichai/
The above biography of Yehuda Amichai is (C) The Jewish Agency for Israel
(c) Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
Yehuda Amichai (b. 1924; Wurzburg, Germany), born to a religious family, is one of Israel's foremost contemporary writers. He was raised speaking two languages, Hebrew and German. Amichai immigrated with his parents to Eretz Israel in 1935. He finished his secondary studies in a religious high school and served with the British Army's Jewish Brigade during World War II. He served with the elite Palmach unit in the 1948 War of Independence. Amichai studied Literature and Biblical Studies at Hebrew University. He trained as a teacher and has taught at numerous academic institutions in Israel and abroad. Amichai is best known for his poetry, which has been translated into 33 languages. He has also published two novels, a collection of short stories and a number of plays which have been produced in Israel. Amichai received the Bialik Prize and the 1982 Israel Prize.
Books Published in Hebrew
Now and in Other Davs (poetry), Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1955 [Achshav U-Be-Iamim Aherim]
Two Hopes Away (poetry), Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1958 [Be-Merhav Shtei Tikvot]
In the Public Garden (poetry), Achshav, 1959 [Ba-Gina Ha-Yziburit]
In This Terrible Wind (poetry), Schocken, 1961 [Ba-Ruach Ha-Nora'ah Ha-Zot ]
Journey to Nineveh (play), Achshav, 1962 [Masa Le-Ninveh]
Not of this Time, Not of this Place (novel), Schocken, 1963 [Lo Me-Achshav lo Mi-Kan]
Poems 1948-1962, Schocken, 1963 [Shirim 1948-1962]
Bells and Trains (plays and radio scripts), Schocken, 1968 [Pa'amonim Ve-Rakavot]
Now in Noise (poetry), Schocken, 1969 [Achshav Ba-Ra'ash]
Not to Remember (poetry), Schocken, 1971 [Ve-Lo Al Manat Lizkor]
To Have a Dwelling Place (novel), Bitan, 1971 [Mi Itneni Malon]
Behind all this Hides a Great Happiness (poetry), Schocken, 1974 [Me-Ahore Col Ze Mistater Osher Gadol]
Time (poetry), Schocken, 1977 [Zeman]
Numa's Fat Tail (children), Schocken, 1978 [Ha-Zanav Ha-Shamen Shel Numa]
Great Tranquillity (poetry), Schocken, 1980 [Shalva Gedola: Shelot U-Teshuvot]
Hour of Grace (poetry), Schocken, 1982 [Sha'at Hesed]
Of Man Thou Art, and unto Man Shalt Thou Return (poetry), Schocken, 1985 [Me-Adam Atah Ve-El Adam Tashuv]
The Fist Too Was Once an Open Hand with Fingers (poetry), Schocken, 1990 [Gam Ha-Egrof Haia Pa'am Yad Ptuha Ve-Etzbaot]
Open Eyed Land (poetry), Schocken, 1992 [Nof Galui Eyinaim]
Achziv, Cesarea and One Love (poetry), Schocken, 1996 [Achziv, Keisaria Ve-Ahava Ahat]
Open Close Open, Schocken, 1998
Selections of Poems
Publishers are invited to make their own selection from any of the Hebrew titles listed here.
About Amichai's Poetry
Amichai has long been a highly respected poet in Israel and abroad. Ted Hughes wrote about Amichai's book, Great Tranquillity (1983): "Yehuda Amichai begins to look more and more like a truly major poet - in the strict sense of the term. That is, there's a depth, breadth and weighty momentum in these subtle and intricate poems of his, even in the slightest, that sounds more and more like the undersong of a people. Who else is dipping his bucket into such a full river of experience and paid-for feeling?" He noted that Amichai's imagistic language is drawn from both the external and the spiritual history of Jewry. "It is as if the whole ancient spiritual investment has been suddenly cashed, in modern coinage, flooding his poetry with an inexhaustible currency of precise and weighty metaphors."
Poet and translator Michael Hamburger referred to Amichai's acute historical consciousness which, he suggested, makes his poetry at once tragic and humorous, harsh and tender, direct and indirect. And he added: "Although he has fought in two wars, against the Germans and against the Arabs, he cannot accept the simplifications of nationalism. Although he is steeped in Jewish scripture, he cannot accept the certainties of an exclusive faith. For Amichai, therefore, to be an Israeli is quite as difficult as to be a Diaspora Jew; and his preoccupation with his parents, in the poems, means that he assumes the burdens and dilemmas of both."
Leon Wieseltier wrote: "Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Yehuda Amichai is his composure. From a life cluttered with ancient torments, with the collective memory of his people's pains and the personal recollection of his own, he calmly extracts the essences, and leaves the rest for laughter. These are elementary poems by an elementary man."
