Amichai, Yehuda (Vol. 116)
Yehuda Amichai 1924–
German-born Israeli poet, novelist, short story writer, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Amichai's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 9, 22, and 57.
An influential member of Israel's first literary generation, Amichai synthesizes in his poetry the biblical rhythms and imagery of ancient Hebrew with modern Hebraic colloquialisms to try to make sense of the dislocation and alienation experienced by many Jews living in war-torn Israel. Many critics describe Amichai's early work as intensely intellectual and reminiscent of the metaphysical verse of John Donne, George Herbert, and W. H. Auden. In his later work Amichai incorporates sensual imagery and vernacular cadences in poems whose simplicity and wry humor belies their existential, often tragic, undertones.
Amichai was born in Würzburg, Germany, in 1924. When he was twelve, he emigrated with his parents to Israel. His family avoided the horrors of Nazi Germany, but Amichai lost many friends and relatives in concentration camps, a loss that has haunted him ever since. He served in the British Army in World War II and later with Israeli defense forces during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. These experiences, along with witnessing Israel's other wars of the mid-twentieth century, strongly influenced Amichai's work; many of his poems and short stories revolve around themes associated with war and its aftermath.
The turbulence of living in a society that is frequently at war has had a major impact on Amichai's world-view. In his poems dealing with sexual love, as well those dealing with war, he depicts human beings as ultimately separate and alienated from each other, unable to connect except for the briefest periods of time. Often he uses ironic humor both to distance himself from his serious themes of emotional and societal loneliness, and to emphasize in a subtle manner the mundane tragedies of the human experience. His poetry is frequently mistaken as lacking a comprehensive philosophical system because of his seemingly simple observations and syntax. But it is his ability to infuse ordinary moments of daily life with extraordinary metaphysical meaning that first drew international attention to his work. Amichai first gained the notice of British and American audiences with the English translations of Amen (1977) and Time (1978), two volumes of poetry Amichai translated with the English poet Ted Hughes. Both books address the spiritual and political concerns of the Jewish people. Amichai's preoccupation with history and its impact on individual lives is evident in much of his poetry and in his novel, Lo me-'akhshav, Lo mi-kan (1963; Not of This Time, Not of This Place), in which a Jewish archeologist is torn between returning to the German town where he grew up and staying in Jerusalem to carry out his extramarital affair. The novel is generally considered a seminal work of Israeli Holocaust literature, investigating two options for living with the knowledge of Nazi genocide: with the past or denying it. In Great Tranquillity: Questions and Answers (1983), Amichai addressed Israel's troubled political history and its paradoxical desert landscape, which is both arid and rich with promise. "Travels of the Last Benjamin of Tudela" is a sequence of fifty-seven poems in which Amichai analyzes his Jewish identity by comparing his life story with legends of a wandering medieval rabbi. Published separately in book-length form as Travels in 1986, this work also appears in The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai (1986), a compilation of verse from ten volumes published over a thirty-year period. Amichai's short story collection, The World Is a Room, and Other Stories (1985), expands upon many of his verse themes. While some critics contend that the stories are unstructured and overburdened with poetic diction, others admire Amichai's startling metaphors and sensuous imagery. In Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers (1991), Amichai again drew from biblical stories to illustrate the individual's struggle with history. Yehuda Amichai, A Life of Poetry: 1948–1994 (1994) is a comprehensive collection containing representative verse from the time of the Arab-Israeli war through contemporary works translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshov.
Amichai is generally considered one of the most important poets of his generation of Israeli writers, focusing as he does on Israelis' painful and often ambivalent feelings about their post-Holocaust and post-liberation existence. His poetry is widely praised by an international audience for its spare, honest exploration of emotions many people find too painful to face. But Amichai is not without his detractors. Some critics find his work simplistic and missing a crucial core philosophy, since Amichai, like many of his peers, does not adhere to an orthodox ideology. Nonetheless, Amichai's work is admired overall for the strong, if sometimes sorrowful and confused, passion it displays.
