Nov 302012
 

You know all those sonnets about beautiful girls? This is not one of those sonnets.

Immanuel of Rome (1261 – 1328)
O Creative Intelligence

O creative intelligence! When you created
The daughter of Gershom, you shamed all creation,
Because in her form sheer disgrace you perfected;
You dreamed about scorn, she’s your interpretation

Could it be you had vowed to collect all disgrace,
Or maybe an owl or ape was your thinking —
What mad dream is this? Could it well be the case
That your senses left you — or were you just drinking?

So tell me, O angel,1 pray, were your engraver
And your precious calipers stolen from you?
Were you forced to assemble the girl with a spade?

Or did heaven’s stars rise together against her?
Were Cancer and Scorpio, both of them too
‘Midst the spheres at the tail of Draco arrayed?2

עמנואל הרומי
שכל מצייר

 
שֵׂכֶל מְצַיֵּר יוֹם אֲשֶׁר צִיָּרְתָּ
בַּת-גֵּרְשֹׁם כָּל הַיְקוּם הִכְלַמְתָּ
יַעַן בְּגִשְׁמָהּ כָּל גְּנוּת הִשְׁלַמְתָּ
כִּי בָּא חֲלוֹם הַבּוּז וְאַתְּ פָּתָרְתָּ
 
אוּלַי לְקַבֵּץ כָּל גְּנוּת נָדַרְתָּ
אוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת יַנְשׁוֹף וְקוֹף יָזָמְתָּ
מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ
אִם רוּחֲךָ סָרָה וְאִם שָׁכָרְתָּ
 
הַגֵּד כְּרוּב מִמְשַׁח הֲאִם הַשֶּׂרֶד
אוֹ הַמְּחוּגָה מִמְּךָ גֻנָּבוּ
וַתַּעֲשֶׂה בַּת-גֵּרְשֹׁם בָּרָחַת
 
אוֹ פָעֲלוּ בָהּ כּוֹכְבֵי רוֹם מֶרֶד
סַרְטָן וְעַקְרָב אִם אֲזַי נִצָּבוּ
בִּזְנַב תְּלִי בַּמַּעֲלָה צֹמָחַת?
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Séikhel metzayéir yom ‘ashér tziyárta
Bat geirshóm kol ha-yekúm hikhlámta
Yáʕan be-gishmáh kol genút hishlámta
Ki ba ḥalóm ha-búz ve-‘át patárta

‘Ulái lekabéitz kol genút nadárta
‘O laʕasót yanshóf ve-kóf yazámta
Mah ha-ḥalóm ha-zéh ‘ashér ḥalámta
‘Im ruḥakhá saráh ve-‘ím shakhárta

Hagéid kerúv mimsháḥ ha-ím ha-séred
‘O ha-meḥugáh mimkhá gunávu
Va-taʕaséh bat-geirshóm ba-ráḥat

‘O paʕalú vah kokhvéi rom méred
Sartán ve-ʕakráv ‘im ‘azái nitzávu
Biznáv telí ba-maʕaláh tzomáḥat?

  1. The Hebrew says kerúv ha-mimsháḥ, which comes from Ezekiel 28:14. The meaning of mimsháḥ is not entirely clear (it’s a hapax), but in any case, Immanuel here is talking to the angel in charge of physically assembling human bodies.
  2. Apparently, this is one of those infelicitous astrological occurrences. The fuck do I know about astrology?
Nov 292012
 

Love poem, I’ve got a love poem, I’ve got a love poem for youuuuuuu…

(As an aside, I think the afro and the human-shaped being growing from beneath it serving as emcee in that video produce the most syntactically complex English sentence I’ve ever actually heard spoken out loud.)

