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Yehuda Amichai
Israeli poet

Yehuda Amichai

Yehuda Amichai
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Israeli poet
Was Writer Poet Novelist Educator
From Germany Israel
Type Academia Literature
Gender male
Birth 3 May 1924, Würzburg
Death 22 September 2000, Jerusalem (aged 76 years)
Star sign Taurus
Yehuda Amichai
The details (from wikipedia)


Yehuda Amichai (Hebrew: יהודה עמיחי‎‎; ‎3 May 1924 – 22 September 2000) was an Israeli poet. Amichai is considered by many, both in Israel and internationally, as Israel's greatest modern poet. He was also one of the first to write in colloquial Hebrew.

Yehuda Amichai [was] for generations the most prominent poet in Israel, and one of the leading figures in world poetry since the mid-1960s.
(The Times, London, Oct. 2000)

He was awarded the 1957 Shlonsky Prize, the 1969 Brenner Prize, 1976 Bialik Prize, and 1982 Israel Prize. He also won international poetry prizes: 1994 – Malraux Prize: International Book Fair (France), 1995 – Macedonia`s Golden Wreath Award: International Poetry Festival, and more.


Yehuda Amichai was born in Würzburg, Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish family, and was raised speaking both Hebrew and German, his German name was Ludwig Pfeuffer.

Amichai immigrated with his family at the age of 11 to Petah Tikva in Mandate Palestine in 1935, moving to Jerusalem in 1936. 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.

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.

In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War. 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. For many years he taught literature in an Israeli seminar for teachers, and at the Hebrew University to students from abroad.

Amichai was invited in 1994 by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to read from his poems at the ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.

"God has pity on kindergarten children" was one of the poems he read. This poem is inscribed on a wall in the Rabin Museum in Tel-Aviv. There are Streets on his name in cities in Israel, and also one in Wurzburg.

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.

He died of cancer in 2000, at age 76.


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. He was described as a philosopher-poet in search of a post-theological humanism.

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."

Some of his imagery was accused of being sacrilegious. 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.

Many of Amichai's poems were set to music in Israel and in other countries. Among them: the poem Memorial Day for the War Dead was set to music for solo voices, chorus and orchestra in Mohammed Fairouz's Third Symphony.

Other poems were set by the composers Elizabeth A lexander "Even a fist was once an open palm and fingers", David Froom, Mate as Pintscher, Jan Dušek, Benjamin Wallfisch, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Maya Beiser, Elizabeth Swedos, Daniel Asia and more.

Language and poetic style

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."

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." 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, shaatnez, refers to the biblical taboo on interweaving linen and wool, which a Hebrew reader would grasp as an image of forbidden union.

Literary work

Amichai traced his beginnings as a poetry lover to when he was stationed with the British army in Egypt. There he happened to find an anthology of modern British poetry, and the works of Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden. That book inspired his first thoughts about becoming a writer.

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".

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

He changed his name to Yehuda Amichai ("my people lives") around 1946. In her biography of Amichai, 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. Contrary to Gold's claim, Amichai said in an interview that it was his idea to choose the name Amichai: "...it was common at that time to change (foreign) names into Hebrew names... 'Amichai' was a right name, because it was Socialist, Zionist and optimistic."

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 affected 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. 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".

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." "If there is any guilty feeling it's like the guilt that soldiers feel when they survive the battle while their friends were killed".

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..." However, Gold argued that Amichai only wrote extensively about Wuerzburg in his novel because it was not his primary genre and therefore would be read by fewer people. Moreover, "Not of This Time, Not of This Place" does not hide the fact that it is based on Amichai's autobiography, including both his trip to his former hometown (and, explicitly, his search for closure about Little Ruth) and his affair with an American woman.

Contrary to Gold argument, Amichi wrote many plays and radio plays. a book of short stories, a second novel and he never said or wrote in any interview that he hoped that fewer people would read his prose. 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."

Critical acclaim

Amichai poetry in English appeared 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 festival 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 Guttman, (Hughes' lover and mother to his daughter Shura). 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.' "

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."

In the New-Republic,3 July 2000, C.K.Williams wrote:"If there really is such a thing as wisdom,it might well reside in the character that a master such as Amichai can fashion for himself,and so for us"

In The American Poetry Review, in May-June 2016, David Biespiel wrote: "He translates the hardness of existence into new tenderness; tenderness into spiritual wonder that is meant to quiet outrage; and outrage into a mixture of worry and love and warmth...He is one of the great joyful lamenters of all time, endlessly documenting his anguish, throbbing pains, mistaken dreams, shortages of faith, abundances of ecstatic loves, and humiliations. And, like everyone else, he wants everything both ways. In particular, he wants to be a lover and a loner, a guy in the street and an intellectual, believer and infidel, while insisting that all manifestations of war against the human spirit be mercilessly squashed."

