Jan 312013
 

A pretty little poem about (according to the superscription in the diwan) a field of violets. And also about being hungover.

Moshe ibn Ezra (1060? – 1140?)
And Early

And early, well-smitten by amity’s wine,
  unable to ramble, we rose
Unto the meadow whose winds scattered spices
  sweet-scented like cassia or cloves1
The sun had embroidered its surface with blossoms
  which over it spread azure clothes.

משה אבן עזרא / موسى ابن عزرا
והשכמנו

 
וְהִשְׁכַּמְנוּ הֲלוּמֵי יֵין יְדִידוֹת / וְאֵין בָּנוּ לְהִתְהַלֵּךְ יְכֹלֶת
אֱלֵי כַר נָפְחוּ רוּחֵי בְשָׂמָיו / וְהֵרִיחוּ כְּקִדָּה אוֹ שְׁחֵלֶת
וְשֶׁמֶשׁ רָקְמָה פָנָיו בְּצִצִּים / וְעָלָיו פָּרְשׂוּ בֶגֶד תְּכֵלֶת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ve-hishkámnu haluméi yein yedidót / ve-‘éin bánu lehithaléikh yekhólet
‘Eléi khar nafḥú ruḥéi vesamáv / ve-heiríḥu ke-kidáh ‘o sheḥéilet
Ve-shémesh rakmáh fanáv be-tzitzím / ve-ʕaláv parsú béged tekhéilet.

  1. Sheḥeilet. An ingredient in the Temple incense whose exact identity is highly, highly disputed. I would mock whoever composed that lengthy and exhaustively footnoted Wikipedia entry on something so utterly inconsequential, but then again, I translate Hebrew poetry on the Internet. In any case, I went with “cloves,” because they’re nice-smelling, consonant and in keeping, more or less, with the rhyme scheme. And they turned out to be a potential candidate according to Rav Wikipedia anyway!
Jan 302013
 

More Yehuda. This is one of a rather striking series of poems describing his voyage by sea to Egypt on the way to the Land of Israel. This is not the most striking among them, but I’m pressed for time lately, not to mention still sick. What do the three of you reading expect from me. I’m just happy I found a play on words that works in both English and Hebrew (“teshabeir/mishbarim – break/breakers“).

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
My God, Break You Not

My God, break you not the sea’s breakers;
And say not “Be dry!” to the depths of the sea
‘Til I thank you for all of your kindness,
And thank the waves and the west wind that bear me,
Which are drawing me near to the yoke of your love,
Which lift from my neck the yoke of Araby!
And how could my hopes ever fail to come to true —
For in you I shall trust; you’re my surety.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
אלוהי, אל תשבר

 
אֱלֹהַי אַל תְּשַׁבֵּר מִשְׁבְּרֵי יָם
וְאַל תֹּאמַר לְצוּלַת יָם חֳרָבִי
עֲדֵי אוֹדֶה חֲסָדֶיךָ וְאוֹדֶה
לְגַלֵּי יָם וְרוּחַ מַעֲרָבִי
יְקָרֵבוּ מְקוֹם עֹל אַהֲבָתְךָ
וּמֵעָלַי יְסִירוּן עֹל עֲרָבִי
וְאֵיךְ לֹא יִתְּמוּ לִי מִשְׁאֲלוֹתַי
וּבָךְ אֶבְטַח וְאַתָּה הוּא עֲרָבִי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Elohái, ‘al teshabéir mishberéi yam
Ve-‘ál tomár le-tzulát yam ḥoraví
ʕadéi ‘odéh ḥasadékha ve-‘odéh
Le-galéi yam ve-rúaḥ maʕaraví
Yekaréivu mekóm ʕol ‘ahavatkhá
U-mei-ʕalái yesirún ʕol ʕaraví
Ve-‘éikh lo yitmú li mish’alotái
U-vákh ‘evtáḥ ve-‘atáh hu ʕaraví.

Jan 292013
 

Can’t sleep. Good elegy. To the point.