Anyway! Yehuda ha-Levi, ladies and gentlemen! This poem is constructed out of literally dozens of Biblical allusions, which I just don’t feel like annotating because it’s a huge pain in the ass. If you want me to sit here with the concordance, well…

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
Wherefore, My Gazelle

Wherefore, my gazelle, do you withhold your envoys
From the lover whose ribs are wracked by your pains?
Do you not know your lover asks nothing from time
Save hearing the sound of your greetings?
If it’s been decreed that we two must part
Wait a time ’til I take in your visage.
I cannot say if my heart’s stopped ‘twixt my ribs
Or if it will leave on your journeys.
By love’s life, remember your days of desire,
As I remember the nights of your passions,
And as in my dreams your form passes through,
So may I as well pass through yours.
Between you and I seethes a sea made of tears
How could I cross over its breakers to reach you?
And yet if your footsteps would deign to draw near it
Its waters would split at the soles of your feet!
Would that in my death both my ears might still hear
The golden bells tinkling on your dress’ fringes
Or if you’d ask after your love from the grave
I’d ask for your loving and tidings!
Two witnesses saw how you spilled my heart’s blood,
Namely, your cheeks and your lips —
How could you deny when they’re yet standing over
My own blood, the blood your hands spilled?
How could you long for my death when I only long
To add years to the years of your life?
If you robbed me of sleep on my night of desire,
Wouldn’t I give my eyes’ sleep to your eyelids?
Waters of tears have lapped at your flame,
And hearts made of stone are worn away by your waters.
I’ve come through flames of your passion and waves of my crying,
My heart wailing through both my tears and your embers.
‘Twixt bitter and sweet stands my heart now, to wit:
The hemlock of parting, the honey of kisses,
After your words hammered out flat as tin
The same threads cut short by your hands.
It seems like the sight of two rubies on sapphires
When I look at your lips and your teeth,
Your face is the sun, and by night you spread out
O’er its radiance the clouds of your locks.
Silk and embroidery are your body’s raiment,
Yet grace and sheer beauty are what clothe your two eyes.
The jewels maidens wear are but the work of a man,
But your own jewels are glory and pleasure.
The sun and the moon, the Pleiades’ stars
All longed to be your brothers and sisters.
Sons and daughters would wonder if they’d ever be free
To work as your servants and handmaids.
I’d ask nothing more from the treasure of time
Than the thread of your lips and the belt of your hips.
My comb and my honey lie ‘twixt your two lips
Like my spikenard and myrrh lie between your two breasts.
I’ve set you as a seal on both of my arms,
Would that I’d be a seal on yours.
May my right hand forget and depart from my left
If I forget the sweet love of your betrothals.
Parting makes my heart bitter as my lips now remember
The taste of the honey that flowed from your kisses.
If I blend my own scent with the scent of your myrrh,
I might then kiss your nose and your cheeks.
For to honor most women is to give them due praise,
But your praises already stand honored within you.
In the field of the daughters of desire, all love’s sheaves
Would bow down before the sheaves that you’ve gathered.
And would that I might only live ’til the day
I could gather the myrrh and perfume ‘twixt your footfalls,
Your voice I can’t hear, yet still I perceive
In my heart’s deepest reaches the sound of your footsteps.
And when your day comes be sure to revive those who fell
To your passion, that your dead might all live!
And return to my body the soul that flew out
Behind you on the day that you left.
Ask after your love, O my doe, full of grace
If time should ever ask what you wish —
Come back, and our Rock shall return you in peace
To the place of your desire, your homeland.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
מה לך צביה

