A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern European Poets

By John Pilling | Go to book overview
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Yehuda Amichai (born 1924)

Born in Würzburg of German Jewish parents who emigrated to Jerusalem in 1936; educated at a Jewish school before emigration, though his first language was German. Fought in the British Army's Jewish Brigade during the Second World War, in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, and again in the subsequent conflicts of 1956 and 1973. His first collection of poetry in Hebrew appeared in 1955, since when he has published many volumes of poetry, short stories, plays and one novel. Teaches in Jerusalem. Visiting poet at the University of California at Berkeley in the autumn of 1971. Now writes with equal facility in Hebrew and English.

Amichai is one of the three poets writing in modern Hebrew who have made a profound impression on those who cannot read a word of the language of Israel; the others are T. Carmi and Dan Pagis. Like Pagis, Amichai is of European origin and writes in a language different from that which he spoke as a child, indeed in a language which Michael Hamburger has aptly characterized as a'historical anomaly'. He has recently, moreover, attempted self-translation into English with the help of Ted Hughes, a dramatic illustration of his claim to Antony Rudolf that 'English is a language I really like . . . that speaks to me more than all other languages apart from Hebrew'. Yet somehow it does not seem wrong to think of Amichai as a European poet, even though he now seems intent on making a reputation for himself in his second non-native language. The spirit of his early work seems, in fact, to have as much in common with his German

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