Apr 302014
 

Zelda (1914 – 1984)
My Peace

My peace is tied with thread
to yours.

And the holidays we love,
the wondrous seasons of the year
with their treasure of fragrance, the flowers,
the fruit, the leaves and the winds,
with the mists and the rains,
the unforeseen snows,
and the dew,
hung on the thread of yearning.

Me and you and Shabbat.
Me and you and our lives
in our last incarnation.
Me and you
and the lie.
And the fear.
And the rifts.
Me and you
and the creator of the heavens without any
shore.
Me and you
and the mystery.
Me and you
and death.

זלדה
שלומי


שְׁלוֹמִי קָשׁוּר בְּחוּט
אֶל שְׁלוֹמךָ.

וְהַחַגִּים הָאֲהוּבִים
וּתְקוּפוֹת הַשָּׁנָה הַנִּפְלָאוֹת
עִם אוֹצַר הָרֵיחוֹת, הַפְּרָחִים,
הַפְּרִי, הֶעָלִים וְהָרוּחוֹת,
וְעִם הָעֲרָפֶל וְהַמָּטָר,
הַשֶּׁלֶג הַפִּתְאוֹמִי
וְהַטַּל,
תְּלוּיִים עַל חוּט הַכְּמִיהָה.

אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה וְהַשַּׁבָּת.
אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה וְחַיֵּינוּ
בַּגִלְגּוּל הַקּוֹדֵם.
אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה
וְהַשֶׁקֶר.
וְהַפַּחַד.
וְהַקְּרָעִים.
אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה
וּבוֹרֵא הַשָּׁמַיִם שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם
חוֹף.
אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה
וְהַחִידָה.
אֲנִי וְאֲתָּה
וְהַמָּוֶת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Shlomí qashúr be-ḥút
‘el shlomkhá.

Ve-ha-ḥagím ha-‘ahuvím
utqufót ha-shanáh ha-nifla’ót
ʕim ‘otzár ha-reiḥót, ha-praḥím,
ha-pri, he-ʕalím ve-ha-ruḥót,
ve-ʕim ha-ʕarafél ve-ha-matár,
ha-shéleg ha-pit’omí
ve-ha-tál,
tluyím ʕal ḥut ha-kemiháh.

‘Ani ve-‘atáh ve-ha-shabát.
‘Ani ve-‘atáh ve-ḥayéinu
ba-gilgúl ha-qodéim.
‘Ani ve-‘atáh
ve-ha-shéqer.
Ve-ha-páḥad.
Ve-ha-qraʕím.
‘Ani ve-‘atáh
u-voréi ha-shamáyim she-‘éin lahém
ḥof.
‘Ani ve-‘atáh
ve-ha-ḥidáh.
‘Ani ve-‘atáh
ve-ha-mávet.

Apr 292014
 

Ephraim Luzzatto (1729 – 1792)
O Maiden Like the Breaking Dawn

O maid who like the breaking dawn is shining,
From you my soul flees, frightened beyond measure;
It’s not convinced me that it’s aimless pining
For I exult in you, your peace and pleasure.

Your neck is pure as finest woolen lining,
Your scent delights like a perfumer’s treasure;
But so has come Desire, without confining
His wrath; and I might die of his displeasure.

I’ve freed my heart to hatch some plan and rear it,
But my thoughts stray wild ’til reason forsakes duty,
Should I speak my piece whate’er once my doubts were?

“The one who heeds his eyes destroys his spirit”;
But if I listened I’d profane your beauty,
And yet, my spirit — what is life without her?

אפרים לוצאטו
עלמה הנשקפה

 
עַלְמָה הַנִּשְׁקָפָה, בָּרָה כַשַׁחַר,
נַפְשִׁי חַתָּה מִמֵּךְ, הָלְאָה בוֹרַחַת;
לֹא כֵן אָמְנָה חוּשִׁי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁחַר
כִּי בָּךְ עָלֵז עַל רֹב שָׁלוֹם וָנַחַת.
 
הִנֵּה צַוָּארֵךְ צַח מִצֶּמֶר צַחַר,
עָרֵב רֵיחַ אַפֵּךְ מִכָּל־מִרְקַחַת;
אַךְ בִּגְלָלֵךְ הַחֵשֶׁק בָּא, וַיַּחַר
עָלַי אַפּוֹ; כִּמְעַט אָמוּת לַשַּׁחַת.
 
