Feb 282013
 

I say let the world hire someone else.

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
Serve the World

Serve the world in which you are imprisoned
As your spirit’s stopped within your body
With thought deliv’ring,1 guile bereft
And cunning stricken barren.

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
עבוד עולם

 
עֲבוֹד עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ נֶאֱסַרְתָּ
וְרוּחָךְ שֶׁבְּתוֹךְ גּוּפָךְ עֲצוּרָה
בְּמַחֲשָׁבָה מְיַלֶּדֶת וְעָרְמָה
מְשַׁכֶּלֶת וּבִמְזִימָּה עֲקָרָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕavód ʕolám ‘ashér bo ne’esárta
Ve-ruḥákh shebtókh gufákh ʕatzúrah
Be-maḥashaváh meyalédet ve-ʕarmáh
Meshakélet u-vimzimáh ʕakaráh.

  1. As in, to deliver children.
Feb 272013
 

In the words of noted Hebrew poet MF Doom: “Scared of a bunch of water, then get out the rain / order a rapper for lunch and spit out the chain.”

Immanuel Frances (1618? – 1710?)
Would That My People

Would that my people and all men of reason
  Might see my poems, ‘twixt good and evil tell true,
Then to my odes they’d offer fitting honors,
  And bury others’ poems, which lack all virtue!
And would that they might know me and might fathom
  The sweetness of the Holy Tongue, the poems of Hebrew!
Italy and Greece1 would have to say thereafter:
  Oh, cease your singing, Virgil! Hush up, Homer!

עמנואל פראנשיס
לו יחזו שירי

 
לוּ יֶחֱזוּ שִׁירַי וְלוּ יַבְחִינוּ
 בֵּין טוֹב לְרַע עַמִּי וְאַנְשֵׁי סֵבֶר
אָז אֶל מְלִיצוֹתַי פְּאֵר יָכִינוּ
 שִׁירֵי אֲחֵרִים יִתְּנוּם בַּקֶּבֶר
לוּ יָדְעוּ אוֹתִי וְלוּ יָבִינוּ
 מֶתֶק לְשׁוֹן קֹדֶשׁ וְשִׁירֵי עֵבֶר
יָוָן וּמַגְדִּיאֵל אֲזַי יֹאמֵרוּ
 מָארוֹן, חֲדַל מֵרֹן, וְהַס אוֹמֵירוֹ!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Lu yeḥezú shirái ve-lú yavḥínu
Bein tov le-ráʕ ʕamí ve-‘anshéi séiver
‘Az ‘el melitzotái pe’éir yakhínu
Shiréi ‘aḥeirím yitnúm ba-kéver
Lu yadʕú ‘otí ve-lú yavínu
Métek leshón kódesh ve-shiréi ʕéiver
Yaván u-magdi’éil ‘azái yoméiru
Marón, ḥadál mei-rón, ve-hás ‘oméiro!

  1. Yavan is unambiguously Greece, but the word I’ve translated as “Italy” is magdi’el, which appears twice in the Bible as the name of an Edomite tribe or tribal chief. I’m not aware of any other instances in which “Magdiel” is used as a cypher for “Rome” or “Italy,” (doesn’t mean there aren’t any, of course) but Edom itself is the rabbinic euphemism par excellence for Rome. Given the Virgil reference in the next line (and the Greece/Homer parallel), I’m fairly confident in my translation.
Feb 262013
 

Hey, at least he could afford to see a doctor, efficacy notwithstanding.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Oh Doctors

Oh doctors, how long shall you rid Earth entire
Of dwellers? By day and by night how you slaughter!
How long shall you wield against God’s sons and daughters
Your pens like a sword, your words’ steel-forging fire?1

And why do all men, old or young, in their ire
Not nail you onto the cross, you marauders?2
The sickness inside a man, how might you augur
If your eyes can’t see through his scabs, I inquire?

I see you reply with an asp’s wrath, assuring,
“Faith, every pain, every sickness, all fractures,
Are made clear to us by what your gut produces!”

If so, in the judgment of feces and urine
Hangs every man’s life, and relief if one lacks cures,
Then eat shit, you villains, and drink urine’s juices!

יעקב פראנשיס
הוי רופאים


הוֹי רוֹפְאִים, עַד מַה תְּכַלּוּ חֶלֶד
מִיּוֹשְׁבָיו? יוֹם תִּרְצְחוּ וָעֶרֶב!
עַד מָה לְכָל נוֹצָר יְהִי כַּחֶרֶב
זֶה עִטְּכֶם וּדְבַרְכֶם אֵשׁ פֶּלֶד?

