Assia and Yehuda

Image of Yehuda AMichai, Israeli Poet, from the cover of his Selected Poems. Penguin edition, 1971

Few people realise that Assia Gutmann Wevill was a poet in her own right, and also a talented translator. She spoke Hebrew, German, Arabic, Italian and English, and so was in demand as a translator. Her most acclaimed work was her translations from Hebrew to English of Israel’s major poet, Yehuda Amichai. Interesting to note that she used her given family name of Gutmann, in recognition of her shared origins with Amichai (both  had fled their native Germany for refuge in Palestine, fleeing the Nazi persecution of those of Jewish descent).

Her translations are -in my humble partially bilingual opinion – hauntingly accurate in emotional tone (John Jablonka, Hebrew speaker).



‘We’ll work on Yehuda’s poems together,’ Larry told Esther later, after the Israeli poet had enthusiastically agreed to appoint Esther as his translator. ‘You can do the technical part, finding the roughly equivalent words, while I’ll fashion the language into poetry.’

Esther felt affronted; wasn’t she attuned to the nuances of Hebrew, able to turn Amichai’s powerful poetry into the equivalent in English? Besides, Larry knew hardly a word of Hebrew, that ancient language with its spidery backwards script. He’d been studying the Kabbalah scriptures recently, but only in their English translation.She assumed he knew, however, that the art of translation is not just a matter of nuance of language and powerful images, but of many other dimensions and metaphors existing in the lines. Give me some credit, she’d thought, but hadn’t said.

Finding English words to replace Yehuda’s evocative imagery, the nuances of his Hebrew metaphors, was complex and challenging. Esther knew she was the right person for this task, with her fluency in both English and modern Hebrew. She determined to replicate the music of his language, so that her translations would resonate with Larry’s readers.


Title Page of Amichai’s ‘Selected Poems.

A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention

A Pity, We Were Such A Good Invention
by Yehuda Amichai, trans Assia Gutmann, 1968
Could Assia have been thinking of herself and Ted Hughes when she translated this?”
And here is the poem she was working on as ‘Esther’ in my novel, ‘Capriccio”:
by Yehuda Amichai, trans Assia Gutmann, 1968


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear Ms. Davis:

    I have begun reading your book about Ms. Gutmann. I became fascinated with her, at first, because of her similar like experience as mine; But, I also became as fascinated with her by your interpretation of her….such as the part of the book where she is rejected at a party.

    I think it is sad that you were not able to include in your book, the book that Hughes wrote about her… because, that seems to be one of the most important parts about it.


    1. Thank you for your insightful comment.It is interesting that you seem to identify with my main character, who had a similar life experience to yourself. My book is a work of fiction, and although the main events are true, much comes from my imagination.


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