תַּתִּי לִבִּי לָתוּר וּלְבַקֵּשׁ חֵפֶשׂ,
אַךְ בִּשְׂעִיפַי תּוֹעֶה עַד כֹּה הִסְכַּלְתִּי,
אִם מִשְׁפָּטִי אַטֶּה הֵנָה אוֹ הֵנָה.
 
״הוֹלֵך אַחַר עֵינָיו חֹמֵס הַנֶּפֶשׁ״;
אוּלָם אִם זֹאת אַקְשִׁיב, יָפְיֵךְ חִלַּלְתִּי,
וָאָנָה לִי חַיִּים אִם לֹא מִמֶּנָּה?
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕalmáh ha-nishqafáh baráh kha-sháḥar
Nafshi ḥátah miméikh, hál’ah voráḥat
Lo khein ‘amnáh ḥushí she-‘éin lo sháḥar
Ki bakh ʕaléiz ʕal rov shalóm ve-náḥat.

Híneih tzavaréikh tzaḥ mi-tzémer tzáḥar
ʕarév réiaḥ ‘apéikh mi-kól mirqáḥat
‘Akh biglaléikh ha-ḥéisheq ba, va-yáḥar
ʕalái ‘apó; kimʕát ‘amút la-sháḥat

Tatí libí latúr u-levaqéish ḥéifes
‘Akh bisʕipí toʕéh ʕad koh hiskálti
‘Im mishpatí ‘atéh héinah ‘o héinah

Holéikh ‘aḥár ʕeináv ḥoméis ha-néfesh
‘Ulám ‘im zot ‘aqshív, yofyéikh ḥilálti
Va-‘ánah li ḥayím ‘im lo miménah?

Apr 292014
 

And so it goes.

***

Beside me as I stood in my place pressed against the Wall was a Mandatory policeman prodding and spurring with the crop in his hand. What enflamed this man’s heart so to make him so furious? A sickly old woman had brought with a stool to sit upon. The policeman leapt up and kicked away the stool, knocking the old woman to the ground, and seized the stool, as she had broken the law, enshrined by the lawmakers of the Mandate, that it was expressly forbidden for any worshiper at the Wall to bring something to sit on. The worshipers saw and kept silent, for who could talk reason with one whose mind was mind up? And then came that same old woman I knew and stared at him. The policeman cast his eyes downward and returned the stool. Continue reading »

Apr 282014
 

So, mi main primo, most decidedly while drunk, confided a secret wish to see some of his poetry, which he probably also only showed me under the duress of brown liquor, translated into Hebrew. How can a man refuse such a thing? Esto es para ti, vato.

ראיין פלורס
הם של

 
הוּא הָאוֹהֵב
אֶת הָאֲפֵלִים וְהָעֲצוּמִים
—אֶת מְתִיקוּתוֹ הַשְּׁחוֹרָה הַשְּׁנוּנָה
שֶׁל הַרּוּם הַכֵּהֶה הֶעָבֶה, אֶת
בְּשָׂרָוֹ, הַסָּגֹל כַּחֲצוֹת, שֶׁל
הַזַּיִת; אֶת הַלַּיִל.
 
הִיא הָאוֹהֶבֶת
אֶת כָּל הַחַיִּים, הִרְהוּרִים.
שֶׁל שִׂמְחָה. שֶׁל צַח וְאָדֹם,
כְּעוֹר מְאֻפָּר, הַנִּמְתָּח
עַל הַדָּם הַזּוֹרֵם הַנִּצְרָב
 
עַל־יְדֵי הַלֵּבָב הַלּוֹהֵט
 בְּיֶתֶר־חֹם    
   וְאוֹרָה.
 
הֵם הַפְּזִיזוּת שֶׁל שְׂרֵיפַת פַח אֶשְׁפָּה.
י
Apr 282014
 

“I bet the [girl] [he] was singing that about was real happy.”
“Well, actually, [he] was singing about God.”
“Oh, well, he’s always happy. No, wait, he’s always mad…”

Yisrael Najara (1555? – 1625?)
Arrows the Bow of Your Eye Has Drawn

Arrows the bow of your eye has drawn; opposed my heart stands as their aim
Away turn your eyes from my own; pity the heart that your wand’ring shan’t tire,
With desire for you, doe of dazzling acclaim.