 
מַה לָּךְ צְבִיָּה תִּמְנְעִי צִירָיִךְ
מִדּוֹד צְלָעָיו מָלְאוּ צִירָיִךְ
לֹא תֵדְעִי כִּי אֵין לְדוֹדֵךְ מִזְּמָן
בִּלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ קוֹל שְׁלוֹמוֹתָיִךְ
אִם הַפְּרִידָה עַל שְׁנֵינוּ נִגְזְרָה
עִמְדִי מְעַט עַד אֶחֱזֶה פָנָיִךְ
לֹא אֵדְעָה אִם בֵּין צְלָעַי נֶעֱצַר
לִבִּי וְאִם יֵלֵךְ לְמַסָּעָיִךְ
חֵי אַהֲבָה זִכְרִי יְמֵי חִשְׁקֵךְ כְּמוֹ
אֶזְכּוֹר אֲנִי לֵילוֹת תְּשׁוּקוֹתָיִךְ
כַּאֲשֶׁר דְּמוּתֵךְ בַּחֲלוֹמִי יַעֲבֹר
כֵּן אֶעְבְּרָה נָא בַּחֲלוֹמוֹתָיִךְ
בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵךְ יָם דְּמָעוֹת יֶהֱמוּ
גַלָּיו וְלֹא אוּכַל עֲבֹר אֵלָיִךְ
אַךְ לוּ פְעָמַיִךְ לְעָבְרוֹ קָרְבוּ
אָז נִבְקְעוּ מֵימָיו לְכַף רַגְלָיִךְ
לוּ אַחֲרֵי מוֹתִי בְּאָזְנַי יַעֲלֶה
קוֹל פַּעֲמוֹן זָהָב עֲלֵי שׁוּלָיִךְ
אוֹ תִשְׁאֲלִי לִשְׁלוֹם יְדִידֵךְ מִשְּׁאוֹל
אֶשְׁאַל בְּדוֹדַיִךְ וּבִשְׁלוֹמָיִךְ
אָכֵן עֲלֵי שָׁפְכֵךְ דְּמֵי לִבִּי שְׁנֵי
עֵדִים לְחָיַיִךְ וְשִׂפְתוֹתָיִךְ
אֵיךְ תֹּאמְרִי לֹא כֵן וְהֵם עֵדַי עֲלֵי
דָמִי וְעַל כִּי שָׁפְכוּ יָדָיִךְ
מַה תַּחְפְצִי מוֹתִי וְהֵן אֶחְפֹּץ אֲנִי
שָׁנִים לְהוֹסִיף עַל שְׁנֵי חַיָיִךְ
אִם תִּגְזְלִי נוּמִי בְּלֵיל חִשְׁקִי הֲלֹא
אֶתֵּן שְׁנָת עֵינַי לְעַפְעַפָּיִךְ
מֵימֵי דְמָעוֹת לִחֲכָה אִשֵּׁך וְגַם
אַבְנֵי לְבָבוֹת שָׁחֲקוּ מֵימָיִךְ
בָּאתִי בְּאֵשׁ חִשְׁקֵךְ וּמֵי בִכְיִי אָהַהּ
לִבִּי בְדִמְעוֹתַי וְגֶחָלָיִךְ
בֵּין מַר וּמָתוֹק יַעֲמֹד לִבִּי וְהֵם
רוֹשׁ הַנְּדוֹד וּדְבַשׁ נְשִׁיקוֹתָיִךְ
אַחֲרֵי דְבָרַיִךְ כְּפַחִים רִקְעוּ
אֹתוֹ פְּתִילִים קִצְצוּ יָדָיִךְ
מַרְאֵה דְמוּת אֹדֶם עֲלֵי סַפִּיר בְּעֵת
אֶרְאֶה שְׂפָתַיִךְ עֲלֵי שִׁנָּיִךְ
שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּפָנַיִךְ וְלַיִל תִּפְרְשִׂי
עַל זָהֳרוֹ עָבֵי קְּוֻצּוֹתָיִךְ
מֶשִׁי וְרִקְמָה הֵם כְּסוֹת גּוּפֵךְ אֲבָל
הַחֵן וְהַיֹפִי כְּסוּת עֵינָיִךְ
מַשְׂכִּית עֲלָמוֹת מַעֲשֵׁה יְדֵי אִישׁ וְאַתְּ
הַהוֹד וְהַחֶמְדָּה שְׂכִיּוֹתָיִךְ
חֶרֶס וְסַהַר עָשּׁ וְכִימָה קִנְּאוּ
לִהְיוֹת כְּאַחַיִךְ וְאַחְיוֹתָיִךְ
בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת חָשְׁבוּ אִם חָפְשׁוּ
לִהְיוֹת עֲבָדַיִךְ וְשִׁפְחוֹתָיִךְ
