Nathan Alterman was born in 1910 in Warsaw, Poland, settled in Tel Aviv in 1925 and died there in 1970. Though he studied agronomy in France, he worked mostly as a translator for Hebrew newspapers. His first poems were published in 1931 and his first book, Stars Outside, was published in 1938.
Alterman was a regular contributor of political verse to the daily Ha'aretz, and later to the Labor daily, Davar. A poetic spokesman for the national struggle, many of his poems were banned by the British Mandate authorities and were passed from hand to hand by an eager public. Alterman also wrote lyrics to several songs that became overnight hits. Much of his lyric and philosophical poetry saw print between 1937-57; many poems deal with love and the experience of city living. An urban poet, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. Most of the Hebrew poets who preceded him felt connected to the Jewish religion, or to the rural biblical landscape, or Israeli reality. In contrast, Alterman, an avant garde poet, shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.
After 1948 social and political themes became the dominant feature in Alterman's public verse. He was talented at writing about current events with a dry yet biting humor. His poetry is endowed with style, with rich and picturesque language, neologisms, and daringly original rhyme and meter. A prolific lyricist, playwright and essayist, he also translated many works into Hebrew, including pieces by Shakespeare and Moliere, and wrote poetry and plays for children. Alterman received both the Israel Prize and the Bialik Prize. His poems have been translated into twenty languages.
Stars Outside (1938)
Joy of the Poor (1941)
Plague Poems (1944)
The Seventh Column (two volumes, 1948 and 1954)
City of the Dove (1957)
Poems of Ten Brothers (1961)
Alterman's English page at the web site of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature
A short article on Alterman and one of his poems translated into English
A Hebrew web site with a short bio of Alterman and links to material which deals with his poetry
Some of Alterman's poems translated into Russian
On the Highroad
The Killers of the Fields