Biography of Yehuda Amichai
Amichai was born in Würzburg, Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish family, and was raised speaking both Hebrew and German. According to literary scholar Nili Scharf Gold, a childhood trauma in Germany had an impact on his later poetry: he had an argument with a childhood friend of his, Ruth Hanover, that caused her to bicycle home angrily; she fell and as a result had to get her leg amputated. Several years later, she was unable to join the rest of her family, who fled the Nazi takeover, due to her missing leg, and ended up being killed in the Holocaust. Amichai occasionally referred to her in his poems as "Little Ruth".
Amichai immigrated with his family at the age of 12 to Petah Tikva in Mandate Palestine in 1935, moving to Jerusalem in 1936. He first worked as a physical education teacher. He was a member of the Palmach, the strike force of the Haganah, the defence force of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel. As a young man he fought in World War II as a member of the British Army Jewish Brigade, and in the Negev on the southern front in the Israeli War of Independence.
Amichai traced his beginnings as a writer 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 included in that book inspired his first serious thoughts about becoming a writer.
Amichai began writing poetry in 1946, at age 22. He also changed his name to Yehuda Amichai around that same time. According to Nili Scharf Gold, the idea for the name change, as well as the specific last name "Amichai", came from his girlfriend at the time, whom he has called "Ruth Z.", and who soon afterward broke up with him and moved to the United States. According to Gold, Amichai later claimed that he only started writing poetry in 1948, partly as a way of hiding from the public record this portion of his life.
Following 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. Later, he was poet in residence at numerous universities, including Berkeley, NYU, and Yale.
In 1956, Amichai served in the Sinai War, and in 1973 he served in the Yom Kippur War. He later became an advocate of peace and reconciliation in the region, working with Arab writers.
He died of cancer in 2000, at age 76.
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Yehuda Amichai Poems
A Pity. We Were Such A Good Invention
They amputated Your thighs off my hips. As far as I'm concerned They are all surgeons. All of them.
An Arab Shepherd Is Searching For His Go...
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy. An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father Both in their temporary failure.
God Has Pity On Kindergarten Children
God has pity on kindergarten children, He pities school children -- less. But adults he pities not at all.
God Full Of Mercy
God-Full-of-Mercy, the prayer for the dead. If God was not full of mercy, Mercy would have been in the world, Not just in Him.
If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem
If I forget thee, Jerusalem, Then let my right be forgotten. Let my right be forgotten, and my left remember. Let my left remember, and your right close
In a modern museum In an old synagogue In the synagogue I
I Want To Die In My Own Bed
All night the army came up from Gilgal To get to the killing field, and that's all. In the ground, warf and woof, lay the dead. I want to die in My own bed.
Love Of Jerusalem
There is a street where they sell only red meat And there is a street where they sell only clothes and perfumes. And there is a day when I see only cripples and the blind And those covered with leprosy, and spastics and those with twisted lips.
A Jewish Cemetery In Germany
On a little hill amid fertile fields lies a small cemetery, a Jewish cemetery behind a rusty gate, hidden by shrubs, abandoned and forgotten. Neither the sound of prayer nor the voice of lamentation is heard there
I Know A Man
I know a man who photographed the view he saw from the window of the room where he made love and not the face of the woman he loved there.
The memory of my father is wrapped up in white paper, like sandwiches taken for a day at work. Just as a magician takes towers and rabbits
Temporary Poem Of My Time
Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west, Latin writing, from west to east. Languages are like cats: You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.
Do Not Accept
Do not accept these rains that come too late. Better to linger. Make your pain An image of the desert. Say it's said And do not look to the west. Refuse
Memorial Day For The War Dead
Memorial day for the war dead. Add now the grief of all your losses to their grief, even of a woman that has left you. Mix sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
What Kind Of A Person
"What kind of a person are you," I heard them say to me.
I'm a person with a complex plumbing of the soul,
Sophisticated instruments of feeling and a system
Of controlled memory at the end of the twentieth century,
But with an old body from ancient times
And with a God even older than my body.
I'm a person for the surface of the earth.
Low places, caves and wells
Frighten me. Mountain peaks