לֹא אֶשְׁאֲלָה מֵהוֹן זְמַן חֶלְקִי לְבַד
מִחוּט שְׂפָתַיִּךְ חֲגוֹר מָתְנָיִךְ
יַעְרִי וְדִבְשִׁי בֵּין שְׂפָתַיִךְ כְּמוֹ
נִרְדִּי וּמוֹרִי בֵּין שְׁנֵי שָׁדָיִךְ
שַׂמְתִּיךְ כְּחוֹתָם עַל יְמִינִי לוּ אֲנִי
אֶהְיֶה כְּחוֹתָם עַל זְרוֹעוֹתָיִךְ
אֶשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי מִשְּׂמַאלִי יַעֲלֶה
אִם אֶשְׁכְּחָה אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ
הֵמַר נְדוֹד לִבִּי בְּזָכְרִי יַעֲרַת
נֹפֶת שְׂפָתִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹתָיִךְ
רֵיחִי בְּרֵיחַ מָר-דְּרוֹרֵךְ אֶמְהֲלָה
אוּלַי בְּרֵיחִי אֶשֳּׁקָה אַפָּיִךְ
הִנֵּה כְּבוֹד נָשִׁים תְּהִלָּתָן וְאַתְּ
בָּךְ נִכְבְּדוּ הַיּוֹם תְּהִלּוֹתָיִךְ
בִּשְׂדֵה בְנוֹת חֵשֶׁק אֲלֻמּוֹת אַהֲבָה
תִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶינָה לַאֲלֻמּוֹתָיִךְ
מִי יִתְּנֵנִי אֶחְיֶה עַד אֶאֱרֶה
בֹּשֶׂם וּמוֹר מִבֵּין הֲלִיכוֹתָיִךְ
לֹא אֶשְׁמְעָה קֹוֵלְך אֲבָל אֶשְׁמַע עֲלֵי
סִתְרֵי לְבָבִי קוֹל צְעָדוֹתָיִךְ
פִּקְדִי בְּיוֹם פָּקְדֵךְ לְחַיּוֹת חַלְלֵי
חִשְׁקֵךְ וְיוֹם בּוֹ יִחְיוּ מֵתָיִךְ
נַפְשִׁי לְהָשִׁיב אֶל גְּוִיָּתִי בְיוֹם
נָסְעֵךְ בְּצֵאתֵךְ יָצְאָה אַחֲרָיִךְ
בִּשְׁלוֹם יְדִידֵךְ יַעֲלַת חֵן שַׁאֲלִי
אִם הַזְּמָן יִשְׁאַל שְׁאֵלוֹתָיִךְ
שׁוּבִי וְצוּרֵנוּ יְשִׁיבֵךְ אֶל מְחוֹז
חֶפְצֵךְ וְאֶל אֶרֶץ מְכֻרוֹתָיִךְ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mah lakh tzeviyáh timneʕí tziráyikh
Mi-dód tzelaʕáv mal’ú tziráyikh
Lo teidʕí ki ‘ein le-dodéikh mi-zemán
Bílti shemóaʕ kol shlomotáyikh
‘Im ha-preidáh ʕal shnéinu nigzeráh
ʕimdí meʕát ʕad ‘eḥezéh fanáyikh
Lo ‘eidʕáh ‘im bein tzelaʕái neʕetzár
Libí ve-ím yeiléikh le-masaʕáyikh
Ḥei ‘ahaváh zikhrí yeméi ḥishkéikh kemó
‘Ezkór ‘aní leilót teshukotáyikh
Ka’ashér demutéikh ba-ḥalomí yaʕavór
Kein ‘eʕberáh na ba-ḥalomotáyikh
Beiní u-veinéikh yam demaʕót yehemú
Galáv ve-lo ‘ukhál ʕavór ‘eiláyikh
‘Akh lu peʕamáyikh leʕavró karvú
‘Az nivkeʕú meimáv le-kháf ragláyikh
Lu ‘aḥaréi motí be-‘oznái yaʕaléh
Kol paʕamón zaháv ʕaléi shuláyikh
‘O tish’alí lishlóm yedidéikh mi-she’ól
‘Esh’ál be-dodáyikh u-vishlomáyikh
