Oct 102012

The noted Hebrew poet Curtis Mayfield זצ”ל famously asserted that if there’s a hell below, we’re all gonna go.

Curtis Mayfield - If There's a Hell Below (We're All Gonna Go)
(NOTE: Soul and Gone does not necessarily recommend playing this song in public without headphones on, for reasons that will become apparent).

Reb Mayfield’s Torah, however, isn’t entirely accurate. Really, if there’s a hell below, all the fun people are gonna go.

That’s occurred to you before, you say? Then you’re in good company: it also occurred to the deliciously witty Immanuel of Rome, the giant of the incredibly fruitful (and notably playful) Italian school of Hebrew poetry. Immanuel introduced the sonnet into Hebrew poetry, a few centuries, give or take, before the English picked it up (you may be familiar with English sonnets from, you know, that guy. Had a mistress? Eyes nothing like the sun? You know what I’m talking about).

So without further ado, here’s one of Immanuel’s sonnets. If there’s a hell below, he’d certainly like to go.

Immanuel of Rome (1261 – 1328)
Deep Within Me Thought My Soul

On my soul deep within did a thought sudden dawn:
“Enough of this Eden – I’d rather have Hell!”
For there flows sweet honey, and that I know well
And all lustful girls, every beauteous fawn!

What’s for me in Eden without paramours?
The foulest of women, as blackened as pitch
Each one of their number a moss-sprouting witch
To be in their midst my soul truly abhors.

O Eden! What binds us? What do you possess?
Scarred women and men cursed with black infamy –
And so I confess: you are naught in my sight!

O Hell! You have gathered all grace and noblesse
Each doe clad within in your best finery
You’ve brought to your realm every eye’s sweet delight!

עמנואל הרומי
נפשי בקרבי תחשוב מחשבת

נַפְשִׁי בְּקִרְבִּי תַּחֲשֹׁב מַחְשֶׁבֶת
לָקוּץ בְּעֵדֶן גַּן וְלִרְצוֹת תֹּפֶת,
כִּי אֶמְצְאָה שָׁם צוּף דְּבַשׁ עִם נֹפֶת,
שָׁם כָּל צְבִיַּת חֵן וְכָל עוֹגֶבֶת.
מַה לִּי בְּעֵדֶן גַּן – וְאֵין אוֹהֶבֶת
שָׁם, רַק שְׁחֹרוֹת מִשְּׁחוֹר אוֹ זֶפֶת,
שָׁמָּה זְקֵנוֹת בַּעֲלוֹת יַלֶּפֶת –
נַפְשִׁי בְּחֶבְרָתָן תְּהִי נֶעְצֶבֶת.
מַה לִּי וְלָךְ, עֵדֶן! וְאַתְּ אָסַפְתָּ
כָּל בַּעֲלוֹת מוּמִים וְכָל אִישׁ בֹּשֶׁת;
עַל כֵּן חֲשַׁבְתִּיךָ בְּעֵינַי אָיִן.
תֹּפֶת! בְּעֵינַי חֵן וְהוֹד יָסַפְתָּ;
בָּךְ כָּל צְבִיָּה הַיְקָר לוֹבֶשֶׁת,
וַתֶּאֱסֹף כָּל מַחֲמַדֵּי עָיִן!


Nafshí be-kirbí taḥshóv maḥshévet
Lakútz be-ʕéiden gan ve-lirtzót tófet,
Ki ’emtze’áh sham tzuf devásh ʕim nófet,
Sham kol tzeviyát ḥein ve-khól ʕogévet.

Mah li be-ʕéiden gan – ve-‘éin ‘ohévet
Sham, rak sheḥorót mi-sheḥór ‘o zéfet,
Shámah zekeinót baʕalót yaléfet –
Nafshí be-ḥevratán tehí neʕtzévet.

Mah li ve-lákh, ʕéiden! Ve-‘át ‘asáfta
Kol baʕalót mumím ve-khól ‘ish bóshet;
ʕal kein ḥashavtíkha be-ʕeinái ‘áyin.

Tófet! Be-ʕeinái ḥein ve-hód yasáfta;
Bakh kol tzeviyáh ha-yekár lovéshet,
Va-te’esóf kol maḥmadéi ʕáyin!

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