לָמָּה לְמִזָּקֵן וְעַד הַיֶּלֶד
לֹא יִתְקְעוּכֶם בַּשְּׁתִי וָעֵרֶב?
אֵיךְ תֵּדְעוּ, מַה מַּחֲלַת הַקֶּרֶב,
אִם עֵינְכֶם לֹא תַעֲבֹר הַגֶּלֶד?

אֶרְאֶה וְיֵשׁ מִכֶּם בְּכַעַשׂ פֶּתֶן
עוֹנֶה: ‘הֲרֵי כָּל צִיר, חֳלִי וָשֶׁבֶר
לָנוּ יְגַלּוּ תוֹצְאוֹת הַמֶּעִי!’

אִם כֵּן, אֲשֶׁר בִּפְקֹד רְעִי וָשֶׁתֶן
חַיֵּי אֱנוֹשׁ נִתְלוּ וּמַרְפֵּא גֶבֶר,
שֶׁתֶן, רְשָׁעִים, טַעֲמוּ וָרֶעִי!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Hoi rof’ím, ʕad mah tekhalú ḥéled
Mi-yoshváv? Yom tirtzeḥú va-ʕérev
ʕad mah le-khól notzár yehí ka-ḥérev
Zeh ʕitkhém u-devarkhém ‘eish péled?

Lámah le-mizakéin ve-ʕád ha-yéled
Lo yitkeʕukhém ba-shetí va-ʕéirev?
‘Eikh teidʕú, mah maḥalát ha-kérev
‘Im ʕeinkhém lo taʕavór ha-géled?

‘Er’éh ve-yéish mi-kém be-kháʕas péten
ʕonéh: “Haréi kol tzir, ḥolí va-shéver
Lánu yegalú totz’ót ha-méʕi!”

‘Im kein, ‘ashér bifkód reʕí va-shéten
Ḥayéi ‘enósh nitlú u-marpéi géver,
Shéten, reshaʕím, taʕamú va-réʕi!

  1. The doctors’ prescriptions (the pen) and advice are no better than swords and fire.
  2. In Hebrew, this line is “why don’t they stick you on the weft-and-warp?”, which seems to be a reference to crucifixion. “Marauders” I added for the rhyme, and to fill out the line.
Feb 252013
 

Not dead, apparently. A canzonetta.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
The Fawn’s Clear Eyes

The fawn’s clear eyes have darkened,
And yet within the blackness
I see, passing through my heart, quick bolts of brilliance;
Her pupils both together
Have blackened, yet they’re gleaming,
Her eyes in equal measure
Grow dimmer; still they’re beaming.
All who wish to witness wonder,
Even shadows shine — at these eyes let them marvel.

יעקב פראנשיס
עיני עפרה קדרו

 
עֵינֵי עָפְרָה קָדָרוּ,
אָכֵן מִּתּוֹךְ הַחשֶׁךְ
חִצֵּי זֹהַר אֶרְאֶה, לִבִּי עָבָרוּ,
הִשְׁחִירוּ אַף צָחוּ
יַחְדָּו אִישׁוֹנֶיהָ,
חָשְׁכוּ וַיִּזְרָחוּ
גַּם יַחַד עֵינֶיהָ.
כָּל רוֹצֶה לִרְאוֹת פֶּלֶא:
גַּם אֹפֶל זַךְ — יִרְאֶה עֵינַיִם אֵלֶּה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕeinéi ʕofráh kadáru,
‘Akhéin mi-tókh ha-ḥóshekh
Ḥitzéi zóhar ‘er’éh, libí ʕaváru,
Hishḥíru ‘af tzáḥu
Yaḥdáv ‘ishonéha,
Ḥashkhú va-yizráḥu
Gam yáḥad ʕeinéiha.
Kol rotzéh lir’ót péle:
Gam ‘ófel zakh — yir’éh ʕeináyim ‘éileh.

Feb 212013
 

Time. It has its detractors.

Vidal Benveniste (15th century)
Time Murdered

Though armed with no weapon, Time murdered my heart
  And drank of my blood like the grape’s in its glass
The day that you left set my honor astray
  To dwell in the wastes with the hawk1 and the owl
To pine there for days of companions’ rapport,
  Which were its due portion, the glass in its hand!

וידאל בנבנשת
זמן רצח


זְמָן רָצַח בְּלִי שֶׁלַח לְבָבִי
 וְיֵשְׁתְּ דָּמִי כְדַם עֵינָב בְּכוֹסוֹ
וְהֵנִיד אֶת כְּבוֹדִי יוֹם נְדוּדָךְ
 וְלִשְׁכֹּן עִם קְאַת מִדְבָּר וְכוֹסוֹ
וְשָׁם יוֹחִיל יְמֵי חֶבְרַת יְדִידִים
 אֲשֶׁר הֵמָּה מְנַת חֶלְקוֹ וְכוֹסוֹ
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Zeman ratzáḥ bli shélaḥ levaví / ve-yéisht damí khe-dám ʕeináv be-khosó
Ve-heiní ‘et kevodí yom nedudákh / ve-lishkón ʕim ke’át midbár ve-khosó
Ve-shám yoḥíl yeméi ḥevrát yedidím / ‘ashér heimáh menát ḥelkó ve-khosó

  1. Actually, to use scholarly terminology, nobody really knows what exactly the fuck a ka’at is, other than a bird that lives in the desert.
Feb 202013
 

Not an awesome day. Tajnis.

Moshe ibn Ezra (1060? – 1140?)
If Time Should Make Merry

If Time should make merry or dance with you
  Don’t dare to believe him — he’s fooled you!
He’s only a net for men’s hearts, and won’t leave you
  ’Til he brings forth the maggots within you.

משה אבן עזרא / موسى ابن عزرا
אם הזמן יצחק לך

 
אִם הַזְּמָן יִצְחַק לָךְ, אַל תְּהִי מַאְמִין,
 אוֹ אִם יְהִי רוֹקֵד – כִּי אוֹתְךָ רִמָּה!
רֶשֶׁת לְבָבוֹת הוּא עִמָּךְ, וְלֹא יִרְגַּע
 עַד כִּי יְהִי מֵשִׁיב אֶת גּוּפְךָ רִמָּה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Im ha-zemán yitzḥák lakh, ‘al tehí ma’amín, / ‘o ‘im yehí rokéid — ki ‘otkhá rimáh!
Réshet levavót hu ʕimákh, ve-ló yirgáʕ / ʕad ki yehí meishív ‘et gufkhá rimáh.

Feb 192013
 

Unlike Ephraim, I don’t even know rich people I can rage at (although, if I know my Italian Jewish history, Ephraim Luzzatto was not exactly the salt of the earth). But anyway, my sonnets must be directed at the poor. Either way, I suppose, we’re all gonna die.

Ephraim Luzzatto (1729 – 1792)
For All the Prideful

Villain, abuser, high-headed, conceited,
Burdened with pride you lift up every weighed tread,
Humble yourself! And with trembling and grave dread
Keep this in mind: for the slaughter you’re destined.

Heed well God’s voice; for misfortune incessant
Men like yourself have been chosen and fated,
Then your own soul will be stooped and prostrated,
Suddenly struck with blood, pain most malignant.

Turn back to Him, with new ways he’ll instill you,
Chase after right!1 — for what else d’you engage in?
Hoarding mere wealth, or renown to fulfill you?

Would that you might strongly dwell for the ages,
There in your home on the city’s high hill, true —
You’ll sleep in dust, the day coming presages.

אפרים לוצאטו
על כל גאה ורם

 
זֵד, מִסְתּוֹלֵל, יָהִיר וּגְבַה הַמֶּצַח
כִּי בִכְבֵדוּת גָּאוֹן תָּרִים הַצַּעַד,
הָהּ הִכָּנַע! וּבְחַלְחָלָה וָרַעַד
זָכוֹר, כִּי גַם אַתָּה מוּעָד לָרֶצַח.
 
קוֹל מִמָּרוֹם הַסְכֵּת, כִּי אֵיד לָנֶצַח
אֶל גֶבֶר כִּדְמוּתָךְ גָּזַר וַיָּעַד,
וִיחִידָתָךְ אָז תִּשְׁתּוֹחַח מִבַּעַד,
מֻכָּה פִתְאֹם בִּכְאֵב אָנוּשׁ וָנֶצַח.
 
שׁוּב שׁוּב, וּתְהִי אִתָּךְ רוּחַ אַחֶרֶת,
צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדוֹף, כִּי מַה הִסְכַּנְתָּ
אִם הוֹן אָצַרְתָּ לָךְ, אוֹ שֵׁם תִּפְאֶרֶת?
 
לוּ שָׁנִים אֶלֶף בִּגְבוּרָה שָׁכַנְתָּ
עַל מוֹשָׁבָךְ אֵיתָן בִּמְרוֹמֵי קֶרֶת,
הִנֵּה יוֹם בָּא, כִי בֶעָפָר יָשַׁנְתָּ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Zeid, mistoléil, yahír ugváh ha-métzaḥ
Ki vikhveidút ga’ón tarím ha-tzáʕad,
Hah hikanáʕ! U-ve-ḥalhaláh va-ráʕad
Zakhór, ki gam ‘atáh muʕád la-rétzáḥ.

