Reviewing a new volume of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry in English tranlsation, Hillel Halkin analyzes the verse of a man who once declared that he had “a complex network of pipes” in his soul.
Yehuda Amichai . . . saw poetry everywhere. If anyone spoke it, it was he. You couldn’t know him without being struck by the casual way in which original and sometimes startling metaphors dropped from him in ordinary conversation, spontaneously occasioned by something that you and he might be looking at or talking about. It wasn’t done for effect. It was just the way his mind worked. His thought was habitually associational. One thing made him think of another and what it made him think of was generally something that would not have occurred to anyone else. . . .
Amichai was a deeply Jewish poet. His Orthodox education and upbringing in Germany before emigrating with his family to Palestine at the age of twelve in 1936 (he died in Jerusalem in the year 2000) left their permanent mark on him, though his adult life was lived as a non-observant Jew in secular Israeli society. This society regarded him as its own quintessential expression. He lived and wrote about its wars and tragic conflicts; he shared its appetite for life and its love of its land; his irreverent humor struck a chord in it. And yet he also had an ironic detachment from it, a distance that came partly from being steeped in a Jewish tradition that was foreign to it.