yehuda Amichai. Courtesy Poetry and Literature.

Yehuda Amichai
Born May 3, 1924(1924-Template:MONTHNUMBER-03)
Würzburg, Germany
Died September 22, 2000(2000-Template:MONTHNUMBER-22) (aged 76)

Yehuda Amichai (May 3, 1924 September 22, 2000) was an Israeli Hebrew poet. Amichai is considered by many, both in Israel and internationally, as Israel's greatest modern poet.[1] He was one of the first to write in colloquial Hebrew.[2]


Amichai was born Ludwig Pfeuffer in Würzburg, Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish family, and was raised speaking both Hebrew and German.[3]

Amichai immigrated with his family at the age of 11 to Petah Tikva in Mandate Palestine in 1935, moving to Jerusalem in 1936.[4] He attended Ma'aleh, a religious high school in Jerusalem. He was a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah, the defense force of the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine. As a young man he volunteered and fought in World War II as a member of the British Army, and in the Negev on the southern front in the Israeli War of Independence.[4]

After discharge from the British Army in 1946, Amichai was a student at David Yellin Teachers College in Jerusalem, and became a teacher in Haifa. After the War of Independence, Amichai studied Bible and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Encouraged by one of his professors at Hebrew University, he published his first book of poetry, Now and in Other Days, in 1955.[5]

In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War.[6] Amichai published his first novel, Not of This Time, Not of This Place, in 1963. It was about a young Israeli who was born in Germany, and after World War II, and the war of Independence in Israel, he visits his hometown in Germany,recalls his childhood, trying to make sense of the world that created the Holocaust. His second novel, Mi Yitneni Malon, about an Israeli poet living in New York, was published in 1971 while Amichai was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a poet in residence at New York University in 1987.[7] For many years he taught literature in an Israeli seminar for teachers, and at the Hebrew University to students from abroad.[8]

Amichai was married twice. First to Tamar Horn, with whom he had one son, and then to Chana Sokolov; they had one son and one daughter. His two sons were Ron and David, and his daughter was Emmanuella.[9]

He died of cancer in 2000, at age 76.

Writing Edit

Amichai's poetry deals with issues of day-to-day life, and with philosophical issues of the meaning of life and death. His work is characterized by gentle irony and original, often surprising imagery. Like many secular Israeli poets, he struggles with religious faith. His poems are full of references to God and the religious experience.,[10] He was described as a philosopher-poet in search of a post-theological humanism.[11] Amichai has been credited with a "rare ability for transforming the personal, even private, love situation, with all its joys and agonies, into everybody's experience, making his own time and place general."[12]

Some of his imagery was accused of being sacrilegious.[13] In his poem "And this is Your Glory" (Vehi Tehilatekha), for example, God is sprawled under the globe like a mechanic under a car, futilely trying to repair it. In the poem "Gods Change, Prayers Stay the Same" (Elim Mithalfim, ha-Tfillot Nisharot la-Ad), God is a portrayed as a tour guide or magician.[8]

Amichai's poem Memorial Day for the War Dead was set to music for solo voices, chorus and orchestra in Mohammed Fairouz's Third Symphony.[14] In an interview published in the American Poetry Review, Amichai spoke about his command of Hebrew:

"I grew up in a very religious household... So the prayers, the language of prayer itself became a kind of natural language for me... I don't try—like sometimes poets do—to 'enrich' poetry by getting more cultural material or more ethnic material into it. It comes very naturally."[12]
Robert Alter describes Amichai's poetry as a "play of sound." He "builds a strong momentum that moves in free association from word to word, the sounds virtually generating the words that follow in the syntactic chain through phonetic kinship."[15]

Amichai's work was popular in English translation, but admirers of his poetry in the original Hebrew claim his innovative use of the language is lost in translation. Subtle layers of meaning achieved using an ancient word rather than its modern synonym to impart a biblical connotation cannot always be conveyed. In Amichai's love poem In the Middle of This Century, for instance, the English translation reads: "the linsey-woolsey of our being together." The Hebrew term, shatnez, refers to the biblical taboo on interweaving linen and wool, which a Hebrew reader would grasp as an image of forbidden union.[16]

