Israeli poet Meir Wieseltier dies at age 82

Prolific writer and translator was known for his overtly political works as well as his love poems, remembered as ‘one of the leaders of Hebrew poetry’

Israeli poet and translator Meir Wieseltier in Tel Aviv in 2000. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Israeli poet and translator Meir Wieseltier in Tel Aviv in 2000. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Celebrated Israeli poet Meir Wieseltier died on Thursday at age 82, his daughter announced on Facebook.

Over the years, Wieseltier was honored with most of Israel’s top cultural awards, including the Israel Prize for Literature in 2000.

Wieseltier, a native of Moscow, moved to Israel shortly after the founding of the state, living briefly in Netanya before settling in Tel Aviv.

Throughout his prolific career, he published 20 books of poetry and was also responsible for translating English, French and Russian poetry into Hebrew, as well as numerous other literary works, including several plays by William Shakespeare.

For many years, Wieseltier taught classes in literature at the University of Haifa. He also edited several literary magazines and co-founded the “Siman Kriah” literary journal.

He won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Literary Works three times — in 1977, 1993 and 2011; he won the Bialik Prize in 1994; and the Newman Prize in 2015.

Awarding him his third prize from the Prime Minister’s Office, the judging committee proclaimed that “his outspoken, mixed poetry, which combines political and social rhetoric with existentialist dimensions, was one of the main forces that shaped the face of modernism in Israeli poetry in the 60s and 70s.”

The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature said that Wieseltier often “places himself at the heart of his work, often writing in the first person, and takes on the role of moralist, searching for values in the midst of chaos.”

Wieseltier was known for his often overtly political works, including poems against Israeli policy in the West Bank and the country’s militaristic society, as well as for penning numerous love poems.

In 1986 he wrote “Sonnet: Against Making Blood Speak Out,” which includes the lines: “If I die one day from the bullet of a young killer/ a Palestinian who crosses the northern border/ or from the blast of a hand grenade he throws/ or in a bomb explosion while I’m checking the price/ of cucumbers in the market, don’t dare say/ that my blood permits you to justify your wrongs/ that my torn eyes support your blindness.”

Prof. Menachem Perry, a longtime friend and colleague of Wieseltier, told the Walla news site on Thursday: “He was an incredible poet — one of the leaders of Hebrew poetry, the final generation of poets of that caliber… not all poets are also leaders. He was also a leader.”

Wieseltier is survived by two daughters, Natalia and Martha.

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