Selected Poems

Yehuda Amichai

From the Hebrew: Karen Alkalay-Gut


The gentle and powerful poetry of Yehuda Amichai is known to a wide range of readers, and loved with unmatched intensity. One of the reasons for this emotional reaction is Amichaiís simple love of life and his awareness of the profundity of the experience of daily living, intensified by the fact that this living occurs in a country charged with meaning and continuous moral choice. Poetry, he has said, is like a prayer, and indeed helps the individual to come to terms with life in a way similar to that of prayer. But Amichaiís poems are not prayersóin the sense that they do not repeat formulas or accept predetermined solutions for problems. Every experience is a prayer in itself, and each poem is a unique vision of an experience in a moment of time. Whether Amichai is describing the process of carrying his ex-wifeís bed down the street in Jerusalem or watching the Israelite in front of him follow Moses through the desert, the poem is a sum of the common experience and the unrepeatable understanding.

Amichai moved with his family from Germany to Israel in 1936 when he was 11. His salvation from the Holocaust and his religious upbringing colors much of his approach to experience, despite the immediacy of this experience. And his experiences are many and intimately involved in the events of this century. In World War II he fought with the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, then joined the Palmach, fighting in the War of Independence on the southern front. Following the war, Amichai attended Hebrew University, studying Biblical texts and Hebrew literature, and taught in secondary schools.

Amichai is a prolific writer and has published eleven volumes of poetry in Hebrew, two novels, and a book of short stories. He has been translated into 33 languages, and there are numerous books in English..

My own interest in translating Amichai emerges from a profound love of his poetry as well as a love for the sound of his poems in Hebrew. When Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, I suspect he meant the sound, the music of the words. And despite the numerous and popular translations of Amichaiís poetry into English, it seems to me that this music has not always come through, the simple melody of the Hebrew language.

The poems have been removed for the present.