Literary scholar Boaz Arpaly wrote about the influence of biography on Amichai's poetry: "Literary criticism made the determination long ago that despite the autobiographical character of Amichai's poetry, the individual depicted in it is the typical Israeli everyman, and even in a wider sense, the individual as an individual of the twentieth century (a poetics that interweaves the private with the typically generic)... Amichai routinely conflates biographical details from different times into one poetic framework, and exploits drafts and poetic ideas that were recorded in different periods, for a poem that would be written years later".[17]

Almost every poem by Amichai is a statement about the general human condition and Amichai, in a certain sense, is always a philosophical poet".[18]

He changed his name to Yehuda Amichai("my people lives") around 1946. In her biography of Amichai,[19] literary critic Nili Scharf Gold writes that the idea for the name change, as well as the name "Amichai", came from his girlfriend, Ruth Herrmann, who moved to the United States and then married Eric Zielenziger.[20] Contrary to Gold's claim, Amichai said in an interview that it was his idea to choose the name Amichai: " was common at that time to change (foreign) names into Hebrew names... 'Amichai' was a right name, because it was Socialist, Zionist and optimistic."[21]

The only influence this relationship had on his poetry is on one poem "The Rustle of History’s Wings, As They Used to Say" in which he wrote:

For five shillings I exchanged the exile name of my fathers for a proud Hebrew name that suited hers. That whore ran off to America and married a man, a spice dealer, pepper, cinnamon, and cardamom, leaving me with my new name and with the war.

Gold also believes that a childhood trauma in Germany had an impact on Amichai's later poetry. She claims in her book that Amichai had an argument with a childhood friend, Ruth Hanover, which led to her cycling home angrily. Ruth was caught in a traffic accident, as a result of which she had to have a leg amputated, and Gold claims that Amichai felt guilt and responsibility.[20] Ruth later died in the Holocaust. Amichai occasionally referred to her in his poems as "Little Ruth". However, in Amichai's account of this episode in his journal, the accident happened some days after his dispute with Little Ruth, and there was no connection between the dispute and the accident:

"I remember that in 1934 the little Ruth accident happened. Days before, we argued a little because I easily gave up the leading part of Yehuda Maccabi in the school show and the son of the headmaster got it. She argued that I had to fight more and not to give up immediately".[22]
In an interview Amichai said: "Little Ruth is my Anne Frank", "I found out that she (Little Ruth) was in the last transport in 1944. This knowledge goes with me all the time, not because of guilt."[21] "If there is any guilty feeling it's like the guilt that soldiers feel when they survive the battle while their friends were killed".[22]

Robert Alter wrote about Gold's contention: "Again and again Gold asks why Amichai did not represent his German childhood in his poetry, except fragmentarily and obliquely. The inconvenient fact that his major novel, Not of This time, Not of This Place, devotes elaborate attention to Wurzburg (which is given the fictional name Weinburg) is not allowed to trouble Gold's thesis of suppression, because the book is fiction, not poetry, and hence is thought somehow to belong to a different category in regard to the writer's relation to his early years. But Gold's notion of Amichai's 'poetics of camouflage' rests on an entirely unexamined assumption- that it is the task of the poet to represent his life directly and in full…"[23]

Boaz Arpaly wrote: "Amichai did not hide in his poetry the fact that he was an immigrant and a son of immigrants, but he chose to tell the story of his childhood in his hometown, in his novel Not Of This Time, Not of This Place, and like any other writer, he decided which material of his life will become material to his poetry.. ".

Did Amichai want to become a national poet?... his poetry embodied a silent but piercing revolution against the social and political institutions that enslave the life and happiness of the individual for their need – He should bother so much to build for himself the mythology of a national poet? All the things that Gold thinks he was hiding were not in any contrast to the unique "nationality" embodied in his poetry. I did not find in Gold's book an explanation to the concept 'national poet' but in the first place, this concept appears in her book she is pointing to my article (1997) that says: "of all the poets who began to at the time of Amichai, or in later years, since Alterman there was not a poet more popular than Amichai. In this he is unique. He is probably the only canonic poet read by so many, also by people that do not belong to the Literary Community. In this matter he has no rivals. From this aspect, at least, he may be considered a national poet, a title that does not suite him from any other point of view..." Gold's use of that title is not clear and not responsible."[24][25]

