Authors: Yehuda Amichai

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Israeli poet

Identity: Jewish

Author Works

Poetry:

Akshav u-ve-yamim aherim, 1955

Be-merhak shete tikvot, 1958

Shirim, 1948-1962, 1962

Akshav ba-ra’ash, 1968

Selected Poems, 1971

Ve-lo ‘al menat lizkor, 1971

Songs of Jerusalem and Myself, 1973

Me-ahore kol zel mistater osher gadol, 1974

Ha-zeman, 1978 (Time, 1979)

Shalyah gedolah, 1980 (A Great Tranquility: Questions and Answers, 1980)

Love Poems, 1981 (bilingual edition)

She’at ha-hessed, 1983

Me’adam ve-el adam tashav, 1985

Travels, 1986 (bilingual edition)

The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, 1986, revised 1996

The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai, 1988

Poems of Jerusalem: A Bilingual Edition, 1988

Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers, 1991

Nof galui ‘enayim/Open Eyed Land, 1992

Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems: A Bilingual Edition, 1992

Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994, 1994

Akhziv, Kesaryah ve-ahavah ahat, 1996

Patuah sagur patuah, 1998 (Open Closed Open: Poems, 2000)

Long Fiction:

Lo me-akshav, lo mi-kan, 1963 (Not of This Time, Not of This Place, 1968)

Mi yitneni malon, 1971

Short Fiction:

Ba-ruah ha-nora’ah ha-zot, 1961

The World Is a Room, and Other Stories, 1984

Drama:

Masa’ le-Ninveh, pb. 1962

No Man’s Land, pr. 1962

Radio Play:

Pa’amonim ve-rakavot, 1968 (pr. as Bells and Trains, 1966)

Biography

Yehuda Amichai (ah-mee-KI) is generally regarded as one of Israel’s foremost poets. He was born to a family of Orthodox Jews in Würzburg, then a Jewish center in southern Germany, and in school he first learned Hebrew as a language of prayer and study. In 1936, when Amichai was twelve, his family emigrated to Palestine. After first settling in Petach-Tikvah, a small agricultural colony, they moved a year later to Jerusalem.{$I[AN]9810001988}{$I[A]Amichai, Yehuda}{$I[geo]ISRAEL;Amichai, Yehuda}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Amichai, Yehuda}{$I[geo]JEWISH;Amichai, Yehuda}{$I[tim]1924;Amichai, Yehuda}

Yehuda Amichai

During World War II Amichai volunteered for the Jewish Brigade, a unit of the British Army. After the war he smuggled arms and Jewish refugees into Palestine as a member of the Haganah underground. In Israel’s War for Independence, beginning in 1947, Amichai served in the Palmach, a strike force of the Haganah. His Haganah and Palmach experiences are recounted in his first short-story collection, Ba-ruah ha-nora’ah ha-zot (in this terrible wind).

While in the Haganah, Amichai began reading modern English poets, especially W. H. Auden. The influence, particularly of Auden, was evident when Amichai himself started writing poems in the 1950’s. Although denying any conscious intent to initiate a new literary wave, Amichai is considered the forerunner of a movement in Hebrew poetry toward approximating the rhythms of ordinary speech and the prosaic quality of everyday language.

Amichai’s debut poetry collection, Akshav u-ve-yamim aherim (now and in other days), was awarded the Shlonski Prize. His next collection, Be-merhak shete tikvot (two hopes apart), introduced autobiographical themes that recur throughout his work. Along with love, war, and displacement, these include his ambivalent relationship with his father, with whom Amichai remained close despite having rejected orthodoxy in his adolescence. The critic Glenda Abramson declared that this work “distilled the disillusionment of an entire generation,” a reference to the first generation after the Holocaust that not only used Hebrew as a vernacular but also, having grown up in Israel and fought in its wars, lacked romanticized notions about the land.

In 1959 Amichai returned to a Würzburg devastated by war. His childhood love, a girl named Ruth, had disappeared with most of the Jewish community. This experience of loss informs the 1963 novel Not of This Time, Not of This Place, which is considered the first important Israeli novel dealing with the Holocaust. Two alternating narratives convey the alienation that characterizes much of Amichai’s work: One narrative, in the third person, focuses on Jerusalem; the other, in the first person, recounts the futile search for the world of the protagonist’s boyhood in Germany.

Amichai’s three-act play Masa’ le-Ninveh (journey to Nineveh), a parodic treatment of the biblical Jonah tale, is similarly shaped by a quest. In the style and spirit of Theater of the Absurd, it dramatically aexpresses the existential struggle to face life without illusions. For Israeli udiences in 1962 accustomed, in Abramson’s assessment, to “self-congratulatory docudramas,” Amichai’s play was an outrage. It remains significant as a link between biblical material and the theatrical avant-garde of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco.