‘Akhéin ʕaléi shofkhéikh deméi libí shenéi
ʕeidím leḥayáyikh ve-siftotáyikh
‘Eikh tomrí lo khein ve-héim ʕadéi ʕaléi
Damí ve-ʕál ki shafkhú yadáyikh
Mah taḥpetzí motí ve-héin ‘eḥpótz ‘aní
Shaním lehosíf ʕal shenéi ḥayáyikh
‘Im tigzelí numí be-léil ḥishkí ha-ló
‘etéin shenát ʕeinái le-ʕafʕapáyikh
Meiméi demaʕót liḥakháh ‘ishéikh ve-gám
‘Avnéi levavót shaḥakú meimáyikh
Báti be-‘éish ḥishkéikh u-méi vikhyí ‘aháh
Libí ve-dimʕotái ve-geḥaláyikh
Bein mar u-matók yaʕamód libí ve-héim
Rosh ha-nedód u-devásh neshikotáyikh
‘Aḥaréi devaráyikh ke-faḥím rikʕú
‘Otó petilím kitzetzú yadáyikh
Mar’éih demút ‘ódem ʕaléi sapír be-ʕéit
‘Er’éh sefatáyikh ʕaléi shináyikh
Shémesh be-fanáyikh ve-láyil tifresí
ʕal zoharó ʕavéi kevutzotáyikh
Méshi ve-rikmáh heim kesót guféikh ‘avál
Ha-ḥein ve-ha-yófi kesót ʕeináyikh
Maskít ʕalamót maʕaséih yedéi ‘ish ve-‘át
Ha-hód ve-ha-ḥemdáh sekhiyotáyikh
Ḥéres ve-sáhar ʕash ve-khimáh kin’ú
Liheyót ke-‘aḥáyikh ve-‘aḥyotáyikh
Baním u-vanót ḥashvú ‘im ḥafshú
Liheyót ʕavadáyikh ve-shifḥotáyikh
Lo ‘esh’aláh mei-hón zemán ḥelkí levád
Mi-ḥút sefatáyikh ḥagór motnáyikh
Yaʕrí ve-divshí bein sefatáyikh kemó
Nirdí u-morí bein shenéi shadáyikh
Samtíkh ke-ḥotám ʕal yeminí lu ‘aní
‘Eheyéh ke-ḥotám ʕal zeroʕotáyikh
‘Eshkáḥ yeminí mi-smolí yaʕaléh
‘Im ‘eshkeḥáh ‘ahavát kelulotáyikh
Heimár nedód libí be-zokhrí yaʕarát
Nófet sefatái mi-neshikotáyikh
Reiḥí be-réiaḥ mor deroréikh ’emhaláh
‘Ulái be-reiḥí ‘eshakáh ‘apáyikh
Híneih kevód nashím tehilatán ve-‘át
Bakh nikhbedú ha-yóm tehilotáyikh
Bisdéih vanót ḥéishek ‘alumót ‘ahaváh
Tishtaḥavéna la-‘alumotáyikh
Mi yitnéini ‘eḥyéh ʕad ‘e’eréh
Bósem u-mór me-béin halikhotáyikh
Lo ‘eshmeʕáh koléikh ‘avál ‘eshmáʕ ʕaléi
Sitréi levaví kol tzeʕadotáyikh
Pikdí be-yóm pokdéikh leḥayót ḥaleléi
Ḥishkéikh ve-yóm bo yiḥeyú meitáyikh
Nafshí lehashív ‘el geviyatí ve-yóm
Nosʕéikh be-tzeitéikh yatz’áh ‘aḥaráyikh
Bi-shelóm yedidéikh yaʕalát ḥein sha’alí
‘Im ha-zemán yish’ál she’eilotáyikh
Shúvi ve-tzuréinu yeshivéikh ‘el meḥóz
Ḥeftzéikh ve-‘él ‘éretz mekhurotáyikh.