Publishers Weekly wrote: "Israel's best-known poet sifts centuries of Jewish experience in first-hand impressions of his troubled land; moreover, he makes the particular universal. In their richness of history, their ever-present political dimensions, their sharing of a common frame of reference with their audience, these poems are miles above almost anything in contemporary American verse."
No Man's Land [Zavit-1962]
Journey to Ninveh [Habimah-1964]
Books in Translation
Akhziv, Caesarea and One Love Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1996
Amen New York, Harper & Row, 1977, Minneapolis, Milkweed Editions, 1977, New York, Oxford University Press, 1978
Even a fist was once an open palm with fingers, New York, Harper Perennial, 1991
Great tranquillity: questions and answers , New York, Harper & Row, 1983, New York, Sheep Meadow, 1997
Love poems, Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1981, New York, Harper & Row, 1981
More love poems, Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1994
Poems, New York, Harper & Row, 1969
Poems of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1987, New York, Harper & Row, 1988
Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems, New York, Sheep Meadow, 1992
Selected Poems, London, Cape Goliard, 1968, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1971, London, Scepture Press, 1979, London, Viking, 1987, London, Penguin Books, 1988, Huntington Woods, Landmarks Press, 1994
Songs of Jerusalem and Myself, New York, Harper & Row, 1973
The early books of Yehuda Amichai, Riverdale-on-Hudson, Sheep Meadow Press, 1988
The selected poetry of Yehuda Amichai, New York, Harper & Row, 1986, Toronto, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1986, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996
Time, London, Oxford University Press, 1979, New York, Harper & Row, 1979
Travels of a Latter-day Benjamin of Tudela, London, Menard, 1977, Missouri , Webster Review,1977, New York, Sheep Meadow Press, 1986, Toronto, Exile Editions, 1986
Yehuda Amichai : A life of poetry, 1948-1994, New York, HarperCollins, 1994, New York, HarperPerennial, 1995
Open eyed land - Landschaft offenen auges, (English German and Hebrew) - Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1992
Not of this time, not of this place, New York, Harper & Row, 1968, London, Vallentine Mitchell,1973
The world is a room and other stories, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1984
Bells and trains, Jerusalem, Kol Israel, 1962
To love in Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Kol Israel, 1984
Visit of the Queen of Sheba, Jerusalem, Kol Israel, 1984
Books Translated into Other Languages
Albanian: Tirane, Dipturia, 1997,
Arabic: Cairo, 1985,
Bulgarian: Shalom, 1997,
Catalan: Barcelona, Ayma, 1972, Barcelona, Columna, 1995,
Chinese: Beijing, China Society, 1992,
Czech: Prague, Baronet, 1998,
Dutch: Rotterdam, Stichting, 1988 (60 translations for 8 poems - in various, languages),
Estonian: Tallinn, Loomingu Raamatukogu/Perioodika, 1996,
French: Arles, Actes Sud, 1992, Arles, Actes Sud, 1985, Paris, Publications Orientalistes, 1977, Asnieres-sur-Seine, Nitabah, 1997,
German: Munich, Piper, 1988, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1998, Munich, Piper, 1988/92, Zurich, Pendo, 1998,
Gujarati (India): 1996,
Italian: Milano, Crocetti, 1993,
Japanese: Kyoto, Israeli Embassy in Japan, 1993,
Macedonian: Skopje, Kultura, 1995, , gemea pagocm, 1995
Russian: Tel Aviv, Schocken, 1990,
Serbo-Croatian: Gradina, 1996,
Spanish: Jerusalem, La Semana, 1986, Delegacion Coyoacan, Vuelta, 1990, Mexico, Vuelta, 1996, Madrid, Hiperion, 1997,
Swedish: Stockholm, Fripress, 1991, Stockholm, Coeckelbergh, 1976,
Turkish: Sür, 1997
Poems of Jerusalem, French: Paris, Eclat, 1991
The Fist Too Was Once an Open Hand with Fingers, German: Munich, Piper, 1994, Dutch: Amsterdam, Meulenhoff, 1988
In This Terrible Wind (Short stories), German: Munich, Piper, 1990
Not of This, Time, Not of This Place (novel), German: Munich, Piper, 1992, Zurich, Pendo, 1998
Now and in Other Days, Spanish: Granada, Universidad de Granada, 1994
Great Tranquillity, Dutch: Amsterdam, Meulenhoff, 1988/93
To Love in Jerusalem (Drama), French: Jerusalem, Kol Israel, 1984
The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, French: Jerusalem, Kol Israel, 1984
Poetry and Prose, German: Wurzburg, Gesellschaft fur christlich-judische zusammenarbeit, 1981
(c) Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature