Jan 152013

While I cannot claim to have gotten out of bed in the last forty-eight hours except to walk the poor dog and buy the store’s largest tub of cookies-and-cream ice cream, the doubtless toxic brew of over-the-counter cold medicines, benzodiazepines, cookies/cream and a bisl red wine churning in my guts has, in defiance of all recorded medical science, rendered me oddly awake and aware, if not entirely in full control of my faculties, such as they are. On that note, while desperately hoping for one of these many chemicals/frozen treats to knock me unconscious, I embarked on an experiment to try to render the quantitative meter that defined so much Hebrew poetry for so long with our Italian friend Yosef Tzarfati. The Italian poets employed both quantitative meter, typical of the Spanish (Arabic-informed) Hebrew school, and qualitative, which was more Italian, and more familiar to English ears. Quantitative meter, based on pronunciation length, doesn’t really work in English exactly, but I gave it a shot. This particular poem’s meter in Hebrew is long-long long-short-long-long long-short-long-long, but in my semi-coherence, I got it backwards and made it in English short-short short-long-short-short short-long-short-short. Sort of. I think. Why should I redo it. I don’t even know what day it is.

Yosef Tzarfati (? – 1527)
You Were Fashioned, Child

By God’s own finger you were fashioned, child
  You are a work of Heaven’s Lord above
You are his hand’s work, made to glorify
  And the delight of Jewish mothers’ girls
You’re the delight of the world’s girls, their best
  For all creation you’re a looking glass
Your mother’s grace and glory shine in you
  And on your brow her beauty’s like a bloom
But you’re the daughter of Belial, vile!
  In all his actions strange and alien
He’s known to all who pass him by as one
  Who breaks the Torah and the laws of right
Your lamp is darkened by this man and so
  Your sunshine’s radiance turns to darkest gloom
The way he shames you and abases you
  If you grow tall, you’ll yet be mean and low
Someone should kill your father; may his name
  Be blotted out and be for good erased
Then you’d be called the joy of Earth by all
  A creature wholly grace and beauteous.

יוסף צרפתי
ילדה מתוארת

יַלְדָּה מְתֹאֶרֶת בְּאֶצְבַּע יָהּ
 אַתְּ מַעֲשֵׂה מָרָן דְּבִשְׁמַיָּא
אַתְּ מַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו לְהִתְפָּאֵר
 חֶמְדַּת בְּנוֹת אִמָּה יְהוּדִיָּה
חֶמְדַּת בְּנוֹת תֵּבֵל וְטוּבָם אַתְּ
 אַתְּ מַחֲזֶה כִרְאִי לְכָל בְּרִיָּה
הוֹד וַהֲדַר אִמֵּךְ בְּפָנַיִךְ
 יָפְיָהּ עֲלֵי מִצְחֵךְ כְּצִיץ הָיָה
אַךְ בַּת־בְּלִיַּעַל וְרָשָׁע אַתְּ
 זָרָה פְּעֻלָּתוֹ וְנָכְרִיָּה
נוֹדַע לְכָל־עוֹבֵר כְּאִישׁ עוֹבֵר
 עַל־דָּת וְעַל־תּוֹרָה פְלִילִיָּה
זֶה מַחֲשִׁיךְ נֵרֵךְ וְזֶה הוֹפֵךְ
 נֹגַהּ בְּאוֹר שִׁמְשֵׁךְ לְמַאְפֵּלְיָה
בּוֹזֵךְ וּמַשְׁפִּילֵךְ וְאִם־גָּבַהְתְּ
 לִהְיוֹת גְּרוּעַת כֹּל וְתַחְתִּיָּה
מִי יַהֲרֹג הוֹרֵךְ וְאֶת־זִכְרוֹ
 יִמְחֶה וְיִשָּׁכַח לְעָלְמַיָּא
אָז יִקְרְאֵךְ רוֹאֵךְ מְשׂוֹשׂ־אֶרֶץ
 עֶגְלָה כְּלִילַת חֵן יְפֵיפִיָּה.


Yaldáh meto’éret be-‘etzbáʕ yah
‘At maʕaséih marán de-vishmayá
‘At maʕaséih yadáv lehitpa’éir
Ḥemdát benót ‘imáh yehudiyáh
Ḥemdát benót teivéil ve-tuvám ‘at
‘At maḥazéh khir’í le-khól briyáh
Hod ve-hadár ‘iméikh be-fanáyikh
Yofyáh ʕaléi mitzḥéikh ke-tzítz hayáh
‘Akh bat beliyaʕál ve-rasháʕ ‘at
Zaráh peʕulató ve-nokhriyáh
Nodáʕ le-khól ʕovéir ke-‘ísh ʕovéir
ʕal dat ve-ʕal toráh feliliyáh
Zeh maḥashíkh neiréikh ve-zéh hoféikh
Nógah be-‘ór shimshéikh le-ma’peilyáh
Bozéikh u-mashpiléikh ve-‘ím gaváht
Liheyót geruʕát kol ve-taḥtiyáh
Mi yaharóg horéikh ve-‘ét zikhró
Yimḥéh ve-yishakháḥ le-ʕalmayá
‘Az yikre’éikh ro’éikh mesos ‘éretz
ʕegláh kelilát ḥein yefeifiyáh.

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