I labored to wonder and gaze on the eye that would sparkle with flame
Many maidens are worthy, but you are valued and precious, and none are the same
How might I forget you, O daughter of nobles, if my soul to yours has been chained?
To the place you desire, arise and return; the scattered lambs I shall reclaim
Be you firm, for you’ll no longer be least among wives;1 “princess” shall be your name.

ישראל נג’ארה
ידרוך חציו קשת עינך

 
יִדְרוֹךְ חִצָּיו קֶשֶׁת עֵינֵךְ לִּבִּי נִצָּב לוֹ מַטָּרָה
הָסֵבִּי עֵינֵךְ מִנֶּגְדִּי חוּסִי עַל־לֵב לִנְדוּדֵךְ לֹא יָנוּם
לְחִשְׁקֵךְ לֹא יָנוּם יַעֲלַת תִּפְאָרָה.
 
שָׁקַדְתִּי לִהְיוֹת מִשְׁתָּאֶה מַבִּיט עַיִן תּוֹפַע נְהָרָה
רַבּוֹת בָּנוֹת יָקְרוּ אַךְ אַתְּ עֲרוּכָה בַכֹּל וּשְׁמוּרָה
אֵיךְ אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ בַּת נָדִיב אִם נַפְשֵׁךְ עִם נַפְשִׁי נִקְשָׁרָה
לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵךְ קוּמִי עֲלִי עַתָּה אֶקְבֹּץ שֶׂה פְּזוּרָה
חִזְקִי כִּי לֹא יִקָּרֵא עוֹד שְׁמֵךְ צָרָה כִּי אִם שָׂרָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yidrókh ḥitzáv qéshet ʕeinéikh libí nitzáv lo mataráh
Haséibi ʕeinéikh mi-negdí ḥúsi ʕal leiv lindudékh lo yanúm
Le-ḥishqéikh lo yanúm yaʕalát tif’aráh.

Shaqádeti lihyót mishta’éh mabít ʕáyin tofáʕ neharáh
Rabót banót yaqrú ‘akh ‘at ʕarukháh va-kól u-shemuráh
‘Eikh ‘eshkaḥéikh bat nadív ‘im nafshéikh ʕim nafshí niqsharáh
Limḥóz ḥeftzéikh qúmi ʕalí ʕatáh eqbótz seh pezuráh
Ḥizqi ki lo yiqaréi ʕod shméikh tzaráh ki ‘im saráh.

  1. צרה here can have a number of potentially correct readings: “sorrow,” “enemy” or “subordinate wife.” I think the latter is correct, since “princess” (sarah) is of course the name of Abraham’s beloved primary wife.
Apr 272014
 

I picked up Admiel’s latest, “קטעים אתךָ” (with that very conspicuous qamatz so you wouldn’t be tempted to think he was being heteronormative or anything) while on a recent trip to the homeland, ת”ו. Amusingly, if you look in the inside cover at the publishing information, where Hebrew books’ authors and titles are usually printed in English to help foreign libraries do their cataloging and such, the English title is “You’re Awesome!” I can’t claim to always understand Admiel Kosman’s puckish sense of humor, but along with his capacity for lyrical sensuality and sensitive postmodern spirituality, it’s part of what so endears him to me. Also somewhat amusing is that while the book was put out by his normal publisher, the major Hebrew publishing house Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Me’uḥad, it was funded in part by the national lottery, Mif`al ha-Payis (campaign motto: “You need fortune (payis) in culture.”). This is not entirely surprising given that many of Israel’s schools are funded by and named for the national lottery, but still: what an odd little country we’ve built. Is there something slightly perverse about using the few shekels of the desperate and downtrodden to fund navelgazing poetry? I’m not going to think about it.

I am going to think about, having read this poem, whether Mr. Kosman had seen a certain episode of Sayed Kashua’s hysterical sitcom “Arab Labor,” which made the most lengthily hilarious use of the word “gvuli” since the speakers of proto-West Semitic laid down their first border. I’m going to imagine that he has. In any case, Admiel’s still got it.

Admiel Kosman (1957 – )
I Will Live for Your Sake in a Borderline Place

I will live for your sake in a borderline place,
the most borderline place there can be.

I’ll be hung for your sake
on a note, or the Y
of a graph, on a serif
I’ll hang, on a strip.
An elongated line.

