Feb 122013

I’ve reached a tacit agreement with my university’s mathematics department: they pretend to justify their continued existence despite having contracted their classes out to a highway-robbing for-profit e-textbook company, and I pretend not to spend my [MANDATORY] class time translating medieval Hebrew poetry.

Seriously, though. The Nagid gets all the attention for his voluminous military poetry, but I can’t get enough of his wine poems. The man had a gift for the blood of the vine.

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
Take from the Doe

Take from the doe the grape’s blood in a glass
That flares like a gem, like flame smoldering in hail.
Her lips scarlet threads, and her palate fine wine,
Her mouth is perfumed with the scents of her skin.
Her fingers, stained red from the blood of the slain,
Make half of her ruby, pure crystal remains!

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
קח מצביה

קַח מִצְּבִיָּה דְמֵי עֵנָב בְּאֶקְדָּחָה
בָּרָה, כְּמוֹ אֵשׁ בְּתוֹך בָּרָד מְלֻקָּחָה.
בַּעְלַת שְׂפָתוֹת כְּחוּט שָׁנִי, וְחֵךְ לָהּ כְּיֵין
הַטּוֹב, וּפִיהָ כְגוּפָתָהּ מְרֻקָּחָה.
מִדַּם חֲלָלִים קְצֵה יָדָהּ מְאָדָּם – לְכֵן
חֶצְיָהּ כְּאֹדֶם וּמַחְצִיתָהּ בְּדֹלָחָה!


Kaḥ mi-tzeviyáh deméi ʕeináv be-‘ekdaḥáh
Baráh, kemó ‘eish be-tókh barád melukaḥáh.
Baʕlát sefatót ke-ḥút shaní, ve-ḥéikh lah ke-yéin
Ha-tóv, u-fíha khe-gufatáh merukaḥáh.
Mi-dám ḥalalím ketzéih yadáh me’adám — lekhéin
Ḥetzyáh ke-‘ódem u-maḥtzitáh bedolaḥáh!

  8 Responses to “Shmuel ha-Nagid, “Kaḥ mi-Tzeviyah””

  1. I dig the wine poems but I’ve never felt so strongly compelled to get out of my seat and IMMEDIATELY ACQUIRE WINE. Also, this one is sensual and has a chick in it. Sexy work, my friend.

  2. “…like flame smoldering in hail.” I mean what a great phrase. Just damn.

  3. Female + booze…could this be the ancient predecessor of the Budweiser commercial?

  4. One of my favourites!!! I actually referenced this in my thesis on Jewish henna traditions, since I believe the girl’s reddened fingers allude not only to the red wine, the blood of her slain lovers, and the fire within the hail, but also the practice (corroborated by other texts as well as some manuscript paintings) of dipping fingertips into henna to achieve a dark red stain. In any case, a fabulous poem.

    Small side note: is it meadam or meodam? Reading it, I want to say meodam but I can’t find a reason why other than my gut intuition…

  5. Noam – that’s interesting. And it puts this Yehuda ha-Levi number in a clearer light. Learning things!

    As far as me’adam or me’odam, I’m not sure. You just say it any old way you want and the good Lord will provide.

    Ryan: As you well know, as a friend faithful, true and slightly irresponsible, I am always happy to encourage your drunkenness. You may also like this one. I do. Also, many of them are sensual and feature chicks. When they’re not sensual and featuring dudes, that is.

  6. Yep, that one too! It’s not an uncommon metaphor, and it apparently pops up in some Arabic poetry as well. Kohl and henna are a classic pairing.

  7. Just posted more about this poem in its henna context for Tu beAv, and used your excellent translation (with attribution, of course)! Hope that’s alright.

    Check it out: http://eshkolhakofer.blogspot.ca/2013/07/today-on-jewish-calendar-is-15th-of.html

  8. Sorry, I’ve been…in an alternate universe for awhile, and never got a chance to respond. But of course it’s always cool to use my translations with attribution – in fact I encourage it. Please, get my name out there! I didn’t even know you had a blog. I gave it a link.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Are you a Russian spam robot? Prove it: *