Akhshav uba-yamin na-aherim [Now and In Other Days] (poetry) 1955
Ba-ginah ha-tsiburit (poetry) 1958
Be-merhak shete tikrot (poetry) 1958
Be-ruah ha-nora'ah ha-zot (short stories) 1961
Masa' le-Ninveh (drama) 1962
Shirim, 1948–1962 (poetry) 1962
Lo me-'akhshav, Lo mi-kan [Not of This Time, Not of This Place] (novel) 1963
Selected Poems (poetry) 1968
Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai (poetry) 1971
Songs of Jerusalem and Myself (poetry) 1973
Amen (poetry) 1977
Time (poetry) 1978
Love Poems (poetry) 1981
Great Tranquillity: Questions and Answers (poetry) 1983
The World Is a Room, and Other Stories (short stories) 1984
The Selected Poetry of Yehudah Amichai (poetry) 1986
Travels (poetry) 1986
Poems of Jerusalem (poetry) 1988
Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers: Recent Poems (poetry) 1991
Yehuda Amichai, A Life of Poetry: 1948–1994 (poetry) 1994
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SOURCE: "Confronting the Holocaust," in After the Tradition: Essays on Modern Jewish Writing, E. P. Dutton and Co., 1969, pp. 163-80.
[In the following essay, Alter discusses three novels of the post-Holocaust period—including Amichai's Not of This Time, Not of This Place—that attempt to reconcile survivors of modern Judaism with the horrors of the Holocaust.]
Most people in our time have the face of Lot's wife, turned toward the Holocaust and yet always escaping.—Yehuda Amichai
With all the restless probing into the implications of the Holocaust that continues to go on in Jewish intellectual forums in this country, and at a time when there has been such an abundance of novels—even some good novels—by American Jews, it gives one pause to note how rarely American-Jewish fiction has attempted to come to terms in any serious way with the European catastrophe. Alfred Kazin, among others, has argued that no one can really write an imaginative work about the Nazi terror because art implies meaning, and Hitler's whole regime represented an organized annihilation of meaning. It would in any case be an act of spiritual presumption for someone other than a survivor to try to reconstruct the hideousness of the experience from within. But, even standing outside what actually happened, we all have to live with this irruption of utter meaningless-ness into history, which implies,...
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SOURCE: "Snap Judgments," in Poetry, Vol. CXVI, No. 2, May 1970, pp. 120-25.
[In the following review, Sullivan praises Assia Gutmann's translations of Amichai's work.]
The poems by Yehuda Amichai in Poems have been translated from the Hebrew by Assia Gutmann. Since I do not know Hebrew and since, even if I did, the text is not bilingual, my reactions to Amichai's poems are based solely on these often brilliant translations. Michael Hamburger admits to a similar problem in his Introduction:
Poems are made of words, and I cannot read the words of which Yehuda Amichai's poems are made, cannot follow—let alone judge—his way with the Hebrew language, what he does with its ancient and modern, literary and vernacular components, how he combines and contrasts them to make them talk or sing as they have never talked or sung before.
I wonder why someone who knows Hebrew wasn't asked to do the introduction. Anyway and in addition, German, not Hebrew, was Amichai's first language; his family did not emigrate to Palestine until 1936 when he was twelve. It is obvious, even from the translations, that Amichai has read both contemporary German and English poets.
Sometimes a poem.
Something always bursts out.
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SOURCE: "Hard and Soft," in New Statesman, Vol. 86, No. 2232, December 28, 1973, p. 978.
[In the following review of Not of This Time, Not of This Place, Pickford praises Amichai's evocation of "survivor's guilt" and his protagonist's ambiguous response to post-war Germany but, finds the novel somewhat disjointed and meandering.]
