“When I was young, the whole country was young,” wrote the poet Yehuda Amichai in a 1978 poem (trans. Chana Bloch). Born Ludwig Pfeuffer in 1924 in Würzburg, Germany, the poet and his family immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1935. Years later, he would change his name to “Amichai,” Hebrew for “my people lives.” His first collection, Now and in Other Days, appeared in 1955 to wide acclaim. In these early poems, he drew in part from his experiences in the Palmach, the fighting force of the Haganah (a Jewish paramilitary organization in Mandatory Palestine), and the 1948 war that followed the establishment of the State of Israel. Throughout his long career as a poet, Amichai frequently returned to the subjects of war and peace, conflict and desire, faith and doubt. His poem “Wildpeace” (Shlom bar) was published in his 1971 collection Not for the Sake of Remembering, a few years after the 1967 Six-Day War, a war fought between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Although the result was a major victory for Israel, resulting in major territorial gains for the country, the tone of Amichai’s poem is cautious and skeptical. “Wildpeace” poses the following question: is it possible to break the cycle of war and conflict and ensure that peace becomes a lasting inheritance between generations? In 1994, Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian National Authority, and Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Amichai was invited to participate in the prize giving ceremony, where he read this poem.
Cover image: In 2006, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer projected a series of texts onto government buildings and cultural institutions in Vienna, Austria. In this projection, she used text from Yehuda Amichai's "Wildpeace."
Image courtesy of Jenny Holzer/ Art Resource, NY © ARS, NY. © 2006 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo by Attilio Maranzano.