While still me, I’ll be squeezed, breathing hard, and my way
I make clear, for your sake, on the paths of the past. Because
time is so short, my true love, and I need to make haste, while still me,

like a smuggler, sacks,
for your sake, like a thief, like a tout,
to set down, by myself, for your sake,
on the fence made of dust,

of the bounds of my thoughts, when that very same Me, that same Me
that returned, a bright flash, for your sake, within me, like a treasure, a cache,

I again, while still me, elongate,
just for you, elongate,

just for you, elongate

and stretch out, for your sake,
narrow in, on the fringe,

narrow in, for your sake, ‘tween
the paths of the past. For that’s me.

For that’s me. He who goes,
for your sake,
namelessly.

He who goes, for your sake,
with no name, in that place,
the most borderline place there can be.

אדמיאל קוסמן
אחיה בשבילך במקום הגבולי

 
אֶחְיֶה בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ בַּמָקוֹם הַגְּבוּלִי
בְּיוֹתֵר בָּעוֹלָם שֶׁאֶפְשֶׁר.
 
אֶתָּלֶה בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ עֲלֵי
תָּו, אוֹ אֲנָךְ, עֲלֵי תָּג,
עֲלֵי פַּס. עֲלֵי קַו מָאֳרָךְ.
 
וּבְעוֹדִי, אֶדָּחֵס, מִתְנַשֵּׁם, מְפַלֵּס
אֶת דַּרְכִּי, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, בְּשְׁבִילֵי הֶעָבָר, הֵן
הַזְּמַן כֹּה קָצָר, אֲהוּבָה, וְעָלַי לְמַהֵר, בְּעוֹדִי,
 
כְּמוֹ מַבְרִיחַ, שַׂקִּים,
בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, כְּגַנָּב, כְּסַפְסָר,
לְהַנִּיחַ, עַצְמִי, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
עַל גֶּדֶר הֶעָפָר,
 
שֶׁל גְּבוּלוֹת דִּמְיוֹנִי, כְּשֶׁאוֹתוֹ הָאֲנִי, הָאֲנִי
שֶׁחָזַר, מִתְנוֹצֵץ, בְּתוֹכִי, כְּאוֹצָר,
 
וְשׁוּב, בְּעוֹדִי, מִתְאָרֵך,
עֲבוּרֵךְ, מִתְאָרֵך,
 
עֲבוּרֵךְ, מִתְאָרֵך
 
וְנִמְתָּח, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
מִתְגַּדֵּר, עַל הַסְּפָר,
 
מִתְגַּדֵּר, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ, בֵּין
שְׁבִילֵי הֶעָבָר. זֶה אֲנִי.
 
זֶה אֲנִי. הַהוֹלֵךְ,
בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
אַלְמוֹנִי.
 
הַהוֹלֵךְ, בִּשְׁבִילֵךְ,
אַלְמוֹנִי, בַּמָקוֹם הַגְּבוּלִי
בְּיוֹתֵר בָּעוֹלָם שֶׁאֶפְשֶׁר.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Eḥeyéh bishviléikh ba-maqóm ha-gvulí
be-yotéir ba-ʕolám she-‘efshár.

‘Etaléh bishviléikh ʕaléi
tav, ‘o ‘anákh, ʕaléi tag,
ʕaléi pas. ʕaléi qav mo’arákh.

Uv-ʕodí, ‘edaḥéis, mitnashéim, mefaléis
‘et darkí, bishviléikh, bishviléi he-ʕavár. Hein
ha-zmán koh qatzár, ‘ahuváh, ve-ʕalái lemahéir, be-ʕodí,

Kmó mavríaḥ, saqím,
bishviléikh, ke-ganáv, ke-safsár,
lehaníaḥ, ʕatzmí, bishviléikh,
ʕal gedér he-ʕafár,

shel gvulót dimyoní, kshe-‘otó ha-‘aní, ha-‘aní
she-ḥazár, mitnotzéitz, bishviléikh, be-tokhí, ke-‘otzár,

Ve-shúv, be-ʕodí, mit’aréikh,
ʕavuréikh, mit’aréikh,

ʕavuréikh, mit’aréikh

ve-nimtáḥ, bishviléikh,
mitgadéir, ʕal ha-sfár,

mitgadéir, bishviléikh, bein
shviléi he-ʕavár. Zeh ‘aní.

Zeh ‘aní. Ha-holéikh,
bishviléikh,
‘almoní.