Kol mi-maróm haskéit, ki ‘eid la-nétzaḥ
‘El géver kidmutákh gazár va-yáʕad,
Viḥidatákh ‘az tishtoḥáḥ mi-báʕad,
Mukáh pit’óm bikh’éiv ‘anúsh va-nétzaḥ.

Shuv shuv, u-tehí ‘itákh ruáḥ ‘aḥéret,
Tzédek tzédek tirdóf, ki mah hiskánta
‘Im hon ‘atzárta lakh, ‘o sheim tif’éret?

Lu shaním ‘élef bigvuráh shakhánta
ʕal moshavákh ‘eitán bimroméi kéret,
Hinéih yom ba, khi ve-ʕavár yashánta.

  1. Deuteronomy 16:20.
Feb 192013
 

I don’t know. These early modern Galitzianers don’t always do much for me. Too civilized over there in Austria. Give me my Ziono-pagan-anarchist Odessans. But he did write Ha-Tikvah, so he’s Important, and I need to fill up space. At least I can add a nice, very vaguely related Dennis Brown song.

Dennis Brown - O Mother

Naftali Herz Imber (1856 – 1909)
Mother

The pure woman’s spirit,
  Imbued with God’s glory,
Shall dwell among sheer light,
  Yet my heart is sorry.

In God’s shadow
  Lofty she’s dwelling,
Yet I live in limbo
  Gloomy in suff’ring.

Dry are my eyes’ fountains,
  Sealed the springs of my sobbing;
Without you, have I reasons?
  For naught1 is all my dreaming.

Silent strings rest on my harp,
  Shall they give voice? — never.
Your grave lies in my heart.
  My stomach – swells forever — —2

נפתלי הרץ אימבר
אמי


נְשָׁמָה טְהוֹרָה
 מִכְּבוֹד אֵל אֲצוּלָה,
תִּשְׁכְּנִי בָאוֹרָה,
 וְלִבָּתִי אֲמֻלָּה.

בְּצֵל שַׁדָּי
 מָרוֹם תִּשְׁכֹּנִי,
וַאֲנִי בְחַיָּי
 קוֹדֵר בָּעֹנִי.

יָבֵשׁ מְקוֹר עֵינַי,
 נִסְתַּם מַעְיַן דִּמְעוֹתַי;
בִּלְעָדֵךְ – מָה הִנֵּנִי?
 לְאַל כָּל חֲלוֹמוֹתַי…

יִדְמוּ מֵיתְרֵי עֻגָבִי,
 בַּל יִתְּנוּ קוֹלָם.
קִבְרֵךְ – לְבָבִי,
 וּבִטְנִי – הֲרַת עוֹלָם – –
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Neshómoh tehóyroh
Mikvóyd eil atzúloh,
Tíshkeni vo-óyroh,
Ve-libósi amúloh.

Be-tzéil shádai
Móroym ve-kháyay
Kóydeir ba-óyni.

Yóveish mekóyr éinai,
Nístam máyan dimóysai;
Bilódeikh — moh hinéini?
Le’ál kol khaloymóysai…

Yídmu méisrei ugóvi,
Bal yítnu kóylom.
Kívreikh — levóvi,
U-vítni — harás óylom——

  1. Job 24:25
  2. Jeremiah 20:17
Feb 182013
 

I thought that it would be appropriate to add to this poem about departing for Zion a reggae song on the same theme. Then I realized there were hundreds of them. I settled on this one, because it is gorgeous. Try to overlook our Rastafarian compatriots’ persistent geographical confusion over the location of Zion; they are very stoned.

Johnny Clarke - Moving On to Zion

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
The Day My Soul Yearned

The day my soul yearned for the House of Assembly
When fear of the voyage had seized me with trembling,
The one great in counsel whirled fair winds for the trip,
I’ll find in his name, in my heart, my refreshment.
To him I shall bow then each step of the way,
And offer thanksgiving for each pace I’m treading.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
יום נכספה נפשי

 
יוֹם נִכְסְפָה נַפְשִׁי לְבֵית הַוָּעַד
וַיֹּאחֲזֵנִי לַנְּדוּדִים רָעַד,
סִבֵּב גְּדָל עֵצָה עֲלִילֹות לַנְּדֹד
וָאֶמְצְאָה בִשְׁמוֹ בְּלִבִּי סָעַד.
עַל-כֵּן אֲנִי מִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֵלָיו בְּכָל
מַסָּע, וְאוֹדֶנּוּ עֲלֵי כָל-צָעַד.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yom nikhsefáh nafshí le-véit ha-váʕad
Va-yoḥazéini la-nedudím ráʕad,
Sibéiv gedál ʕeitzáh ʕalilót la-nedód
Ve-’emtze’áh vishmó be-liní sáʕad.
ʕal kein ‘aní mishtaḥavéh ‘eiláv be-khól
Masáʕ, ve-‘odénu ʕaléi khol tzáʕad.