There is … a strong vein of autobiography in Yehuda Amichai's novel, newly translated, from the Hebrew by Shlomo Katz. But its impact is less urgent and direct than that of [Wolfgang] Borchert's stories, partly perhaps because Amichai was the luckier of the two—he left Germany before the war started. Not of This Time, Not of This Place is, in a sense, two novels running parallel with each other. One is a first-person account of a Jew's return from Israel to the German town where he was brought up. The other, in the third person, describes the same man's love affair in Jerusalem with an American doctor. In Germany we see the man—Joel—brooding, introverted and intent on a revenge in his head which he finds impossible to practice in his heart. In Jerusalem we meet a spry, sensual Joel, whose identity crisis is being washed away by love.
Joel's response to what happened to the Jews who remained in his home town is, of course, a response to the past. So Amichai's account of Nazi oppression is, oddly enough, much less tortured, much more...
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SOURCE: "Saul and David in the Early Poetry of Yehuda Amichai," in The David Myth in Western Literature, edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain and Jan Wojcik, Purdue University Press, 1980, pp. 170-78.
[In the following essay, Flinker examines Amichai's use of the biblical figures of Saul and David in his poetry.]
In a series of poems first published in 1958, a modern Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, revised the traditional stories of Saul and David to make these public, national heroes figures in the private world of an introspective speaker. His myths contrast markedly to the popular folk traditions about Saul and David that abound in the Israeli cultural landscape, extending from names of streets and hotels to the many folk songs and associated dances that sound the praises of these biblical heroes. Amichai focuses on their individual human qualities, while making only passing reference to the various traditions about Saul and David that the reader must keep in mind. The poems articulate a complex attitude toward the past by means of ironic tensions that neither embrace nor entirely reject the traditional details to which they allude.
"King Saul & I," "Young David," and "Mt. Zion" preserve the original historical continuity of selected biblical details from poem to poem, but the sequence presents a modernized view of them and thus elicits a contemporary identification with the ancient...
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SOURCE: "Edward Hirsch: Poet at the Window," in The American Poetry Review, May-June 1981, pp. 44-7.
[In the following essay, Hirsch praises Amichai's book of poems Amen, in particular his love poems and his ability to evoke major metaphysical issues through microcosmic images.]
Yehuda Amichai has thus far published three books of poetry in English—Songs of Jerusalem and Myself, Poems, and Amen. These books are the work of an imaginative writer with a unique ability to render and enact the complex fate of the modern Israeli, the individual man locked in and responding to history. Amichai is a historical poet of the first order, a political writer in the deepest sense of that term. At the same time he is a writer who always speaks of his own concerns, his private love pangs and personal questions, his parents' history and his own intimate secrets. Part of the achievement of Amichai's work has been the conjoining of these two spheres, always speaking of one in terms of the other. Indeed, one of the central themes of his work has been the way the personal is implicated in the historical, the private impinged upon by the public. Always his poems register the human implications of the political event, in Lorca's phrase, the drop of blood that stands behind the statistics. He is, like Wordsworth, a passionate man trying to speak to other men and, as a modern Hebrew...
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SOURCE: "In the Great Wilderness," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, Fall-Winter 1983 and Spring-Summer 1984, pp. 155-68.
[In the following review, Stiller praises Amichai as a poet who is representative of the Israeli spirit and tradition, but who also adds an air of modernity to the historical consciousness of his poems.]
We recognize the speaker in the poem. His skin is leathery from long hours in the sun; he is rugged, muscular. He might be a farmer, but then again, he appears to have been doing something more abstract, going over accounts, say, someone else's as well as his own. In his mid-thirties, he has been through a couple of wars, many alarms. Though history is continuously knocking at his door, he has taken on a private life. He has a wife, three kids, an affair from time to time. He prefers to dress in a comfortable coat that keeps his form, but he is not a comfortable man: his clenched jaw makes his head ache, and he probably grinds his teeth at night. He handles tradition familiarly—he has known it from childhood—and is accustomed to the desert where he spent a good part of his adolescence with his friends, the chevrah. Yet here in adulthood for one long moment he loses his confidence. "Obsolete maps" in hand, he stands alone, "without recommendations," in the great wilderness.
So Yehuda Amichai, Israeli poet, represented himself some twenty years...