Ha-holéikh, bishviléikh,
‘almoní, ba-maqóm ha-gvulí
be-yotéir ba-ʕolám she-‘efshár.

Apr 272014
 

Though I’m a notoriously stingy footnoter, I’ve decided to footnote and explain some of the references and language Agnon assumes his readership will be familiar with. If I’ve learned anything from contemporary undergraduates, it’s that you shouldn’t assume anyone is familiar with anything.

***

I said hello to her and told her that I had come from outside the Land bearing tidings of blessing from her grandson. She extricated a hand from her blankets and pulled one up to her neck and asked how many houses he had, and whether the houses had servants, and whether he had fine rugs in every room. Finally she groaned and said, this cold will take me from this world. Seeing how hard the cold was on her, I said to myself that an oil heater would alleviate her sorrows. Summoning a bit of slyness, I told her that her grandson had sent with me a bit of money to buy her a heater, a portable heater you filled with oil and kindled the wick, and it lit up and gave off heat. I took out my wallet and said, here’s the money. She responded wrathfully, and how am I supposed to go and buy a heater, is it legs I have? Icicles I have. This cold, until it brings me to the Mount of Olives,1 will drive me out of my mind. And they say outside the Land that the Land of Israel is warm. Warm for the wicked in Gehinoym,2 it’s warm. I told her, tomorrow the sun will shine and drive away the cold. She said, before there’s a reprieve, the soul will take its leave. I said, give me an hour or two, and I’ll send you the heater. She shrunk back into her blankets and pillows, as if to show her supposed benefactor there was no trusting in his favors. Continue reading »

  1. The ancient Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem.
  2. Gehinnom, an actual valley outside the city walls of Jerusalem (called “the valley of the Sons of Hinnom” in the Bible) was associated with non-Israelite cultic worship in Biblical times, including perhaps child sacrifice, and eventually, as the idea of some form of afterlife began to develop in Judaism, the valley was conflated with a place of temporary punishment after death akin to the Catholic Purgatory.
Apr 262014
 

Well, with the help of Soul and Gone’s resident Mysterious Masked Man who happens to be a scholar of Italian Jewish literature and history, we’ve solved the mystery of yesterday’s poem. The intended target of this poetic bromance was Avraham ha-Cohen of Zante, a physician, Jewish scholar and poet from Crete who studied medicine in Padua (where he befriended Ferrarese and the local circle of poets) and spent his life on Zante, known better as Zakynthos, a Greek island which was then under the dominion of La Serenissima Repubblica, the glorious-if-often-douchey Venetian Empire.

It bears mentioning, first of all, that there’s a long tradition of Hebrew poets writing epistles of praise to one another, often over incredible distances. The Andalusi poets did this all the time, and they yielded some very fine works which I haven’t yet gotten around to translating (I’ve been more interested in translating the diss poems, as my longtime readers may have noticed). Generally, if the poet on the receiving end was touched, he would respond in kind, conventionally in the same style, often using the same rhymes (as in the poem below).

It also bears mentioning that the poem Avraham wrote below in response to Mordechai Ferrarese is, unfortunately, a little bit racist. Any good student of history knows that it’s often unhelpful to retroject our modern mores when we study historical figures, but…well, it’s not a lovely metaphor. But it is what it is. As you might expect, Cohen inverts Ferrarese’s praise, downplaying his own merits while extolling Ferrarese’s. It would all be rather sweet were it not for the whole race thing. But hey, in the denouement of the saga of Ḥever the Kenite’s unfortunate marriage in Yehuda al-Harizi’s Taḥkemoni, he beats his new bride to death with a stick and it’s played for laughs, so, you know, taking a broad view of Hebrew poetry, it could be worse.

Avraham ben Shabbetai ha-Cohen of Zante (early 18th century)
An Ethiop Whose Skin Bears a Tale

An Ethiop whose skin bears a tale, not of grace,
But of darkness, not light, bestowed by the skies;
Towards all watchers will flow the smoke of her face,
A river of tears too from their sobbing eyes.

Though in the mirror her clothes too she’ll embrace
Brightly-hued garments, fur collars, her guise,
Bracelets and bangles and jewels all in place,
But double’s the shame, twice as black she’ll arise.

