A short one tonight. Hey, I have a midterm, what do you people want from me? (I’m assuming there are people out there who want things from me, or at least specifically want from me the things I’m actually providing to them through this website, but I freely admit that this is probably presumptuous.)
Anyway, this is our first poem from the holy Rihal, Yehuda ha-Levi, the Andalusian Hebrew poet so famous that even gentiles have heard of him (although they, as is their wont, might call him “Judah”). This is one of his many secular poems, but he also wrote with intense feeling about Zion, which endeared him to Zionists in the modern age, and also about God, which, while less endearing from a Zionist perspective, earned him a place in many a Sephardic liturgy. Really, he wrote about everything, and that sort of all-encompassing eye is what makes a good poet, right?
This poem, for example, is about a girl doing her laundry. There’s something enchanting about it, isn’t there? The word ʕofráh means “fawn” (it’s also a common Hebrew woman’s name), and is among the many animal stock terms for objects of desire in Hebrew poetry. Israel’s desire to identify itself with certain fleet-footed wild quadrupeds (tzvi or tzviyáh [gazelle], ‘ayélet [doe], yeʕeiláh [ibex]) goes back all the way to the Bible, but that’s an essay for another time.
The Fawn Washes Her Clothes
The fawn washes her clothes in water from my tears
and spreads them out beneath the sun of her radiance
With my two eyes, she needs not the spring’s waters;
With her beauty, she needs not the sun.
עפרה תכבס את בגדיה
עָפְרָה תְּכַבֵּס אֶת בְּגָדֶיהָ בְּמֵי
דִּמְעִי, וְתִשְׁטָחֵם לְשֶׁמֶשׁ זָהֳרָהּ
לֹא שָׁאֲלָה מֵי הָעֲיָנוֹת עִם שְׁתֵּי
עֵינַי, וְלֹא שֶׁמֶשׁ לְיֹפִי תָאֳרָהּ.
ʕofráh tekhabéis ‘et begadéha be-méi
dimʕí, ve-tishtaḥéim le-shémesh zoharáh
Lo sha’aláh mei ha-ʕayanót ʕim shtéi
ʕeinái, ve-ló shémesh le-yófi to’aráh.