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SOURCE: "On Amichai's El male rahamin," in Prooftexts, Vol. 4, No. 2, May 1984, pp. 127-40.
[In the following essay, Sokoloff examines the significance and use of language in El male rahamin as well as how the work fits into the modern Hebrew literary canon.]
In an essay that outlines some major trends in recent Israeli poetry and prose, Shimon Sandbank shrewdly assesses the unusual relationship to language that distinguishes modern Hebrew literature from other contemporary writing. Israeli literature comes only belatedly—with the New Wave writers of the 1950s and 60s—to a dismay at the inadequacy of words such as was typical of a variety of modernist movements at the start of the century. Hebrew fiction and lyric have undergone this special development, Sandbank argues, because they have had to grapple so strenuously with the "inbuilt sacred meanings" of the language itself.
For thousands of years Hebrew existed only as a written language, steeped in religious tradition and permeated with biblical and talmudic associations. Its revival as a spoken language, with the rise of Zionism, required an adaptation to secular needs—a rejuvenated or newly created vocabulary for modern everyday life and a syntax to match the carelessness and fluidity of living speech. This has been a painful process, perhaps not yet completed to this very...
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SOURCE: A review of The World Is a Room and Other Stories, in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 4, Autumn 1985, pp. 652-53.
[In the following review, Ramras-Rauch offers a favorable impression of Amichai's volume of short stories, noting Amichai's ability to suffuse ordinary experiences with extraordinary insights.]
Amichai's prose is suffused with simile and metaphor, not unlike his poetry. Indeed, some of the present stories can be regarded as poetic presentations in prose. Amichai often breaks the narrative line, defying temporal succession with the immediacy of Homeric simile. One may even question whether the selections in The World Is a Room are "stories"; many of the episodes are without an axis of causality or sequence. The stream-of-consciousness technique and synoptic view allow the narrator to function at various layers of memory and figurative language. Despite the poetic looseness, however, there is a strong sense of place (e.g., Jerusalem) and of time (e.g., 1948, the War of Independence).
Amichai's fiction is essentially spatial; his narrators and characters are incessantly on the move, as are their moods and voices. His strength lies in endowing the mundane with a quality of phosphorescence. Still, the war is an ineluctable background for the lovers in the title story, even if delineations are so blurred that the narrated moment and the moment of...
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SOURCE: "Yehuda Amichai: The Poet as Prose Writer," in Ariel: A Review of Arts and Letters in Israel, No. 61, 1985, pp. 20-4.
[In the following essay, which was originally presented as an address in February 1985 in Mishkenot Sha'ananim, Jerusalem, to celebrate the English translation of Amichai's volume of short stories, The World Is a Room, Halkin explains the differences between a poet and a prose writer and speculates on Amichai's decision to turn to prose to express himself.]
Yehuda Amichai, one of the finest Hebrew poets of our time, requires no introduction from me. On the contrary, since those gathered here, I am sure, know Yehuda and his work far better than me or mine, it would have been more fitting for him to have introduced me. Nevertheless, there is one reason it is appropriate for me to present Yehuda tonight: I have a special relationship to the book for which he is being honoured, one story of which I translated; not only because I translated it, but because when I did so, nearly 25 years ago to the day, it was the first translation I had ever done—or rather, the first for which anyone paid me. It was—as they say in the world of athletics—the translation that cost me my amateur status and for which I was for the first time fully accountable as only a professional can be. For better or for worse, Yehuda is responsible for the fact that ever since then I have been earning a...
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SOURCE: "Farewell to Arms and Sentimentality: Reflections of Israel's Wars in Yehuda Amichai's Poetry," in World Literature Today, Vol. 60, No. 1, Winter 1986, pp. 12-17.
[In the following essay, Mazor examines Amichai's unsentimental approach to the brutality of Israel's wars.]
