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!


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.

  4 Responses to “Immanuel Frances, “Lu Yeḥezu Shirai””

  1. Man! It took me long enough to figure out that “Maron” is “Virgil” (you have to admit, it’s a pretty roundabout reference to the dude). I should definitely brush up on my Google Books skills. Or read more rabbinic literature (although the former sounds preferable). But I thank you for your crack research assistance. Somebody’s gotta provide some credibility around here.

    And yes, I wish I could have translated the puns. I could almost feel Immanuel’s self-satisfaction still lingering through the centuries at “yomeiru-Omero.”

  2. Oh hey, that reminds me. I’m doing my thesis on these ever-so-lively Italians, and Raymond Scheindlin and your boy Decter at Brandeis are helping me out a bit with research (and were both surprisingly excited to hear that someone, anyone, was interested in Italian Hebrew poetry). It’s a small one, this world of Hebrew poetry.

  3. Yay!!! That sounds awesome. Send my love.

    And seriously, Google Books is your research friend! It took 0.07 seconds for a search on “magdiel rome” to locate the necessary sources.

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