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
Could These Tears Ever Know

Could these tears ever know who had spilled them?
Could these hearts ever know who’d upturned them?
They’re upturned as their light unto clods of earth comes
Could these clods ever know what’s within them?
Within them’s a prince, a man honest and true,
Who feared God, a man of learning and wisdom.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
הידעו הדמעות

 
הֲיֵדְעוּ הַדְּמָעוֹת מִי שְׁפָכָם
וְיֵדְעוּ הַלְּבָבוֹת מִי הֲפָכָם
הֲפָכָם בּוֹא מְאוֹרָם תּוֹךְ רְגָבִים
וְלֹא יֵדְעוּ רְגָבִים מַה בְּתוֹכָם
בְּתוֹכָם שַׂר וְגָדוֹל תָּם וְיָשָׁר
יְרֵא הָאֵל וְאִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ha-yeidʕú ha-demaʕót mi shefakhám
Ve-yeidʕú ha-levavót mi hafakhám
Hafakhám bo me’orám tokh regavím
Ve-ló yeidʕú regavím mah be-tokhám
Be-tokhám sar ve-gadól tam ve-yashár
Yeréi ha-‘éil ve-‘ísh navón ve-ḥakhám.

Jan 282013
 

They’re leaving on that midnight camel train to Córdoba.

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
They Left

They left — and o’er their heads left a cloud that brimmed full
  As their hands had with gifts, or my eyes did with tears
She1 cried at my weeping and told me: “Keep faith!
  For God will return them!” I spoke to her, “Wait!
Hold back ’til they come to the place of their rest,
  Then go forth to meet them with torrents of blessings.
But if they’d be stopped now from leaving by rain,
  Then like the Gihon2 pour yourself out upon them!”

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
נסעו ונסעה

 
נָסְעוּ — וְנָסְעָה עָב עֲלֵי רֹאשָׁם, כְּמוֹ
 כַּפָּם בְּמַתָּן, אוֹ כְעֵינִי בַבְּכִי.
בָּכְתָה לְבִכְיָתִי וְאָמְרָה לִי: חֲכֵה,
 כִּי עוֹד יְשִׁיבֵם אֵל! וְשַׂחְתִּי לָהּ: חֲכִי
עַד יִגְּעוּ אֶל עִיר מְנוּחָתָם וְאָז
 בִּמְטַר נְדָבוֹת אֶל מְנוּתָחָם לְכִי.
אִם יֶחְדְּלוּ נָא מִלְּהַלֵּךְ בַּעֲבוּר
 גֶּשֶׁם עֲלֵיהֶם נָא כְגִיחוֹן תִּשְׁפְּכִי!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Nasʕú — ve-nasʕáh ʕav ʕaléi roshám, kemó
Kapám be-matán, ‘o khe-ʕeiní va-bekhí.
Bakhtáh le-vikhyatí ve-‘amráh li: ḥakhéih,
Ki ʕod yeshivém ‘eil! Ve-sáḥti lah: ḥakhí
ʕad yigʕú ‘el ʕir menuḥatám ve-‘áz
Bimtár nedavót ‘el menuḥatám lekhí.
‘Im yeḥdalú na mi-lehaléikh baʕavúr
Géshem ʕaleihém na khe-giḥón tishpekhí!

  1. The cloud.
  2. The spring that supplies water to Jerusalem, or one of the primeval rivers mentioned in Genesis. Doesn’t really matter which, I guess.
Jan 272013
 

The brothers Frances are tag-teaming up in here!

Immanuel Frances (1618? – 1710?)
Though Lustrous, Lovers

Though lustrous, lovers, the fawn’s hair is a veil
In which for suitors is concealed a snare
Falling slain to the pit she’s hidden there,
All are trapped by her; escape’s of no avail.

Snow and fire upon her breasts are blazing pale
Mingling, pairing, burning with a dazzling glare
Who’s seen frost, and underneath a smold’ring flare?
Ice atop a bed of coals, yet none prevail.

For in her eyes, with all the might his hands possessed
Has not Desire drawn his bow against all foes
And struck a doubly bitter blow within their chest?

And so, my friends, beware of drawing close
To her hair, and to her eyes, and to her breast
For in them there’s but fire, nets and arrows.

עמנואל פראנשיס
דודים שער עפרה

 
דּוֹדִים שְׂעַר עָפְרָה אֲשֶׁר זוֹרֵחַ
בּוֹ נִסְתְּרָה לַחוֹשְׁקִים הַפַּחַת
שָׁמָּה חֲלָלִים יִפְּלוּ לַשַּׁחַת
כָּל הַלְּכוּדִים בָּהּ וְאֵין בּוֹרֵחַ.
 
שֶׁלֶג בְּדַדֶּיהָ וְאֵשׁ קוֹדֵחַ
מִתְעָרְבָה יַחַד וּמִתְלַקָּחַת
מִי זֶה כְפוֹר רָאָה וְאֵשׁ מִתַּחַת
קֶרַח וְגֶחָלִים וְאֵין נוֹצֵחַ.
 