War's a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
Byron, Don Juan, 9.4
One may convincingly argue that all art is enduringly besieged by an intriguing paradox. A considerable part of any work of art is founded upon emotion. Even the most ambitiously intellectual, logical, artistic creation that aspires only to analytical insight is not completely devoid of emotion. Such a lack would undoubtedly devitalize the piece, leading to shallowness. Thus emotion is not only laudable but crucial to any work of art. When feeling deteriorates into over-emotionality, however, when the delicate balance between depicted object and artistic depiction is upset or destroyed, the work suffers. The artistic paradox is therefore enticing and potentially devastating at the same time; the creative work's vitality and its deterioration spring from the same source, and the dividing line between the two may be hazy. In most cases,...
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SOURCE: "Toward a Tragic Wisdom and Beyond," in Kenyon Review, Vol. X, No. 1, Winter 1988, pp. 132-39.
[In the following review, Irwin praises the poems in Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai but questions the publisher's decision to have the poems retranslated.]
Toward the end of Camus' novel La Chute (The Fall), in which the narrator Clamence rambles on in a drunken soliloquy, we are told: "Pour que la statue soit nue, les beaux discours doivent s'envoler" (For the statue to stand bare, the fine speeches must take flight). The narrator's plight, one in which speech embellished with exaggeration and lies prolongs a hypocritical life, becomes a metaphor for the predicament of language in a postmodern era. One might argue that there are two types of language: one which attempts through excess to conceal emptiness, and the other which through reduction attempts to embrace all that is absent, and which finally leads into the mysteries of silence and the most profound poetry.
In modern poetry, Yehuda Amichai has accomplished an act as significant, yet perhaps even more far-reaching, as that accomplished by William Carlos Williams. He has created a poetry whose purposeful lack of stylistic ornamentation is merely a further extension of its irony, which suggests that if language is to become truly inevitable, no artifice must stand between speaker and object. Amichai has reduced...
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SOURCE: "'The Wisdom of Camouflage': Between Rhetoric and Philosophy in Amichai's Poetic System," in Prooftexts, Vol. 10, No. 3, September 1990, pp. 469-91.
[In the following essay, Kronfeld argues that, despite the opinion of his detractors to the contrary, Amichai demonstrates in his poetry a clearly defined philosophical and ontological system of thought and belief.]
Amichai's system? This playful, "easy" poet has a system? The poet for whom ideas are game pieces and objects in the world are "color blocks you can … rearrange at will, without too much concern for broadening our knowledge"? Ever since the first reviews of Amichai's poetry appeared in the early fifties, the predominant opinion in the critical literature has been, with few exceptions, that Amichai's poetry is not only devoid of any philosophical system but that as a poet, he has no reflective bent at all (hu eyno hogeh mahshavot klal).
This common view is shared by fans and foes alike. Indeed, sometimes Amichai's greatest admirers are in the biggest rush to accept the playful ease of his poetry at face value: Here, at last, is a great modernist poet who does not subject the reader to the rigors of philosophical systematicity and hermeneutic seriousness. Glenda Abramson, who regards Amichai as "one of [Israel's] most sensitive and perceptive literary observers," a "master poet" with "a poetic finger firmly on the...
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SOURCE: "An Analysis of Yehuda Amichai," in Judaism, Vol. 41, No. 1, Winter 1992, pp. 97-104.
[In the following review, Spicehandler finds Glenda Abramson's The Writings of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach to be a valuable contribution to Amichai criticism.]
Yehuda Amichai has enjoyed international acclaim beyond any of Israel's poets. His works have been translated into many languages, particularly into English. He has taught as a poet-in-residence or lecturer at numerous universities. Although at least a hundred articles dealing with his poetry and prose (including fifteen in English alone) have been published, until recently, only one Hebrew book has appeared which treats Amichai comprehensively, Haprahim Vehaargtal by Boaz Arpaly (Tel Aviv, 1986). Glenda Abramson's new study in English, The Writings of Yehuda Amichai, is an important, first-rate, scholarly exploration of Amichai's literary achievement. It differs from Arpaly's work in several ways. Arpaly confines himself to Amichai's poetry, while Dr. Abramson covers both his poetry and prose. Abramson's is almost exclusively a thematic approach; Arpaly's also explores Amichai's structure and poetics. Moreover, the audience which each addresses is different. Arpaly aims at the literary specialist, and his language is heavily freighted with the professional jargon of the Tel Aviv School of Criticism; Abramson, while thoroughly...
