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)
Lo me-akshav, lo mi-kan, 1963 (Not of This Time, Not of This Place, 1968)
Mi yitneni malon, 1971
Ba-ruah ha-nora’ah ha-zot, 1961
The World Is a Room, and Other Stories, 1984
Masa’ le-Ninveh, pb. 1962
No Man’s Land, pr. 1962
Pa’amonim ve-rakavot, 1968 (pr. as Bells and Trains, 1966)
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.
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.