In the sixth chapter of the Taḥkemoni, Ḥever the Kenite, the narrator’s friend and foil, meets an old woman who talks him into paying 2000 pieces of silver for what she promises is a surpassingly beautiful bride – sight unseen. I’ve picked up the thread as Ḥever awaits the mystery bride, who is late arriving to the wedding. To give you something of the flavor of a maqama (rhymed prose narrative) like the Taḥkemoni, and how, well, goofy the Taḥkemoni itself is, I’ve made the translation of the narrative lead-up to the poem rhyme. If it seems a bit silly, light-hearted or even Dr. Seuss-y, that’s because it is.
And when the ketubah had been written, before the Jews it was recited. And I signed my name onto the scroll before the witnesses I’d invited. And as daylight died, my rage grew inside, as the land was covered by darkness’ tide – and finally they brought the bride! And such tumult went up with her every stride, and along the path each man replied: “May the groom find favor with his bride!” And so they sat and sang with delight, from the evening and unto midnight. And finally each man left, one and all, from the biggest to the very small. And so I was alone with my bride, and she was sitting at my side. And so I told my heart, “In truth! Tonight I will restore my youth! And I’ll raise my ‘wing’1 like eagles in flight – for a night to be much observed2 is tonight!” I turned to her; her frock I stripped, and off her face the veil I whipped, I brought the lamp close – my heart skipped! Wrath and rage were her face’s form – her voice was like a thunderstorm! Her figure? Like Jeroboam’s calf,3 alas – she had a mouth like Balaam’s ass!4 Her nose’s breath made things decay; the life in her cheeks had run away! As if Satan himself in his black hole had cast her features out of coal! “A daughter of Ham,”5 I thought, “by my soul!” But if her form was black as night, the hair on her head was just as white. Her days had aged from youth to blight; her daring lips reached for the heights!6 Her teeth were like a wolf or bear’s in size; like scorpions were her two eyes!
And I responded thus:
Her teeth look to me like the teeth of a bear,
That know only to eat, to devour and shred.
Her eyes rob the heart and then make it stop –
Covered in boils is the skin of her head!
She’s big as a wall, and her calves seem to me
Two trees in the forest torn up from their bed.
Her cheeks are like coal, her lips are as twisted
As those of a donkey who’s been underfed.
Her figure is that of the Angel of Death –
Each person who touches her falls over dead.
אוֹכְלִים אֲשֶׁר מוֹצְאִים וּמַצְמִיתִים.
רֹאשָׁהּ שְׁחִין נִמְלָא וְעֵינֶיהָ
גוֹזְלִים שְׂשׂוֹן הַלֵּב וּמַשְׁבִּיתִים.
קוֹמָה כְּמוֹ חוֹמָה וְשׁוֹקַיִם
כִּשְׁנֵי עֲצֵי יַעַר מְכֹרָתִים.
וּלְחִי כְּפֶחָם רַק שְׂפָתֶיהָ
שִׂפְתֵי חֲמוֹר גֶּרֶם מְעֻוָּתִים.
צוּרָה כְּצוּרַת מַלְאֲכֵי מָוֶת
כָּל פּוֹגְעִים בָּהּ יִפְּלוּ מֵתִים.
And if you think that’s bad, wait until Ḥever finds out about her dowry!
Tidméh ve-shinéha le-shein dubím
‘Okhlim ‘ashér motz’ím u-matzmitím.
Rosháh sheḥín nimlá ve-ʕeinéiha
Gozlím sesón ha-léiv u-mashbitím.
Komáh kemó ḥomáh ve-shokáyim
Kishnéi ʕatzéi yáʕar mekhoratím.
U-leḥí ke-féḥam rak sefatéha
Siftéi ḥamór gérem meʕuvatím.
Tzuráh ke-tzurát mal’akhéi mávet
Kol ha-pogʕím bah yiplú meitím.
- This pun, ‘eiver meaning ‘feather’ and ‘eiver meaning “(sexual) organ,” is even cruder in Hebrew. ↩
- Leil shimurim. Exodus 12:42, “(Passover) is a night to be much observed unto the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt.” ↩
- 1 Kings 12:28. ↩
- Numbers 22:28. ↩
- Genesis 9:22-27. ↩
- She has a cleft palate. ↩