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SOURCE: A review of A Life of Poetry: 1948–1994, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 2, Spring 1995, p. 426.
[In the following review, Ramras-Rauch presents a brief overview of Amichai's career and praises his collected volume A Life of Poetry: 1948–1994.]
"Life is lived forward and understood backward." This dictum of Soren Kierkegaard can, in certain cases, be applied to an extensive work of a creative artist. Yehuda Amichai (b. 1924) has been writing for over fifty years; he is still a prolific poet. In his early years he wrote fiction (Not of This Time, Not of This Place, a novel, and The World Is a Room, a collection of short stories). In recent decades he has published his unique and seemingly simple poetic diction. Throughout his poetry the centrality of the speaker is manifested in self- and world-definition in an ever-moving constellation of binary relationships. His quasi-autobiographical speaker records the multiple and intricate relationships between the fleeting experience and the self. In one of his early poems, "God Full of Mercy," he writes: "I who use only a small part / of the words in the dictionary…. I who must decipher riddles / I don't want to decipher."
The mystery of language and the mystery of the universe do not create an August, bombastic, and euphemistic poetry. As a careful builder of poems made of what seems to be a spoken...
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SOURCE: "Two Jewish Ironists," in New England Review, Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer 1995, pp. 187-92.
[In the following review, Slavitt examines Amichai's characteristic use of irony.]
The language of Jews, the real mother tongue, is not Yiddish or Hebrew, as it certainly is not Russian, or Polish, or English, but … irony. The complicated experiences of five millennia have elicited a series of emotional and linguistic postures by which we Jews express ourselves, and it is these double messages that American Jews have always found particularly interesting as well as demanding. Until Korea, the United States had never lost a war, and there was a sappy optimism, part positive thinking, part togetherness, part Chamber of Commerce boosterism, that seemed unrecognizable to us and, with a particular force, made us aware of our foreignness. Only the Southerners, who had lost the Civil War, had any notion of the mysterious ways of history and destiny, or understood that there can be an aristocracy of suffering. Young Jewish men and women reading William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor were reassured by the discovery of these un-American, recognizably sane, and unimpeachably grown-up voices.
Yehuda Amichai's popularity, in Israel and here as well, owes much, I think, to his reliance on irony. His poems have that authentic ring of the words of some wise-ass uncle who is always joking...
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SOURCE: "Reading Amichai Reading," in Judaism, Vol. 45, No. 179, Summer 1996, pp. 311-23.
[In the following essay, Kronfeld explores the ways in which Amichai retains accessibility while also using complex intertextuality in his poetry.]
Yehuda Amichai is the most distinguished Hebrew poet of our time and an internationally prominent literary figure. His poetry is part of the literature curriculum that new generations of readers are raised on, from Israeli school children to college and graduate students in Israel and the United States. His work is the subject of academic conferences and increasingly—though still insufficiently—of serious scholarship. In the hands of any other poet this poetry's steady diet of allusions, parodic midrashim, pseudo-commentary, and other forms of intertextuality would result in a dauntingly difficult body of work. Yet Amichai continues to be a phenomenally popular poet, accepted and admired as the crafter of the "easy poem."
In this essay I try to explore how, and perhaps why, Amichai's poetry maintains an accessible, transparent quality even while engaging in involved dialogues with numerous precursor texts, from the Hebrew Bible to the classics of European literature; and to outline some of the ways in which Amichai's poetic egalitarianism relates to his life-long struggle—and love affair—with textual traditions. I discuss elsewhere in some...
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SOURCE: "Wrestling with the Angel of History: The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai," in Judaism, Vol. 45, No. 3, Summer 1996, pp. 298-300.
[In the following essay, which is part of the Foreword to The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, Bloch explains Amichai's significance as a contemporary poet.]