Critical acclaim Edit

Amichai's poetry first appeared in English in the first issue of Modern Poetry in translation edited by Daniel Weissbort and Ted Hughes in 1965. In 1966 he appeared at the Spoleto poetry festvial with Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, Pablo Neruda and others. In 1968, he appeared at the London Poetry Festival. His first book in English, Selected Poems (1968), was translated by Assia Hughes, (Hughes' lover and mother to his daughter Shura).[26] Referring to him as "the great Israeli poet," Jonathan Wilson wrote in The New York Times that he "is one of very few contemporary poets to have reached a broad cross-section without compromising his art. He was loved by his readers worldwide...perhaps only as the Russians loved their poets in the early part of the last century. It is not hard to see why. Amichai's poems are easy on the surface and yet profound: humorous, ironic and yet full of passion, secular but God-engaged, allusive but accessible, charged with metaphor and yet remarkably concrete. Most of all, they are, like the speaking persona in his Letter of Recommendation, full of love: "Oh, touch me, touch me, you good woman! / This is not a scar you feel under my shirt. / It is a letter of recommendation, folded, / from my father: / 'He is still a good boy and full of love.' "[27]

In the Times Literary Supplement, Ted Hughes wrote: "I've become more than ever convinced that Amichai is one of the biggest, most essential, most durable poetic voices of this past century – one of the most intimate, alive and human, wise, humorous, true, loving, inwardly free and resourceful, at home in every human situation. One of the real treasures."(Citation needed)

Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who attended a reading by Amichai at Princeton University, said that Amichai had moved him.[28] Foer's wife, author Nicole Krauss, said that her novel The History of Love was inspired by Amichai's poems.(Citation needed)

Amichai's poetry has been translated into 40 languages.[29]


Amichai was awarded the 1969 Brenner Prize, 1976 Bialik Prize, and 1982 Israel Prize.

Amichai received an Honor Citation from Assiut University, Egypt, and numerous honorary doctorates. He became an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1986), and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991).[30] His work is included in the "100 Greatest Works of Modern Jewish Literature" (2001), and in a great number of international anthologies such as:"Poems for the Millennium"by J.Rothenberg and P.Joris ,and "100great Poems of the 20th Century" by Mark Strand. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize several times, but never won.[29] Tufts University English professor Jonathan Wilson wrote, "He should have won the Nobel Prize in any of the last 20 years, but he knew that as far as the Scandinavian judges were concerned, and whatever his personal politics, which were indubitably on the dovish side, he came from the wrong side of the stockade."[27]

In 2005, he was voted the 82nd-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[31]

Awards Edit

  • 1957 – Shlonsky Prize
  • 1969 – Brenner Prize
  • 1976 – Bialik Prize for literature (co-recipient with essayist Yeshurun Keshet)[32]
  • 1981 – Wurzburg's Prize for Culture (Germany)
  • 1982 – Israel Prize for Hebrew poetry.[33][34] The prize citation read, in part: "Through his synthesis of the poetic with the everyday, Yehuda Amichai effected a revolutionary change in both the subject matter and the language of poetry."[29]
  • 1986 – Agnon Prize
  • 1994 – Malraux Prize: International Book Fair (France)
  • 1994 – Literary Lion Award (New York)
  • 1995 – Macedonia`s Golden Wreath Award: International Poetry Festival
  • 1996 – Norwegian Bjornson Poetry Award

Amichai left his archives to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.[29]

Publications (in English) Edit


  • Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (edited & translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell). New York: Harper & Row, 1986; Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996.
  • A Life of Poetry, 1948–1994 (selected & translated by Benjamin & Barbara Harshav). New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Amen (ranslated by the author and Ted Hughes). New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers: Recent poems (selected & translated by Barbara & Benjamin Harshav). New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
  • Exile at Home. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.
  • Great Tranquility: Questions and answers (translated by Glenda Abramson & Tudor Parfitt). New York: Harper & Row, 1983.
  • Love Poems: A bilingual edition. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
  • Not of this Time, Not of this Place (translated by Shlomo Katz). New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
  • On New Year’s Day, Next to a House Being Built: A poem. Knotting [England]: Sceptre Press, 1979.
  • Open Closed Open: Poems (translated by Chana Bloch & Chana Kronfeld). New York: Harcourt, 2000.
  • Poems of Jerusalem: A bilingual edition. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
  • Selected Poems (translated by Assia Gutmann). London: Cape Goliard Press, 1968.
  • Selected Poems (translated by Assia Gutmann & Harold Schimmel with Ted Hughes). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1971.
  • Selected Poems (edited by Ted Hughes & Daniel Weissbort). London: Faber, 2000.
  • Songs of Jerusalem and Myself (translated by Harold Schimmel. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • Time (translated by Amichai with Ted Hughes). New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
  • Travels (translated by Ruth Nevo). Toronto: Exile Editions, 1986.
  • Travels of a Latter-Day Benjamin of Tudela (translated by Ruth Nevo). Missouri: Webster Review, 1977.


