Dec 192012

Whether you’re a hopeless romantic or a miserable bastard, or (more likely if you happen to be a poet) both simultaneously, the Holy Tongue is the perfect vessel for expression. Without declaring firm allegiance to either camp, homeboy is feelin’ this one.

Oh, and this is Soul and Gone’s first Greek Hebrew poem. Why yes, Hebrew poetry flourished in Greece (especially in Salonika, or Thessaloniki, or whatever you want to call it). Zarko himself was from Rhodes, but was active in both Salonika and Istanbul. This particular poem’s meter, form and smattering of internal rhymes and plays on words make it a delight for the Hebrew reader; in English, unfortunately, you’re stuck with me. And that’s a cruel fate indeed, so learn Hebrew. Musar ve-leqaḥ tov mi-Mikha’eil.

Yehuda Zarko (? – after 1560)
O Dread Living God

O dread living God! Arrange to replace
The place of my prison with bright moon1 and goblets.
The black of my Hell, pray, change to my light,
This dwelling of darkness to orchards and gardens.
I call to you, God, from the pit of my thoughts,
I cry like one blameless, not sland’ring or grumbling.
Set loose, as I wish, my ship of desires
That’s moored in the heart of a sea made of troubles.
Exchange all my thorns2 for lilies of joy,3
This wormwood and hemlock for grain and new wine.

יהודה זרקו
אל חי ונורא

אֵל חַי וְנוֹרָא, תְּצַו לַהֲפֹךְ בֵּית
כֶּלֶא וְסֹהַר בְּסַהַר וְאַגָּן.
אֹפֶל שְׁאוֹלִי הֲפָךְ־נָא לְהִלִּי,
מִשְׁכַּן עֲלָטָה לְפַרְדֵּס וְנִיר גָּן.
אֶקְרָא לְךָ, אֵל, בְּחֹר מַחֲשָׁבִי,
אֶצְעַק כְּתָם, לֹא כְּרָכִיל וְנִרְגָּן.
הֹוֵצא אֳנִי מַאֲוַיַּי כְּחֶפְצִי,
כִּי הוּא בְּלֵב יָם־תְּלָאוֹת מְעֻגָּן.
תָּמִיר שְׁמִירִי בְּשׁוֹשַׁן שְׂשׂוֹנִי,
לַעְנָה וּמֵי רֹאשׁ בְּתִירוֹשׁ וְדָגָן.


‘Eil ḥai ve-norá, tetzáv lahafókh beit
Kéle ve-sóhar be-sáhar ve-‘agán.
‘Ófel she’olí hafákh-na le-hilí,
Mishkán ʕalatáh le-fardéis ve-nír gan.
‘Ekrá lekhá, ‘eil, be-ḥór maḥashaví,
‘Etzʕák ke-tám, lo ke-rakhíl ve-nirgán.
Hotzéi ‘oní ma’avayái ke-ḥeftzí,
Ki hu be-léiv yam tela’ót meʕugán.
Tamír shemirí be-shoshán sesoní,
Laʕnáh u-méi rosh be-tirósh ve-dagán.

  1. There’s a nice play on words between sohar (“prison”) and sahar (“moon”) here, as well as an allusion to Song of Songs 7:2.
  2. Shamir is more “thistle” than “thorn,” but, y’know, meter.
  3. Another quality play on words between shoshan (“lily”) and sason (“joy”).

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