A friend of mine tells a story about some Israeli students who were called up in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As soon as they were notified, they went back to their rooms at the University, and each packed his gear, a rifle, and a book of Yehuda Amichai's poems. It is a little hard to envision this scene: these days we don't think of soldiers as resorting to poetry under fire, and Amichai's poetry is not standard government issue. It isn't patriotic in the ordinary sense of the word, it doesn't cry death to the enemy, and it offers no simple consolation for killing and dying.
Still, I know what these young soldiers were after, because I have often found myself turning to Amichai's poetry as a kind of restorative. Pungent, ironic, tender, playful and despairing by turns, it draws me by the energy of its language, the exuberant inventiveness and startling leaps that freshen the world, making it seem a place where anything is possible. And by the humor, too—a briny Jewish humor that can set the teeth on edge. And I am attracted by a certain astringent quality of mind, a skeptical intelligence that...
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SOURCE: A review of The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 2, Spring 1997, p. 448.
[In the following review, Ramras-Rauch presents a brief overview of Amichai's major themes and praises The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai as "another occasion to enjoy the work of a poet whose complex simplicity continues to challenge lovers of poetry."]
Yehuda Amichai's simple, beguiling, and challenging poetry continues to fascinate readers and translators alike. He is recognized in Israel and abroad for his seeming simplicity of tone, image, and syntax. The centrality of a speaker in Amichai's poetry inevitable reflects the man himself: a gentle, often self-effacing man whose soft voice is frequently in contrast with the bold statements his poems make.
Amichai uses known and familiar materials for his poetry: the images of Jerusalem, his parents, his loves, his children, the marketplace—all act as a storehouse of raw materials for his verse. These familiar materials however, are often left behind when his poetry, without warning, soars into a new verbal reality where paradox, irony, and a certain wonder coexist. In a way, Amichai seduces his reader with his blatant declarative simplicity. The almost prosaic opening allows for a way into a more complex world. His world of analogies, metaphysical conceits, images, and paradoxes changes...
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SOURCE: "Poetry Chronicle," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 50, No. 2, Summer 1997, pp. 323-24.
[In the following review, Haines discusses the contemporary relevance of Amichai's work in The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai.]
I should perhaps defer speaking of poems in a language I do not know and cannot read, but the poems of the Hebrew poet, Yehuda Amichai, as translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell, have offered a useful means of comparison with the work of a few of our more immediate American contemporaries…. I must … refer briefly to the poetry of a place and a situation all too representative of our present world, and which in these poems has been written of with so much insight and passion.
And so farewell to you, who will not slumber,...
for all was in our words, a world of sand.
From this day forth, you turn into the dreamer
of everything: the world within your hand.
Farewell, death's bundles, suitcase packed with waiting.
Threads, feathers, holy chaos. Hair held fast.
For look, what will not be, no hand is writing;
and what was not the body's will not last.
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Bar-yaacov, Lois. Review of Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Southern Humanities Review XXII, No. 4 (Fall 1988): 402-05.
Praises the translations of Amichai's works in Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai and presents Amichai as an Israeli writer observing Jewish history from the outside, disillusioned by historical experiences he did not witness first-hand.
Corn, Alfred. Review of Even a Fist Was Once an Open Palm with Fingers. Poetry CLIX, No. 3 (December 1991): 163-66.
Admires Amichai's ability to infuse ordinary images and scenes with extraordinary metaphysical meaning.
Gold, Nili Rachel Scharf. "Flowers, Fragrances, and Memories: The Different Functions of Plant Imagery in Amichai's Later Poetry." Hebrew Studies XXXIII (1992): 71-92.
Argues that "images of vegetation serve as a kind of prism through which to observe changes in [Amichai's] poetics."
Review of Amen. Virginia Quarterly Review 54, No. 2 (Spring 1978): 58.
Calls Amichai "one of the essential poets of our day."
Review of Time. Virginia Quarterly Review 55, No. 3 (Summer 1979): 108.
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