Feb 172013
 

Someone told me recently – I think they were trying to “help” – that back in the day, nobody had time to be depressed (too busy being heilike yidden or dying of cholera or something). But then there’s ibn Gabirol. If it quacks like a duck, and it wallows incessantly in its own despair like a duck…

Shlomo ibn Gabirol (1021? – 1058?)
So Great Is My Pain

So great is my pain, my wound mortally bleak,
My strength’s taken flight and the spirit is weak,
No refuge or haven exists for my soul,
No place that might offer the respite I seek.
For three things upon me were joined to destroy
My tormented soul and diminished physique:
The weight of my sins, and the host of my pains,
And solitude too – who could stand against three?
My God, are my bones made of copper or steel?
Or am I the serpent, or am I the sea?1
For troubles surround me at every stage,
As if they had all been bequeathed unto me,
And you only search out my own sins,2 as if
Not one other man might deserve your decree!
Behold all the toil of your servant, his strife,
His soul’s a trapped bird, Lord — if only you’d see:
Forever I’d be as a servant to you,
And never ’til death would I ask to be free.

שלמה אבן גבירול / سليمان ابن جبيرول
כאבי רב

 
כְּאֵבִי רַב וּמַכָּתִי אֲנוּשָׁה
וְכֹחִי סָר וְעַצְמוּתִי חֲלוּשָה,
וְאֵין מִבְרָח וְאֵין מָנוֹס לְנַפְשִׁי,
וְאֵין מָקוֹם תְּהִי לִי בוֹ נְפִישָׁה.
שְׁלֹשָה אֻסְּפוּ עָלַי לְכַלוֹת
שְׁאֵר גּוּפִי וְרוּחִי הָעֲנוּשָׁה:
גְּדֹל עָוֹן וְרֹב מַכְאוֹב וּפֵרוּד –
וּמִי יוּכַל עֲמֹד לִפְנֵי שְׁלֹשָה?
הֲיָם אָנִי וְאִם תַּנִין, אֱלֹהַי,
וְכִי בַרְזֵל עֲצָמַי אוֹ נְחוּשָׁה?
אֲשֶׁר כֹּל עֵת יְסֻבּוּנִי תְלָאוֹת,
כְּאִלוּ הֵם מְסוּרִים לִי יְרֻשָּׁה,
וְתִדְרשׁ לַעֲוֹנִי רַק, כְּאִלּוּ
לְךָ אֵין עַל בְּנֵי אָדָם דְּרִישָׁה!
רְאֵה נָא בַעֲמַל עַבְדָּךְ וְעָנְיוֹ
וְכִי נַפְשׁוֹ כְּמוֹ דָאָה יְקוּשָׁה –
וְאֶהְיֶה לָךְ לְעוֹלָמִים לְעֶבֶד
וְלֹא אֶשְׁאַל עֲדֵי נֶצַח חֲפִישָׁה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ke’eiví rav u-makatí ‘anusháh
Ve-khoḥí sar ve-ʕatzmutí ḥalusháh,
Ve-‘éin mivraḥ ve-‘éin manós le-nafshí,
Ve-‘éin makóm tehí li vo nefisháh.
Shelosháh ‘usfú ʕalái lekhalót
She’éir gufí ve-ruḥí ha-ʕanusháh:
Gedól ʕavón ve-róv makh’óv u-feirúd —
U-mí yukhál ʕamód lifnéi shelosháh?
Ha-yám ‘aní ve-‘ím tanín, ‘elohái,
Ve-khí varzél ʕatzamái ‘o neḥusháh?
‘Ashér kol ʕeit yesubúni tela’ót,
Ke’ílu heim mesurím li yerusháh,
Ve-tidrósh la-ʕavon rak, ke-‘ílu
Lekhá ein ʕal benéi ‘adám derisháh!
Re’éih na va-ʕamál ʕavdákh ve-ʕonyó
Ve-khí nafshó kemó da’áh yekusháh —
Ve-‘ehyéh lakh le-ʕolamím le-ʕéved
Ve-ló ‘esh’ál ʕadéi nétzaḥ ḥafisháh.

  1. Job 7:12.
  2. Job 10:6.