Yale University will host an international conference on October 20 and 21 celebrating the life and work of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.
"If there is a common theme in my poems beside their authentic connection to my life, my times and my place, it is the desire to make my poems healing and comforting without lying and without pretending to be either happy on the one hand or suffering on the other. I want to conclude by emphasizing that all the poems were written entirely for my own personal use. I began writing out of love for many poets before I started writing myself. But after two wars and loves I felt that only I could respond to my most pressing needs and only I could write for myself. Writing allows me to feel my life as one space that has no early and no late. Writing allows me to reach emotionally, distant points in my childhood without the feeling that I broke barriers of time and space.”
Amichai, considered one of the great poets of modern times, has been praised for the depth and complexity of his language as well as its accessibility, even in translation from the original Hebrew. His books were best sellers in Israel, and in the years before his death, he enjoyed the status of a celebrity.
Benjamin Harshav, the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at Yale, will deliver the keynote address, “Political Discourse and Situational Cognition in Amichai’s Poetry,” on October 20 at 8:30 p.m. Harshav, one of Amichai’s chief translators, was also a close friend of the poet’s for 50 years. According to Harshav, “Amichai is the most universal Israeli poet, expressing the human condition… In an age of ideology, he celebrated the individual’s private moments and existential situation; in an age of war, he celebrated love and love-making.”
Amichai (1924–2000) was born in Würzburg, Germany, and immigrated to Palestine with his family at the age of 12. After high school, he served in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade during World War II and then joined the Palmach, an underground Jewish military organization in Palestine. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, he fought in the Israeli army during the War of Independence.
Amichai first considered becoming a writer while he was stationed in Egypt with the British Army. There he was inspired by an anthology of modern British poetry, including work by Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden. His first book of poetry, “Now and in Other Days,” was published in 1955. His published writings, which include plays, stories, a novel, essays and three children’s books as well as several volumes of poetry, have been translated into more than 30 languages.
Shortly before his death, Amichai arranged for Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to receive his extensive personal papers and literary archive. The Amichai papers were the first archive of a major writer in Hebrew to be added to the Beinecke, where they join an extensive international gathering of 20th-century literary archives, including the papers of the Yiddish writer Sholem Asch and poets Ezra Pound, F.T. Marinetti, William Carlos Williams and Czeslaw Milosz.
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