Short fictionEdit

  • The World Is a Room, and other stories (translated by Elinor Grumet). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1984.

Collected editionsEdit

The Early Books of Yehuda Amichai (translated by Harold Schimmel). Riverside-on-Hudson, NY: Sheep Meadow Press, 1988.

See also Edit

Poetry Spots Yehuda Amachai reads "Poem Without An End"

Poetry Spots Yehuda Amachai reads "Poem Without An End"

References Edit


  1. Yehuda Amichai criticism
  2. Books and Writers: Yehuda Amichai
  3. Love, War and History: Israel's Yehuda Amichai, All Things Considered, April 22, 2007
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gallery of People, Biographies, Yehuda Amichai
  5. Yehuda Amichai papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
  6. Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s national poet, dies at 76
  7. Books and writers: Yehuda Amichai
  8. 8.0 8.1 Religious metaphor and its denial in the poetry of Yehuda Amichai
  9. Poet of Israel's Soul, My Jewish Learning
  10. Does David still play before you?: Israeli poetry and the Bible, David C. Jacobson
  11. Chana Kronfeld, The Wisdom of Camouflage" Prooftext 10' 1990 pp469-
  12. 12.0 12.1 Poetry Foundation: Yehuda Amichai
  13. Sacrilegious Imagery in Yehuda Amichai's Poetry, Yoseph Milman, 1995, Association for Jewish Studies
  14. Moore, Thomas (September 12, 2010), Mohammed Fairouz: An Interview, Opera Today, retrieved 2011-04-19
  15. Robert Alter, "Only a Man" The New Republic, December 31, 2008
  16. Yehuda Amichai biography
  17. Boaz Arpaly, Yehuda Amichai- the making of Israel's national poet, Shofar, winter 2010 vol.28 No.2
  18. Boaz Arpali: "The Flowers and the Urn" Amichai's Poetry – Structure, Meaning, Poetics, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1986
  19. Nili Scharf Gold: Yehuda Amichai, The Making of Israel’s National Poet, Brandeis University Press
  20. 20.0 20.1 Jewish Quarterly: Nili Scharf Gold: Yehuda Amichai, The Making of Israel’s National Poet, review by Elaine Feinstein
  21. 21.0 21.1 Dan Omer: In This Burning Country, An Interview with Amichai, Proza 1978
  22. 22.0 22.1 Amichai Yehuda, Working Journal, 11.12. 1990, Beinecke Library, Yale University, Gen.Mss 572/
  23. Alter, Robert (December 31, 2008), "Only A Man The New Republic.
  24. Boaz Arpaly, "Patuach Patuac," Haaretz, January 16, 2009
  25. Boaz Arpaly, Shofar, Winter 2010, Vol.28 N0.2
  26. Koren, Yehuda and Negev, Eilat A lover of Unreason: the Life and Tragic Death of Assia Wevill, Robson Books, London 2006
  27. 27.0 27.1 The God of Small Things, Jonathan Wilson, The New York Times, December 10, 2000
  28. Creative writing program produces aspiring writers, The Daily Princetonian, December 6, 2004
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 29.3 Yehuda Amichai (1924–2000) (.doc file)
  30. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  31. גיא בניוביץ' (June 20, 1995). "הישראלי מספר 1: יצחק רבין – תרבות ובידור". Ynet.,7340,L-3083171,00.html. Retrieved July 10, 2011. 
  32. "List of Bialik Prize recipients 1933–2004 (in Hebrew), Tel Aviv Municipality website". 
  33. "Israel Prize Official Site – Recipients in 1982 (in Hebrew)". 
  34. A Touch of Grace – Yehuda Amichai

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