The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai


Yehuda Amichai is Israel's most popular poet as well as a literary figure of international reputation. In this revised and expanded collection, renowned translators Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell have selected Amichai's most beloved and enduring poems, including forty new poems from his recent work.

from Tourists:Once I was sitting on the steps near the gate at David's Citadel and I put down my two heavy baskets beside me. A group of tourists stood there around their guide, and I became their point of reference. "You see that man over there with the baskets? A little to the right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. A little to the right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: Redemption will come only when they are told, "Do you see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn't matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there's a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family."


Good, better, best; great, greater, greatest: the ranking of poets is a notoriously dubious activity, because no matter how laudatory or derogatory a judgment might be, it can be accused of ultimately being subjective. Yet there are certain poets who rise out of all this into a category of their own, whose work generates a new aesthetic identity and a new imaginative voice for their nation, and who incorporate in their poems so many of that country’s passions, tragedies, terrors, triumphs, and affections that its culture becomes more substantial, more real to their readers.

Yehuda Amichai is one of this select, singular group.

I should admit that it seems odd to be saying this about a man with whom I dined, drank coffee, and heard read his poems aloud. Something in me keeps asking for more distance, more room for the awe that surely should be felt for such a poet. Shouldn’t there be a discrepancy between the mind that brought forth the sublime work, and the ordinary, or nearly ordinary human being the poet himself of necessity was?

I’m hardly alone in feeling this. My wife and I happened to be in Jerusalem on the occasion of Amichai’s seventieth birthday, which turned out to be something like a national celebration. We sat in an auditorium marveling as banks of television cameras —those primitive probes that pretend to enhance our reality with cathode alchemizations of it—scanned the face of the poet, then scanned it again, until it seemed Amichai would be turned before our eyes from a person to a monument.… Or not a monument, a repository rather, as though all the phalanxes of poems Amichai had brought forth might be made visible in his person if the cameras and the audience and the nation attending could only gaze with sufficient vigilance at his by then somewhat abashed countenance.

Amichai, of course, wasn’t a monument; above all he was a poet, and we have to start there. He began writing young, was soon accomplished, but he was an experimental poet his whole career, bringing influences from American, English, and German poetry into his work, and into the wider spectrum of Israeli poetry, which had been mostly grounded until then in the early modernist Russians. His early work had a formal elegance and simplicity, influenced by the great (and nearly untranslatable) Rachel —usually called in . . .

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