  • Paul Celan wrote to Amichai "What really belongs to you in your poems comes through with the most convincing, most conspicuous force. You are the poem you write, the poem you write is ... you yourself.--Right away I loaned the English selection of your work to my friend Andre du Bouchet, who writes poems as well, and to my great joy what had struck me came through to him too. Now this book is going round to other contributors and editors of the magazine L'Ephemere (I'm also among them). We'd be delighted to bring out a book of yours in French translation"

Letter to Amichai, 7 November 1969

Octavio Paz :"He is one of our great poets, a very accessible one. Once one has read his poems, one can never forget them- there can be so much life in sixteen lines. Yehuda Amichai is a master."

Antony Hecht :"It is as deeply spiritual a poem as any I have read in modern times, not excluding Eliot’s Four Quartets, or anything to be found in the works of professional religionists. It is an incomparable triumph. Be immediately assured that this does not mean devoid of humor, or without a rich sense of comedy."

“not only superb, but would, all by itself, have merited a Nobel Prize.”

Author Nicole Krauss has said that she was affected by Amichai from a young age.

Amichai's poetry has been translated into 40 languages.

Awards and honours

  • 1957 – Shlonsky Prize
  • 1969 – Brenner Prize
  • 1976 – Bialik Prize for literature (co-recipient with essayist Yeshurun Keshet)
  • 1981 – Wurzburg's Prize for Culture (Germany)
  • 1982 – Israel Prize for Hebrew poetry. 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."
  • 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 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). 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. 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."

Amichai Archive

Amichai sold his archive for over $200,000 to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. The archive contains 1,500 letters received from the early 1960s to the early 1990s from dozens of Israeli writers, poets, intellectuals and politicians. Overseas correspondence includes letters from Ted Hughes, Arthur Miller, Erica Jong, Paul Celan and many others. The archive also includes dozens of unpublished poems, stories and plays; 50 notebooks and notepads with 1,500 pages of notes, poems, thoughts and drafts from the 1950s onward, and the poet's diaries, which he kept for 40 years. According to Moshe Mossek, former head of the Israel State Archive, these materials offer priceless data about Amichai’s life and work.

In the Hebrew edition of 19 Oct.2012 the Haartz editorial board apologized for the incorrect facts that were published in Mr. Mosek article

Works in other languages


  • The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Yehuda Amichai; Edited by Robert Alter. New York: FSG, 2015.
  • A Life of Poetry, 1948–1994. Selected and translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • Amen. Translated by the author and Ted Hughes. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers: Recent Poems. Selected and translated by Barbara and Benjamin Harshav. New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
  • Exile at Home. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.
  • Great Tranquility: Questions and Answers. Translated by Glenda Abramson and Tudor Parfitt. New York: Harper & Row, 1983.
  • Killing Him: A Radio Play. Translated by Adam Seelig and Hadar Makov-Hasson. Chicago: Poetry Magazine, July–August 2008.
  • 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 and Chana Kronfeld. New York: Harcourt, 2000. (Shortlisted for the 2001 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • 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 and Harold Schimmel with the collaboration of Ted Hughes. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971.
  • Selected Poems. Edited by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort. London: Faber & Faber, 2000.
  • Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Edited and translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell. New York: Harper & Row, 1986. Newly revised and expanded edition: Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Songs of Jerusalem and Myself. Translated by Harold Schimmel. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
  • Time. Translated by the author 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.
  • The World Is a Room and Other Stories. Translated by Elinor Grumet. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1984.
  • Jerusalem 1967-1990, London, poem by Yehuda Amichai, collaboration with artist Maty Grunberg, portfolio of 56 woodcuts, limited edition.


Many of Amichai's poems have been translated into Nepali.

  • Some of his poems translated in Nepali are, "My Father" as "MERA BAA", "Forgetting Something" as "BIRSANU", "Do not Accept" as "SWEEKAR NAGARA", and "A Jewish Cemetery in Germany" as "JARMANIKO YAHUDI CHIHANGHRI" . These are translated by prominent Nepali poet and translator Suman Pokhrel and are collected in an anthology entitled MANPAREKA KEHI KAVITA.

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