אָכֵן בְּעֵינֶיהָ בְעֹז יָדַיִם
חֵשֶׁק הֲלֹא דָרַךְ כְּאוֹיֵב קֶשֶׁת
וַיַּךְ לְבָבוֹת בּוֹ בְּמַר כִּפְלַיִם.
 
לָכֵן יְדִידִים תִּירְאוּ מִגֶּשֶׁת
אֶל דַּד וְאֶל שֵֹעָר וְאֶל עֵינַיִם
יַעַן חֲצָצִים בָּם וְאֵשׁ וָרֶשֶׁת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Dodím seʕár ʕofráh ‘ashér zoréiaḥ
Bo nisteráh la-ḥoshkím ha-páḥat
Shámah ḥalalím yiplú la-sháḥat
Kol ha-lekhudím bav ve-‘éin boréiaḥ.

Shéleg be-dadéha ve-‘éish kodéiaḥ
Mitʕarváh yáḥad u-mitlakáḥat
Mi zeh khefór ra’áh ve-‘éish mi-táḥat
Kéraḥ ve-geḥalím ve-‘éin notzéiaḥ.

‘Akhéin be-ʕeinéha ve-ʕóz yadáyim
Ḥéishek ha-ló darákh ke-‘oyéiv késhet
Va-yákh levavót bo be-már kifláyim.

Lakhéin yedidím tir’ú mi-géshet
‘El dad ve-‘él seiʕár ve-‘el ʕeináyim
Yáʕan ḥatzatzím bam ve-‘éish va-réshet.

Jan 272013
 

You keep on knocking, but you can’t come in:

Jacob Miller - Keep On Knocking

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
If I Hadn’t Known You

If I hadn’t known you, Love, ere this past night,
Had not my own hands had the feel of your art,
If I hadn’t felt your flame burn in my heart,
Had I like a snail not melted outright,1

And if since the day I beheld the sun’s light,
My eyes hadn’t sensed your dominion and sway
O’er all this great host that I’ve met ‘long the way
From all types of man, unto beast, unto mite —

O Love, on this day I’d call naught all your charms,
As nothing and void I’d consider Desire,
I’d call you a lamb in a lion’s guise dressed,

For ‘gainst him this fawn came out girded in arms,
Her heart in bright mail ‘gainst all weapons attired;
Wax upon marble were his shafts on her breast!

יעקב פראנשיס
לולי ידעתיך אהבה

 
לוּלֵי יְדַעְתִּיךְ אַהֲבָה מֵאֶמֶשׁ
לוּלֵי בְיָדִי פָעֳלֵךְ מִשַּׁשְׁתִּי
לוּלֵי בְלִבִּי לַהֲבֵךְ הִרְגַּשְׁתִּי
וּכְשַׁבְּלוּל אֵלֵךְ לְמֵאָז תֶּמֶס
 
לוּלֵי לְמִיּוֹם אֶחֱזֶה כַשֶּׁמֶשׁ
תָּקְפֵּךְ וּמֶמְשַֹלְתֵּךְ בְּעֵינַי חַשְׁתִּי
בַּמַּחֲנֶה הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר פָּגַשְׁתִּי
מִמִּין אֱנוֹשִׁי עַד בְּעִיר וָרֶמֶשׂ
 
הָאַהֲבָה הַיּוֹם חֲשַׁבְתִּיךְ אַיִן
תֹּהוּ וְאֶפֶס נֶחֱשַׁב לִי חֵשֶׁק
לָךְ אֶקְרְאָה טָלֶה בְּצוּרַת לַיִשׁ
 
כִּי אָזְרָה עָפְרָה לְנֶגְדּוֹ זַיִן
לִבָּהּ לְבוּשׁ שִׁרְיוֹן לְמוּל כָּל־נֶשֶׁק
חִצָּיו בְּחֵיקָהּ שַׁעֲוָה עַל־שַׁיִשׁ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Luléi yedaʕtíkh ‘ahaváh mei-‘émesh
Luléi ve-yadí poʕaléikh misháshti
Luléi ve-libí lahavéikh hirgáshti
U-khe-shablúl ‘eiléikh le-mei’áz témes

Luléi le-mi-yóm ‘eḥezéh kha-shémesh
Tokpéikh u-memshaltéikh be-ʕeinái ḥáshti
Ba-maḥanéh ha-zéh ‘ashér pagáshti
Mi-mín ‘enoshí ʕad beʕír va-rémes

Ha-‘ahaváh ha-yóm ḥashavtíkh ‘áyin
Tóhu ve-‘éfes neḥesháv li ḥéishek
Lakh ‘ekre’áh taléh be-tzurát láyish

Ki ‘azráh ʕofráh le-negdó záyin
Libáh levúsh shiryón le-múl kol néshek
Ḥitzáv be-ḥeikáh shaʕaváh ʕal sháyish.

