Jan 102013

Immanuel lays down incredible amounts of smack on a fellow poet for composing in Italian rather than Hebrew. Did the Gedud Meginei ha-Safah know about this guy? Seriously. This man is my hero. Just think about it for a minute: this poem was composed in a milieu in which (at least among a certain class) Hebrew knowledge was expected, backwards-and-forwards knowledge of the Bible was expected, and the ability to harness that knowledge creatively was seen as laudable. Now we live in a Jewish world in which, despite an ever-growing class of kartziyot holy avreikhim devoting their lives to “study,” the Tanakh itself is almost completely neglected, and the ability to employ Jewish textual material creatively – especially, God forbid, in poetry – is seen as nigh-heretical.1 Indeed, this nation is grass.

Uch. Anyway. I’m sorry, but if you can’t read Hebrew, you’re really missing out on this one. It doesn’t work well as an English poem (in fact, translating it seems almost perverse, considering), but in Hebrew (with the help of some pretty deep delving into the Bible) he manages to end every couplet with “-shon”. It’s pretty impressive.

Immanuel Frances (1618? – 1710?)
Who Set You as a Keeper

Who set you as a keeper o’er the vines of foreign poems,2
  Which you keep like the apple of your eye?
The vineyard of the Holy Tongue you have forsaken,
  In Eden to the first forefather given.
This treasure unto you the Rock has granted —
  How could you toss it on the dungheap with a pitchfork?
You have a name within the tents of Shem,3
  How can you sit among the tents of Etzer and Dishon?4
With Pegasus and Helicon, what business do you have
  If you’ve Euphrates, Gihon and Pishon?5
How has your mind been swept off by their waves?
  You’re like the host of Yavin in the waters of Kishon!6
What have you with the poetry of Marino and Maron?7
  Sing a song of Merari, the poems of Gershon!8
How could nettles grow in place of myrtles?
  How could the cypress be replaced by thorns?
You equate the sparrow’s chirp and the crane’s glad song
  To the lowing of an addax and a buffalo!
Is foreign song like Hebrew poetry?
  Is Shlomit 9 like the sister of Nahshon? 10
Why, my friend, go crazy for a foreign girl?11
  Why would you want to sleep within her bosom?
Wake up, my noble friend, from your deep sleep!
  If she’s Delilah, don’t you dare be Samson!
Sing a song of Zion and let no other song
  Rise into your heart or to your tongue.

עמנואל פראנשיס
מי שמך נוטר

מִי שָֹמְךָ נוֹטֵר לְכַרְמֵי־שִׁיר
 לַעַז אֲשֶׁר תִּצֹּר כְּמוֹ אִישׁוֹן
כִּי תַעֲזֹב כֶּרֶם לְשׁוֹן קֹדֶשׁ
 נָתוּן בְּגַן־עֵדֶן לְאָב רִאשׁוֹן
חֵפֶץ אֲשֶׁר הַצּוּר חֲנָנְךָ אֵיךְ
 תַּשְׁלִיךְ לְאַשְׁפּוֹת עִם שְׁלשׁ קִלְּשׁוֹן
לָךְ שֵׁם בְּאֹהֶל שֵׁם וְאֵיךְ תֵּשֵׁב
 עִם אָהֳלֵי־אֵצֶר וּבֵין דִּישׁוֹן
מַה־לָּךְ לְפֵיגַאזוֹ וְאֵילִיקוֹן
 אִם לָךְ פְּרָת גִּיחוֹן וְלָךְ פִּישׁוֹן
אֵיךְ בִּינְךָ נִגְרַף בְּגַלֵּיהֶם
 הָיִית כְּחֵיל יָבִין בְּמֵי קִישׁוֹן
מַה־לָּךְ לְשִׁיר מָארִין וְשִׁיר מָארוֹן
 שִׁירַת מְרָרִי שִׁיר וְשִׁיר גֵּרְשׁוֹן
בִּמְקוֹם הֲדַס אֵיךְ יַעֲלֶה סִרְפָּד
 תַּחַת בְּרוֹשׁ אֵיךְ יַעֲלֶה קִמְּשׁוֹן
צִפְצוּף דְּרוֹר תַּשְׁוֶה וְרֹן עָגוּר
 אֶל־קוֹל תְּאוֹ אֶל־גַעֲיַת דִּישׁוֹן
הַאִם זְמִיר נָכְרִי כְּשִׁיר עִבְרִי
 הַאִם שְׁלֹמִית כַּאֲחוֹת נַחְשׁוֹן
לָמָּה יְדִיד תִּשְׁגֶּה בְנָכְרִיָּה
 מַה־זֶּה בְחֵיקָהּ חֶפְצְךָ לִישׁוֹן
עוּרָה גְּבִירִי מִתְּנוּמָתְךָ
 אִם הִיא דְלִילָה אַל־תְּהִי שִׁמְשׁוֹן
זַמֵּר זְמִיר צִיּוֹן וְזוּלָתוֹ
 לֹא יַעֲלֶה עַל־לֵב וְעַל־לָשׁוֹן.


Mi samkhá notéir le-kharméi shir
Láʕaz ‘ashér titzór kemó ‘ishón?
Ki taʕazóv kérem leshón kódesh
Natún be-gán ʕéiden le-‘áv rishón
Ḥéifetz ‘ashér ha-tzúr ḥanankhá ‘eikh
Tashlíkh le-‘ashpót ʕim shelósh kilshón
Lakh sheiim be-‘óhel sheim ve-‘éikh teishéiv
ʕim ‘ohaléi ‘éitzer u-véin dishón?
Mah lakh le-feigázo ve-‘eilikón
‘Im lakh perát giḥón ve-lákh pishón?
‘Eikh binkhá nigráf be-galeihém
Hayít ke-ḥéil yavín be-méi kishón
Mah lakh le-shír marín ve-shír marón
Shirát merarí shir ve-shír geirshón
Bimkóm hadás ‘eikh yaʕaléh sirpád?
Táḥat berósh ‘eikh yaʕaléh kimshón?
Tziftzúf derór tashvéh ve-rón ʕagúr
‘El kol te’ó ‘el gaʕayát dishón
Ha-‘ím zemír nokhrí ke-shír ʕivrí?
Ha-‘ím shelomít ka-‘aḥót naḥshón?
Lámah yedíd tishgéh ve-nokhriyáh?
Mah zeh ve-ḥeikáh ḥeftzekhá lishón?
ʕúrah gevirí mi-tenumatkhá
‘Im hi deliláh ‘al tehí shimshón
Zaméir zemír tziyón ve-zulató
Lo yaʕaléh ʕal leiv ve-ʕál lashón.

  1. And that poem just talks about it in the context of the dati-le’umi camp!
  2. Song of Songs 1:6.
  3. Genesis 9:27. Ohalei shem, which can also be understood as “the tents of the Name” (i.e., God) is used an epithet for Jewish houses of learning, or the Jewish community as a whole.
  4. 1 Chronicles 1:38. Horites, the supposed original inhabitants of Edom in the Bible. Basically, “not Israelites.”
  5. Three of the four rivers said to flow out from Eden in Genesis 2.
  6. Judges 4, Psalm 83:9.
  7. Virgil. “Publio Virgilio Marone.”
  8. Merari and Gershon are two of Levi’s three sons. See Genesis 46:11, and a whole lot of other places.
  9. Leviticus 24:10-11.
  10. Numbers 2:3.
  11. Proverbs 5:19-20

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