January 10, 2015

Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai [Ludwig Pfeuffer] [Israel]

Yehuda Amichai (Ludwig Pfeuffer) was born in Würzburg Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish family, on May 3, 1924. At the age of 11 Amichai immigrated with his family to Petah Tikva in Mandate Palestine in 1935, moving to Jerusalem in 1936.

     The young poet attended a religious high school in Jerusalem, Ma’aleh. He served as a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the defense force of the Jewish community before volunteering in World War II as a member of the British Army, and later served in the Negev on the southern front in the Israeli War of Independence.
     After being discharged from the British Army in 1946, Amichai became a student at the David Yellin Teachers College in Jerusalem, becoming a teacher in Haifa. After the War of Independence, he studied Bible and Hebrew Literature at the University of Jerusalem, encouraged by one of his professors to pursue poetry. In 1955 he published is first book of poetry, Akhshav uva-yamin ha-aherim (1955, Now and in Other Days). 
    In 1956 Amichai once again went to war, serving in the Sinai War. We would later serve also in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
     He published his first novel in 1963, Not of This Time, Not of This Place, which concerns a young man, like himself, who returns to Germany and tries to make sense of the Holocaust. His second work of fiction, Mi Yiteni Malon concerns an Israeli poet living in New York, and was published while the author was serving as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
     Amichai wrote numerous books of poetry, insisting that all of his work was political:

                  This is because real poems deal with a human
                  response to reality, and politics is part of reality,
                  history in the making. Even if a poet writes about
                  sitting in a glass house drinking tea, it reflects

Critics have noted that Amichai’s early poems bear some of the influences of Dylan Thomas and W. H. Auden, but Rainer Maria Rilke later became a great force on his writing. Yet, his poetry, influenced as it is by both German and Hebrew, uses the expressive sounds of Hebrew, playing with Hebrew puns and invented words, and his work is recognized as standing alone in its expression.
     Amichai’s poetry has been acclaimed worldwide, and he has won numerous awards throughout his long career. Among his honors was the Brenner Prize in 1969, the Bialik Prize for Literature (1976), the Würzburg Prize for Culture (1981), the Israel Prize for Hebrew Poetry (1982), the Agnon Prize (1986), the Malraux Prize of the International Book Fair in France (1994), the Literary Lion Award in New York (1994), the Norwegian Bjørnson Poetry Award (1996), and others. Nearly all of his work has been translated into English.
     Amichai died of cancer, at the age of 76, in 2000.


Akhshav uva-yamin ha-aherim (Tel-Aviv, 1955); Ba-ginah he-tsiburit (Jerusalem, Akhshav, 1958); Be-merhak shete tikvot (Tel-Aviv, 1958); Shirim, 1948-1962 (Jerusalem: Shoken, 1962-63); Be-lo ‘al menat li-zekor (1971); Me-ahore kol zeh mistater osher gado (Jerusalem: Shoken, 1974)


Selected Poems, trans. by Assia Gutmann (New York: Cape Goliard Press, 1968 / reprinted as Poems (New York: Harper, 1969); Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai, trans by Assia Gutmann, Harold Schimmel, and Ted Hughes (London: Penguin, 1971 / reprinted as The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1968); Songs of Jerusalem and Myself, trans. by Harold Schimmel (New York: Harper, 1973); Travels of a Latter-Day Benjamin of Tudela, trans. by Ruth Nevo (Toronto, Canada: House of Exile, 1976); Amen, trans. by Amichai and Ted Hughes (New York: Harper, 1977); On New Year’s Day, Next to a House Being Built (Knotting, England: Sceptre Press, 1979); Time: Poems (New York: Harper, 1979); Love Poems, trans. by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt (New York: Harper, 1981); Travels, trans. by Ruth Nevo (Philadelphia: Sheep Meadow Press, 1986); The Selected Poetry of Yehudah Amichai, trans. by Mitchell and Chana Bloch (New York: Haprer, 1986 / revised and expanded ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Poems of Jerusalem (New York: Harper, 1986); Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers: Recent Poems, trans. by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav (New York: HaperCollins, 1991); Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1992); I am Sitting Here Now (Huntington Woods, Michigan: Land Marks Press, 1994); Poems: English and Hebrew (Jerusalem: Shoken, 1994); Yehuda Amachai: A Life of Poetry, 1948-1994, trans. by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav (New York: HarperCollins, 1994); The Great Tranquility: Questions and Answers, trans. by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt (Riverdale-on-Hudson, New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1997); Exile at Home (with photographs by Frederic Brenner) (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998); Open Close Open: Poems, trans by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000)

For a large selection of poems by Yehuda Amichai, go here:

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