Nov 282012
 

Okay, if it’s not self-evident, I had a lot of fun with this one. I mentioned this poem when I gave a presentation on Andalusian Hebrew poetry as a good example of how Avraham ibn Ezra was as top-rate a whiner and poet as he was an exegete and philosopher, but now I’ve actually translated it!

Avraham ibn Ezra (1089 – 1167)
The Coat That I Wear

The coat that I wear looks more like a sieve,
For sifting barley or wheat it’s just right —
At midnight I spread it above like a tent
And through it the stars give their light.
The Pleiades and moon I can see from within
And Orion appears blazing bright.
And all of its holes I’ve grown weary of counting —
Like the teeth of a saw they seem, jagged and brutal.
If a thread had a hope that its rips might bear mending
Through weft and through warp — it was futile.
A fly, like a dupe, would fast regret landing
Upon my coat’s fabric with all of his weight.
So I ask you, my God, if you wouldn’t mind switching —
To give me a new cloak, more grand and ornate,
Only this time, Lord, improve the stitching!

אברהם אבן עזרא / إبراهيم ابن عزرا
מעיל יש לי

 
מְעִיל יֵשׁ לִי וְהוּא כִדְמוּת כְּבָרָה
לְחִטָּה לַהֲנָפָה אוֹ שְׂעוֹרָה,
כְּאֹהֶל אֶפְרְשֶׂנּוּ לֵיל בְּאִישׁוֹן
וְכוֹכְבֵי רוֹם יְשִׂימוּן בּוֹ מְאוֹרָה,
בְּתוֹכוֹ אֶחֱזֶה סַהַר וְכִימָה
וְיוֹפִיעַ כְּסִיל עָלָיו נְהָרָה.
וְאֵלַהּ מִסְּפֹר אֶת כָּל נְקָבָיו
אֲשֶׁר דּוֹמִים לְשִׁנֵּי הַמְּגֵרָה,
וְתִקְוַת חוּט תְּפִירַת כָּל קְרוּעָיו –
עֲלֵי שֶׁתִי וְעֵרֶב – הִיא יְתֵרָה,
וְאִם יִפֹּל זְבוּב עָלָיו בְּחָזְקָה
כְּמוֹ פֶתִי יְהִי נִמְלַךְ מְהֵרָה.
אֱלוֹהַי, הַחֲלִיפֵהוּ בְּמַעְטֵה
תְהִלָּה לִי וְתֵיטִיב הַתְּפִירָה!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Meʕíl yeish li ve-hú khi-demút kevaráh
Le-ḥitáh la-hanafáh ‘o seʕoráh,
Ke-‘óhel ‘efresénu leil be-‘ishón
Ve-khokhevéi rom yesimún bo me’oráh,
Be-tokhó ‘eḥezéh sáhar ve-khimáh
Ve-yofíaʕ kesíl ʕaláv neharáh.
Ve-‘eiláh mi-sefór ‘et kol nekaváv
‘Ashér domím le-shinéi ha-megeiráh,
Ve-tikvát ḥut tefirát kol keruʕáv —
ʕaléi shéti ve-ʕéirev — hi yeteiráh,
Ve-‘im yipól zevúv ʕaláv be-ḥozkáh
Kemó féti yehí nimlákh meheiráh.
‘Elohái, haḥliféihu be-maʕtéih
Tehiláh li ve-teitív ha-tefiráh!

Nov 272012
 

I just wanted to translate a quick tajnis so I could take a nap. Then this one turned out to be quite difficult. Nothing ever works out for me. Anyway, the Key Word is ʕadí, which means both “jewel” and “mouth.” I tend to translate the medieval poets’ many references to the mouth, whether they call it peh or ʕadí, as “lips,” since in English it sounds alternately childish or vaguely creepy (to me) to talk about kissing someone on the mouth, or how beautiful someone’s mouth is. Languages.

Moshe ibn Ezra (1060? – 1140?)
In the Fawn’s Hand the Glass

In the fawn’s hand the glass will rise like a star
  and the West he shall make like his jewel
And its lights shall shine bright on his cheek, beautified
  in its splendor by his lips’ dazzling glory.

משה אבן עזרא / موسى ابن عزرا
יעלה כמו כוכב ביד עופר

 
יַעְלֶה כְּמוֹ כוֹכָב בְּיַד עֹפֶר \ הַכּוֹס וּמַעְרָבוֹ יְשַׁו עֶדְיוֹ
וַזְרְחוּ אוֹרָיו עֲלֵי לֶחְיוֹ \ וַיִּיף בְּהוֹדוֹ מִצְּבִי עֶדְיוֹ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yaʕléh kemó khokháv be-yád ʕófer / ha-kós u-maʕravó yesháv ʕedyó
Vazereḥú ‘oráv ʕaléi leḥyó / va-yíf be-hodó mi-tzeví ʕedyó.

Nov 262012
 

That girl is poiiiisssoooonnn…

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
Your Cheek Is an Adder

Your cheek is an adder that yet renders balm
Your distance a wound that your closeness would dress
From the dew of your cheeks and your lips sate your love
With but a drop of the honey and balm1 you possess.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
לחיך פתן ומנהו הצרי

 
לֶחֱיֵךְ פֶּתֶן וּמֶנְהוּ הַצֳּרִי
רָחֳקֵךְ יַכְאִיב וְקָרְבֵךְ יֶחֱבַשׁ
סַעֲדִי מִפִּיךְ וּמִצּוּף לֶחֱיֵךְ
אֹהֲבֵךְ בִּמְעַט צֳרִי וּמְעַט דְּבָשׁ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Leḥeyéikh péten u-ménhu ha-tzorí
Raḥokéikh yakh’ív ve-korvéikh yeḥevásh
Saʕadí mi-píkh u-mi-tzúf leḥeyéikh
‘Ohavéikh bi-meʕát tzorí u-meʕát devásh.