A sad man is he who would don his own crown
To the youths in the street he’d be scorn’s very height;
His fine silks are mud, they disgrace the sapphire,

But your poems are marv’lous, with excess they’ve shone,
The blackest of skin they’d turn bright with delight,
The hand of a wretch with their grace they’ve brought higher.

אברהם בן שבתאי הכהן מזנטי
כושית אשר עורה לעד עליה

 
כּוּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר עוֹרָהּ לְעֵד עָלֶיהָ
חֹשֶׁךְ וְלֹא אוֹר כּוֹנֲנוּ שָׁמָיִם
יַגֵּר בְּרוֹאֶיהָ עֲשַׁן פָּנֶיהָ
נַחַל דְּמָעוֹת מִבְּכִי עֵינָיִם.
 
גַּם כִּי בְמַרְאֶה תַּעֲרֹךְ כֵּלֶיהָ
בִּגְדֵי צְבָעִים עִם סְגוֹר פַּרְוָיִם
צָמִיד וְאֶצְעָדָה וְקִשּׁוּרֶיהָ
מִשְׁנֶה כְלִמּוֹת הֵם שְׁחוֹר כִּפְלָיִם.
 
נִקְשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׁא בְרֹאשוֹ כֶּתֶר
קֶלֶס נְעָרִים הוּא בְּחוּצוֹת קָרֶת
הַבּוּץ לִבֹץ יִהְיֶה לְבוּז אַחְלָמָה.
 
אַךְ שִׁירְךָ מַפְלִיא וְנָתוֹן יֶתֶר
עוֹר יַהֲפֹךְ כּוּשִׁי בְּאוֹר תִּפְאָרֶת
וִימִין קְשֵׁה יוֹם עַל־עֲרָבוֹת רָמָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Kúshit ‘ashér ʕoráh le-ʕéid ʕaléha
Ḥóshekh ve-ló ‘or konaná shamáyim
Yagéir be-ro’éha ʕashán panéha
Náḥal demaʕót mi-bekhí ʕeináyim.

Gam ki ve-mar’éh taʕarókh keiléha
Bigdéi tzevaʕím ʕim segór parváyim
Tzamíd ve-‘etzʕadáh ve-qishuréha
Mishnéh khelimót heim sheḥór kifláyim.

Niqshéh ‘ashér yisá ve-roshó kéter
Qéles neʕarím hu be-ḥutzót qáret
Ha-bútz li-vótz yihyéh le-vúz ‘aḥlámah.

‘Akh shirkhá maflí ve-natón yéter
ʕor yahafókh kúshi be-‘ór tif’áret
Vimín qeshéh yom ʕal ʕaravót rámah.

Apr 262014
 

I found my last literary translation exercise an enjoyable diversion from both the torrent of poems for this site and some more serious translations I’m working on that will hopefully bear fruit soon, be-sha`ah tovah u-mutzlaḥat. And since Agnon is the master of the modern Hebrew short story and I have most of his books, I thought why not tackle in stages a few of his short stories until I either get bored or sued by his estate, whichever comes first? So with that in mind, I have set out to translate “Tehilla,” which, like “Agunot,” is also a Jerusalem story, but of a very different sort, written decades later soon after the War of Independence (and, I should remind you, the loss of the Old City of Jerusalem). Unlike “Agunot,” “Tehilla” isn’t neatly organized into chapters, so I’m just going to translate however much I feel like, whenever I feel like it, and if you don’t like it, check out those other Hebrew poetry and literature translation blogs. So without further ado:

TEHILLA

There was an old woman in Jerusalem. A fine woman whose like you’ve not seen in all your days. Righteous she was, and knowing she was, and graceful she was, and modest she was. The light of her eyes was kindness and mercy, the wrinkles of her brow were blessings and peace. Were it not for the impropriety of comparing women to angels, I would compare her to an angel of G-d. And this too she had: the spryness of a girl. Were it not for the garments of dotage upon her, not a trace of old age was apparent.

Before I’d left Jerusalem I hadn’t known her; after I’d returned to Jerusalem, I did. And how had I not known her before? How do you not know her now? It’s simply that every man is meant to know who he knows, at the time that he knows him, for the reason he knows him. For what reason did she come to know me? The story was that I went to visit one of the scholars of Jerusalem who lived near the Western Wall and was unable to find the house. I found instead a woman approaching with a water jug and asked her. She told me, come and I’ll show you. I said, you don’t need to bother yourself, just tell me where to turn and I’ll be on my way. She smiled and said, what do you care if this old woman merits a mitzvah?1 I said, if it’s a mitzvah, then by all means, but at least give me the jug in your hand. She smiled and said, you’re asking me to lessen the mitzvah . I said, I’m not asking to lessen the mitzvah, only your burden. She said, it’s no bother, it’s a privilege, a privilege that the Holy One Blessed Be He allowed his creations to look after their needs with their own hands.