  1. Psalm 58:8.
Jan 262013
 

A Florentine contemporary of Yosef Tzarfati, of a similarly romantic bent, with a similarly dour streak.

Moshe ben Yoav (after 1506 – after 1569)
For Days and for Nights

For days and for nights my poor heart will lament
  And heave bitter sighs towards you, my gazelle
And sobbing and grief it will rouse, so please heed
  These words that I’ve sent to the place where you dwell
My tongue, with my cries, to my palate has cleaved
  My mountains your glory has made like a dell
May all that I say be engraved in your heart,
  May my songs’ every word be open as well,
The moment I see you, my days will improve
  In fullness of joy, all delights I’ll excel
So soften your heart to the charm of my words
  Together in bed we’ll lay under calm’s spell.

משה בן־יואב
ימים ולילות

 
יָמִים וְלֵילוֹת יְקוֹנֵן לְבָבִי / מוּלֵךְ צְבִיָּה יְמָרֵר אֲנָחוֹת
וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד יְעוֹרֵר לְזֹאת נָא / שִׁמְעִי אֲמָרוֹת לְבֵיתֵךְ שְׁלוּחוֹת
דָּבֵק בְּקָרְאִי לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי / מֵשִֹים הֲדָרֵךְ הֲרָרַי כְּשׁוּחוֹת
יִהְיוּ דְבָרַי בְלִבֵּךְ חֲקוּקוֹת / אִמְרוֹת זְמִירַי לְנֶגְדֵּךְ פְּתוּחוֹת
טוֹבוּ יְמוֹתַי בְּעֵת אֶחֱזֶה בָךְ / אָשׂיִשׂ וְאָגִיל בְּשֹבַע שְׂמָחוֹת
הַטִּי לְבָבֵךְ לְנֹעַם אֲמָרַי / נִשְׁכַּב צְמָדִים בְּעֶרֶשׂ מְנוּחוֹת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yamím ve-leilót yekonéin levaví / muléikh tzeviyáh yemaréir ‘anaḥót
U-vekhí u-mispéid yeʕoréir le-zót na / shimʕí ‘amarót le-veitéikh sheluḥót
Davéik be-kor’í leshoní le-ḥikí / meisím ḥadaréikh hararái ke-shuḥót
Yiheyú devarái ve-libéikh ḥakukót / ‘imrót zemirái le-negdéikh petuḥót
Tovú yemotái be-ʕéit ‘eḥezéh vakh / ‘asís ve-‘agíl be-sóvaʕ semaḥót
Hatí levavéikh le-nóʕam ‘amarái / nishkáv tzemadím be-ʕéres menuḥot.

Jan 252013
 

Indeed.

David Vogel (1891 – 1944)
Before Your Gateways

Before your gateways, white-dressed girl,
I’ll stand bewildered.

Before an azure,
golden soul
of summer morning.

From darkened depths
I rise
and tranquil floats your laughter
towards me.

Could I draw near your chambers
bright and clear —
with clothes of black?

My finger too
won’t touch demure
your supple blossoms.

דוד פוגל
לפני שעריך

 
לִפְנֵי שְׁעָרַיִךְ, לִבְנַת־הַשְּׂמָלוֹת,
אֶעֱמֹד נָבוֹךְ.
 
לִפְנֵי נֶפֶשׁ תְּכֻלָּה,
זְהֻבָּה,
שֶׁל בֹּקֶר קָיִץ.
 
מִתּוֹךְ עֹמֶק אָפֵל
הִנְנִי עוֹלֶה
וְשָׁלֵו שְֹחוֹקֵךְ רוֹחֵף
לִקְרָאתִי.
 
אֵיכָה אָבֹא אֶל חֲדָרַיִךְ
הַבְּהִירִים —
וּלְבוּשִׁי שָׁחוֹר?
 
גַּם אֶצְבָּעִי
לֹא תִגַּע צְנוּעָה
צִיצַיִךְ הָרַכִּים.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Lifnéi sheʕaráyikh, livnát ha-smalót,
‘eʕemód navókh.

