Amichai, Yehuda

▪ 2001

      Israeli poet (b. May 3, 1924, Würzburg, Ger.—d. Sept. 22, 2000, Jerusalem, Israel), wrote in Hebrew and combined the ancient Jewish poetic tradition with elements of Modernism, including colloquial language and references to various aspects of 20th-century life. He was a patriot who was sometimes critical of Israeli militarism, and he championed the individual in a collectivist society. Frequently called the national poet of Israel, he was extraordinarily popular, and his collections of poetry were best-sellers. He also published novels, plays, short stories, children's books, and essays. He was born Yehuda Pfeuffer, but his family changed its name to Amichai (Hebrew for “my people lives”) when it immigrated to Jerusalem in 1936. Amichai served in North Africa in the Jewish Brigade of the British army during World War II, and it was at this time that he first read T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden. Both had profound effects on his poetics, and he later became a friend of Auden. After the war he joined the Zionist underground, and he fought in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, and 1973. In the mid-1950s he graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he studied literature and biblical studies and where he later taught. His first collection of poetry, Akhshav u-ve-yamim aherim (“Now and in Other Days”), was published in 1955. Some critics considered his final collection, Patuah sagur patuah (1998; Open Closed Open, 2000), to be his masterpiece. Amichai's works were translated into many other languages, often through the influence of poet friends such as Ted Hughes who were admirers of his work, and he traveled widely to give readings, particularly in the U.S. He received a number of honours and was often nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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▪ Israeli author
born May 3, 1924, Würzburg, Germany
died September 22, 2000, Jerusalem, Israel

      Israeli writer who is best known for his poetry.

      Amichai and his Orthodox Jewish family immigrated to Palestine in 1936. During World War II he served in the British army, but he later fought the British as a guerrilla prior to the formation of Israel; he also was involved in the Arab-Israeli conflicts of 1956 and 1973. Amichai attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and taught for several years at secondary schools.

      Amichai's poetry reflects his total commitment to the state of Israel, and from his first collection, Akhshav u-ve-yamim aḥerim (1955; “Now and in Other Days”), he employed biblical images and Jewish history. He also compared modern times with ancient, heroic ages and sought to expand biblical language in order to encompass contemporary phenomena. In the 1970s he introduced sexuality as a subject in his poems. With Amen (1977) he garnered a wider audience through the translation of his poems into English by Ted Hughes (Hughes, Ted). Influenced by modern American and English poets, including W.H. Auden, Amichai was noted for his lyrical use of everyday language and the simplicity of his work. The English-language collection The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1986) contains selections from his many publications in Hebrew.

      In addition to short stories and plays, Amichai also wrote novels, of which the best known is Lo me-achshav, lo mi-kan (1963; Not of This Time, Not of This Place), about the quest for identity of a Jewish immigrant to Israel. Gam ha-ʾegrof hayah paʿam yad petuḥah (1989; Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers) is a selection of his poetry in translation. Open Closed Open (2000) continued to explore the Israeli experience.

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Universalium. 2010.

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