Continue reading »

  1. In this instance, both a commandment and a good turn.
Apr 252014
 

You know how Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” is purportedly about a woman, but reveals itself (explicitly, eventually, for those very slow on the uptake) to actually be about hip-hop itself? This too is a poem along those lines. (That’s Soul and Gone: coming with that old-school shit to…that older-school shit.)

Rather than a genre, however, the sonnet below, by Mr. Ferrarese of Padua, is dedicated to a poet whose name I, quite frankly, cannot fully make out:

Do you see the manuscript quality I suffer for you people? Anyway, judging from the poem, his father’s name must be Yishai, and I think his is Avraham ha-Kohen…something. Zante? He must have been pretty swell, whoever he was.

Mordechai Ferrarese (early 18th century)
A Most Gorgeous Maiden

A most gorgeous maiden whose bounty of grace
Was rained down upon her from thundering skies
Arouses with brilliance, the light of her face,
Desire in all hearts, with one look from her eyes.

If her raiment’s splendor she would but embrace
She’d take golden embroid’ry and furs as her guise,
Each necklace and bracelet and ring in its place,
The glow of her fire would twofold arise.

The glory of kings too will yet raise its crown
On monarchy’s throne at the city’s top height
With amethyst, diamond and agate and sapphire.

With their rhymes, up on high have risen and shone
The poems of Yishai’s son, so filled with delight;
To the heavens their horn has raised e’er higher.1

מרדכי פיראריסי
עלמה יפהפיה

 
עַלְמָה יְפֵהפִיָּה אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיהָ
חֵן חֵן תְּשֻׁאוֹת יִרְעֲפוּ שָׁמָיִם
תָּעִיר בְּזִיו יָפְיָהּ בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיהָ
חֶמְדַּת לְבָבוֹת עִם רְאוֹת עֵינָיִם.
 
אַךְ אִם תְּכַהֵן גַּם פְּאֵר כֵּלֶיהָ
תַּעְדֶּה מְעִיל רִקְמַת זְהַב פַּרְוָיִם
נִזְמָהּ וְחֶלְיָתָהּ וְקִשּׁוּרֶיהָ
יִגַּהּ שְׁבִיב אִשָּׁהּ צְבִי כִפְלָיִם.
 
גַּם הוֹד מְלָכִים עוֹד יְרוֹמֵם כֶּתֶר
עַל כֵּס מְלוּכָה עַל מְרֹמֵי קָרֶת
בֵּין יַהֲלֹם סַפִּיר שְׁבוֹ אַחְלָמָה.
 
כֵּן בַּחֲרוּזִים נִשְׂאוּ עַל־יֶתֶר
שִׁירֵי בְנוֹ יִשַׁי בְּרֹב תִּפְאָרֶת
קַרְנָם בְּכָבוֹד עַד־שְׁחָקִים רָמָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕalmáh yefeifíyah ‘ashér ʕaléha
Ḥein ḥein teshu’ót yirʕafú shamáyim
Taʕír be-zív yofyáh be-‘ór panéha
Ḥemdát levavót ʕim re’ót ʕeináyim.

‘Akh ‘im tekhahéin gam pe’éir keiléha
Taʕdéh meʕíl riqmát zeháv parváyim
Nizmáh ve-ḥelyatáh ve-qishuréha
Yigáh shevív ‘isháh tzeví khifláyim.

Gam hod melakhím ʕod yeroméim kéter
ʕal keis melukháh ʕal meroméi qáret
Bein yahalóm sapír shevó ‘aḥlámah.

Kein ba-ḥaruzím nis’ú ʕal yéter
Shiréi venó Yishái be-róv tif’áret
Qarnám be-khavód ʕad sheḥaqím rámah.

  1. To those who haven’t flipped through their Gideon’s Bible, “to have one’s horn raised” is an ancient Hebrew expression of pride, appearing in Chana’s prayer of thanks in 1 Samuel – “my horn has been raised by God.”