Lifnéi néfesh tekhuláh,
zehubáh,
shel bóker káyitz.

Mi-tókh ʕómek ‘aféil
hinení ʕoléh
ve-shaléiv seḥokéikh roḥéif
likratí.

‘Eikháh ‘avó ‘el ḥadaráyikh
ha-behirím —
ulvushí shaḥór?

Gam ‘etzbaʕí
lo tigáʕ tzenuʕáh
tzitzáyikh ha-rakím.

Jan 242013
 

Man, at first I was like, “Did Shmuel ha-Nagid not know where wine comes from?” and I was like, “whaaaaaaaaaaaaat;” but then I remembered that back in the day wine was customarily diluted with water before serving and I was like, “ohhhhhhhhhhh.” 1 Things basically said in Hebrew a thousand years ago: “Wine! It’s like there’s sex in your mouth!”

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
Sorrowful Friend

Sorrowful friend! For the son of fountains
  take you a girl from the vines’ own daughters,
Gather them both in a cup and for them
  your mouth will seem like a bridegroom’s chambers,
Inside your head they’ll conceive and give birth
  shortly inside of your heart to raptures.

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
רעה יגונים

 
רֵעֶה יְגוֹנִים! לְבֶן עֲיָנִים / אִשָּׁה לְקַח מִבְּנוֹת גְּפָנִים,
וֶאְסֹף שְׁנֵיהֶם בְּכוֹס, וּפִיךָ / לָהֶם יְהִי כַּחֲדַר חֲתָנִים,
יֶהְרוּ בְתוֹךְ רֹאשְׁךָ וְיֵלְדוּ / פִּתְאֹם בְּתוֹךְ לִבְּךָ שְׂשׂוֹנִים.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Reiʕéh yegoním! Le-vén ʕayaním / ‘isháh lekáḥ mi-benót gefaním,
Ve’sóf sheneihém be-khós, u-fikhá / lahém yehí ka-ḥadár ḥataním,
Yehrú ve-tókh roshkhá ve-yeildú / pit’óm be-tókh libkhá sesoním.

  1. This is actually how I think.
Jan 232013
 

Segulah is one of those words, like saudade in Portuguese, that you could give a twenty-minute translation of. Or you could just translate it as “charm” and move on with your life, such as it is.

Yosef Tzarfati (? – 1527)
The Back of Your Eye

The back of your eye holds a charm, graceful doe
To plunder the wealth of the whole world’s delight
It’s rounded in shape like the half of a rainbow
As if disguised as the moon it shines bright
Like a marble on your eye it’s aglow1
Like a splend’rous wreath for its glimmers and light,
Which keen-edged and pointed as arrows fly true,
At all times, shot forth towards me eager by you.

יוסף צרפתי
בגב עינך

 
בְּגַב עֵינֵךְ צְבִיַּת־חֵן סְגֻלָּה
לְשׁוֹדֵד מִמִּשׂוֹשׂ תֵּבֵל פְּאֵרוֹ
וְלוֹ תַבְנִית חֲצִי קֶשֶׁת עֲגֻלָּה
כְּמוֹת סַהַר בְּהִתְחַפֵּשׂ מְאוֹרוֹ
וְהוּא עוֹמֵד עֲלֵי־עַיִן כְּגֻלָּה
כְּנֵזֶר הוֹד לְנִיצוֹצָיו וְאוֹרוֹ
וְהֵם רָצִים כְּרוּץ חִצִּים חֲרוּצִים
וְכָל־עֵת יוֹצְאִים נֶגְדִּי חֲלוּצִים.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Be-gáv ʕeinéikh tzeviyát ḥein seguláh
Leshodéid mi-mesós teivéil pe’eiró
Ve-ló tavnít ḥatzí késhet ʕaguláh
Kemót sáhar be-hitḥapéis me’oró
Ve-hú ʕoméid ʕaléi ʕáyin ke-guláh
Ke-néizer hod le-nitzotzáv ve-‘oró
Ve-héim ratzím ke-rútz ḥitzím ḥarutzím
Ve-khól ʕeit yotz’ím negdí ḥalutzím.

  1. There’s a potential double meaning in this line, which literally means “it stands on your eye (`ayin) like a gulah.” A gulah can be a marble or the round crown of a column or any number of other round things, but also a source of water. `Ayin can be a spring or fountain, so theoretically this line could be read “it stands on your spring like the source of its waters.” Obviously, since this is a poem about a girl’s eyes, that’s a secondary reading, but there it is.