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.


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.