Amichai’s writing strikingly incorporates references to religious and classical Hebrew works along with technological jargon, slogans, and popular songs and idioms. “I work with both levels, the new and the old, simultaneously,” he explained, and in this sense his writing is genuinely Jewish. In a controversial address to the 1968 Writers’ Convention in Jerusalem, Amichai, justifying his use of sacred texts for ironic purposes, stated, “Words are a living kernel, not versions and not formulas, but life.”

Forming the core of Amichai’s fourth poetry collection Akshav ba-Ra’ash (now in the noise)–and, in the opinion of many critics, of his poetry as a whole–is the semiautobiographical, fifty-seven-stanza “Mas’ot binyamin ha-aharon mi-tudela” (published in the bilingually published volume titled Travels). An epic of the inner life, comparable to T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943), the poem features as the poet’s alter ego the celebrated twelfth century Jewish traveler and chronicler Benjamin Ben Jonah of Tudela.

Amichai taught international students at the Chaim Greenberg College in Jerusalem. He also lectured at universities in the United States, Europe, and South America, and his work has been widely translated. Among his many awards are the Bialik Prize, the Shlonsky Prize, two Acum prizes, and the especially coveted Israel Prize. While his country bestowed upon him its top honors, the Nobel Prize, which many felt he rightly deserved, eluded him.

His final book of poems, Open Closed Open, is in some sense one long poem in many parts. It combines retellings of biblical stories with the personal into what poet C. K. Williams described as “an acceptance that triumphs not in the negation of doubt, but in the incorporation of doubt into an ardently comprehensive awareness” through which he expresses “a negation for every assertion, to guard against falsehood; a speculation for every supposition, to guard against self-deception; and an unaccomplished act remembered for every seemingly admirable but possibly misconceived accomplishment.”

Though he always served his country militarily when called, he came to view warfare ever more cynically and sadly. When he died, in September, 2000, his passing was particularly lamented by the peace movement in Israel and Jewish America, which had come to view him as a spokesperson. He was survived by a much-loved second wife, frequently celebrated in his poetry, along with two sons and a daughter.

BibliographyAbramson, Glenda. The Writing of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. First full-length English-language study devoted to the author. Examines Amichai’s thematic preoccupations across a variety of genres.Alter, Robert. “The Untranslatable Amichai.” Modern Hebrew Literature 13 (Fall/Winter, 1994). A clear, succinct discussion of the problems of linguistic and cross-cultural translation, with attention to Hebrew writing in general and Amichai’s verse in particular. Alter, who has discussed biblical translation in earlier writings, is well equipped to elucidate the multilayered cultural heritage of Israeli poetry.Burnshaw, Stanley, T. Carmi, and Ezra Spicehandler, eds. The Hebrew Poem Itself. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965. An anthology of twentieth century Jewish poetry that provides, in addition to bilingual texts, transliterations of Hebrew poems into the Latin alphabet. A clarifying general introduction and perceptive analyses of individual poets and their verses are provided. The discussion of Amichai’s poetry by Robert Friend stresses the poet’s skill in transmuting the materials of his own life into universal statements.Cohen, Joseph. Voices of Israel: Essays and Interviews with Yehuda Amichai, A. B. Yehoshua, T. Carmi, Aharon Applefeld, and Amos Oz. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990. An examination of five “new wave” Israeli writers regarded as literary spokespersons for their nation. Both the introductory essays on the individual writers and the questions asked in their interviews highlight the special opportunities offered creative artists by the environment of Israel, a nation resurrected from antiquity and precariously situated at a crossroads of global cultures.Green, David B. “The Most Accessible Poet: Yehuda Amichai, 1924-2000.” The Jerusalem Report, October 23, 2000. An obituary and overview of the achievements of Amichai, from a respected news magazine that surveys worldwide Jewry. Replete with facts and provocative observations, Green’s article celebrates a beloved cultural hero of his nation.Kushner, Aviya. “How One Nation Mourns a Poet.” Partisan Review 68, no. 4 (Fall, 2001): 612. A remembrance, with emphasis on the nation of Israel’s grief over Amichai’s death and the impact of his poetry on that nation.Mazor, Yair. “Farewell to Arms and Sentimentality: Reflections of Israel’s Wars in Yehuda Amichai’s Poetry.” World Literature Today 60 (Winter, 1986). Considers Amichai’s poems a moral measure of Israel’s wars through the Lebanon campaign.Ramras-Rauch, Gila. “Remembering Yehuda Amichai, 1924-2000.” World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (Winter, 2001): 86. A biographical sketch as well as thematic analysis of Amichai’s poetry and its influence on other Israeli writers, by a professor of Hebrew literature.Williams, C. K. “We Cannot Be Fooled, We Can Be Fooled.” The New Republic, July 3, 2000. Ostensibly a review of Amichai’s last book published in English but actually an identification of the central themes of the poet’s career through a close reading of passages from some of his most important poems. Williams finds a clear “ethical focus” in the poet’s work and places him within the grand tradition of Western humanistic letters, even while acknowledging the Hebraic sources.
Categories: Authors