  1. Genesis 43:11.
Nov 252012
 

If you ever take any advice of mine to heart, dear reader, let it be this: never go more than a few days without Yehuda ha-Levi’s love poetry. And may we all find someone worthy of it.

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
Would That Dawn Might Pursue Me

Would that dawn might pursue me with the very same wind
That makes sway her body and kisses her lips
And would that the clouds had borne her my love,
So it might make her heart as soft as her hips.
May the doe who now rests on the far Hyades1
Pity he who must fly to the stars high above.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
לו שחרים ירדפוני ברוח

 
לוּ שְׁחָרִים יְרַדְּפוּנִי בְרוּחַ
הַמְנַשֵּׁק פִּיהָ וְגוּפָהּ יְנוֹפֵף
וַעֲנָנִים לוּ נָשְׂאוּ לָהּ שְׁלוֹמִי
אָז כְּמָתְנָהּ קְשִׁי לְבָבָהּ יְרוֹפֵף
יַעֲלָה בָּחֲרָה עֲלֵי עָשׁ מְנוּחָה
רַחֲמִי אֶת אֲשֶׁר עֲדֵי עָשׁ יְעוֹפֵף.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Lu sheḥarím yeradfúni ve-rúaḥ
Ha-menashéik píha ve-gufáh yenoféif
Va-ʕananím lu nas’ú lah shelomí
‘Az ke-motnáh keshí levaváh yeroféif
Yaʕaláh baḥaráh ʕaléi ʕash menuḥáh
Raḥamí ‘et ‘ashér ʕadéi ʕash yeʕoféif.

  1. The word ha-Levi uses, ʕash, may refer to either to Taurus or Ursa Major (the constellation is mentioned in the Bible alongside Orion and the Pleiades, but its exact identity has long been a matter of some dispute). The Hyades, which are within Taurus, are sometimes referred to as bnei ʕash (“the children of Ash”). I like star clusters, so I went with that.
Nov 242012
 

From “Lifnei ha-Sha’ar ha-Afeil” (“Before the Dark Gate”).

David Vogel (1891 – 1944)
Alongside Me the Days Pass By

Alongside me the days pass by —
and I go forth seeking you, my father.

I’ll sleep on stone
at the side of my paths,
every passerby I’ll ask:
“Where’s my father gone?”

A trembling word of God,
that you are for me,
blazing through my whole life.

So once more will I stand before you,
your little boy, so good,
and quietly my hand plucks at
the button of your black coat.

Father, where do you sleep?

Forever what I’ve wanted is to sit
upon your lips
to guard your silent slumber.

Alongside me the days pass by—
and I go forth seeking you, my father.

דוד פוגל
ימים פונים על ידי

 
יָמִים פּוֹנִים עַל יָדִי —
וַאֲנִי הוֹלֵךְ בַּקֶּשְׁךָ, אָבִי.
 
עַל אֶבֶן אָנוּחָה
בְּצִדֵּי אָרְחוֹתַי,
כָּל עוֹבֵר אֶשְׁאָלָה:
“אָנָה הָלַךְ אָבִי?”
 
דְּבַר־אֵל חָרֵד
הִנְּךָ לִי,
הַיּוֹקֵד דֶּרֶך כָּל חַיָי.
 
הֵן עוֹד אֶעֱמֹד לְפָנֶיךָ,
נַעַרְךָ הַקָּטָן, הַטּוֹב,
וְיָדִי מוֹרְטָה חֶרֶשׁ
כַּפְתּוֹר מְעִילְךָ הַשָּׁחוֹר.
 
אֵיפֹה תִישַׁן, אָבִי?
 
נֶצַח מֶה חָפַצְתִּי שֶׁבֶת
עַל שְֹפָתֶיךָ
לִשְׁמֹר נוּמְךָ הַחֲשָׁאִי.
 
יָמִים פּוֹנִים עַל יָדִי —
וַאֲנִי הוֹלֵךְ בַּקֶּשְׁךָ, אָבִי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yamím poním ʕal yadái —
Va’aní holéikh bakeshekhá, ‘aví.

ʕal ‘éven ‘anúḥah
Be-tzidéi orḥotái,
Kol ʕovéir ‘esh’álah:
“‘Ána halákh ‘aví?”

Devár ‘eil ḥaréid
Hinkhá li
Ha-yokéid dérekh kol ḥayái

Hein ʕod ‘eʕemód lefanékha,
Naʕarkhá ha-katán, ha-tóv,
Ve-yadí mortáh ḥéresh
Kaftór meʕilkhá ha-shaḥór.

‘Éifoh tishán, ‘aví?

Nétzaḥ meh ḥafátzi shévet
ʕal sefatékha
Lishmór numkhá ha-ḥasha’í.

Yamím poním ʕal yadái —
Va’aní holéikh bakeshekhá, ‘aví.

Nov 232012
 

From the book of the same name. This took me a surprising amount of time to translate.

Leah Goldberg (1911 – 1970)
With This Night

With this night and with all of its hush
with this night —
with three stars
that were lost ‘twixt the trees
with that wind.

With that wind
that stood still so it might hear
this night —
with this night
and three stars
and that wind.

לאה גולדברג
עם הלילה הזה

 
עִם הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה וְעִם כָּל שְׁתִיקוֹתָיו
עִם הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה –
עִם שְׁלֹשָה כּוֹכָבִים
שֶׁאָבְדוּ בֵּין עֵצִים
עִם הָרוּחַ הַזֹּאת.
 
עִם הָרוּחַ הַזֹּאת
שֶׁעָמְדָה לְהַקְשִׁיב
לַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה –
עִם הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה
וּשְׁלֹשָה כּוֹכָבִים
וְהָרוּחַ הַזֹּאת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕim ha-láilah ha-zéh ve-ʕim-kól shtikotáv
ʕim ha-láilah ha-zéh —
ʕim shlosháh kokhavím
She-‘avdú bein ʕeitzím
ʕim ha-rúaḥ ha-zót.

ʕim ha-rúaḥ ha-zót
She-ʕamdáh lehakshív
La-láilah ha-zéh —
ʕim ha-láilah ha-zéh
U-shlosháh kokhavím
Ve-ha-rúaḥ ha-zót.

Nov 222012
 

That’s officially two uninterrupted months of at least one translation per day. And far more posts in the last two months than in this site’s rather spartan previous four years combined. Anyone want to validate me a little? No? Thought not.

At least we’ll always have Andalusia.

Nov 222012
 

A tajnis. Of course. I gotta say, ibn Ezra brought the vocabulary on this one. They Key Word is ‘ov, which can be both a wineskin and a kind of necromantic sorcery, which he also links with the similar-sounding verb ‘avah, “to desire.”

Moshe ibn Ezra (1060? – 1140?)
Despite Those Who Watch Me

Despite those who watch me,
  All my soul might desire
The sun’s sisters desire too.
  If they raised their palm-like forms1 to dance,
The wine in the skins ran dry.
  Or if they stirred the strings of the lute,
They put all the conjurers to shame.

משה אבן עזרא / موسى ابن عزرا
על עף צופיי אחיות שמש

 
עַל-אַף צֹפַי \ אַחְיוֹת שֶׁמֶשׁ \ כָּל-מַה-תֹּאבֶה \ נַפְשִׁי אֹבוֹת
אִם-הֵנִיפוּ \ קוֹמוֹת תָּמָר \ לִרְקוֹד כָּלוּ \ יֵינֵי אֹבוֹת
אוֹ הֵנִיעוּ \ יִתְרֵי כִנּוֹר \ הוֹבִישׁוּ כָל- \ בַּעְלֵי אֹבוֹת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕal-‘áf tzofái / ‘aḥyót shémesh / kol-mah-tovéh / nafshí ‘ovót
‘Im heinífu / komót tamár / lirkód kalú / yeinéi ‘ovót
‘O heiníʕu / yitréi khinór / hovíshu khol / baʕaléi ‘ovót.

  1. A common way to describe a comely female form, from Song of Songs 7:9.