Apr 202014

And here’s chapter three of “Agunot”. You can find chapter one here and chapter two here.

And he, between the garden’s trees still sleeps away the artist, dreaming. A dream and its pain, a dream and its deep sorrow. He dreams of a lute whose strings had been severed, whose melodies had ceased and been scattered to another place, and down the lute is lain as if a thing undesired, while its melodies flutter through the world beseeching and beseeching — and they find not for themselves a home in any heart or soul upon the earth…. And at this time there’s but one soul, a pure and holy soul that desires and longs for these melodies — but she is caged…

Download chapter three here (PDF).

Apr 202014

Another Baroque Italian poet, another one of those direct-translation Hebrew surnames. In the absence of critical editions and crucial historical/cultural context in the gaping black hole of Italian Hebrew poetry, it can be occasionally hard to understand what a particular poem is driving at. This poem is a good example. My not-entirely-uneducated guess is that the poet, who writes in Hebrew (thus his complaint that is poetry isn’t understood) is addressing another Jewish poet, one he feels is a superior wordsmith, and criticizing him for composing poetry in Italian rather than Hebrew (thus the reference to wasting his gifts in “Ashterot Karnayim,” a Canaanite city explicitly named for the goddess Astarte mentioned in Genesis. All kinds of different non-Israelite tribes in the Bible stand in for the native gentiles, and the religious practices, of any given country in Hebrew poetry – in an era in which Christian scholars were increasingly Hebrew-literate and interested in what the Jews were saying amongst themselves, references to Jewish antipathy towards Christians and Christian belief had to be ever-more circumspect). There are contemporary examples of this exact poetic dispute among the Jewish poets of Italy.

Yehuda ‘Asael mei-ha-Tov (Leon del Bene) (? – 1678)
My Poetry, Not Understood

My poetry / not understood / is sour wine / against the teeth
And you confuse / its wisdom’s light / like rising smoke / into the eyes
And it’s a lass / in its concerns / first giving birth / upon the stool
And like the bird / who sits on eggs / which fail to hatch / within the nest
But it’s for you / a friend who weighs / its dulcet tones / upon the scales
A singing tune / upon the lute / upon the lyre / straight to the ears
And if I’m small / compared to you / and only reach / up to your hips
My value is / of middling worth / the arm’s length of / an average man
And you have joined / both supple tongue / and graceful soul / in great supply
Which you, O poet / roundly scorn / In Ashterot Karnayim

יהודה עשהאל מהטוב
מליצתי לאין מבין

מְלִיצָתִי / לְאֵין מֵבִין / כְּחֹמֶץ רַע / לְשִׁנָּיִם
תְּבַלְבֵּל בּוֹ / מְאוֹר שִׂכְלוֹ / כְּמוֹ עָשָׁן / לְעֵינָיִם
וְהוּא אִשָּׁה / בְּעִיוּנוֹ / כְּמַבְכִּירָה / עַל־הָאָבְנָיִם
וְכַקֹרֵא / אֲשֶׁר דָּגַר / וְלֹא יָלַד / תּוֹךְ מַחְנָיִם
אֲבָל הִיא לָךְ / יְדִיד שׁוֹקֵל / נְעִימוּתָהּ / עִם מֹאזְנָיִם
נְגִינַת שִׁיר / עֲלֵי עָשׂוֹר / עֲלֵי נֵבֶל / בְּאָזְנַיִם
וְאִם קָטָן / אֲנִי נֶגְדָּךְ / וּמַגִּיעַ / לְמָתְנָיִם
מְדֹד עֶרְכִּי / כְּבֵינוֹנִי / בְּאַמַּת אִישׁ / הַבֵּינָיִם
וְאָסַפְתָּ / שְֹפַת לָשׁוֹן / וְרוּחַ חֵן / בְּחָפְנָיִם
אֲשֶׁר מֵלִיץ / תְּנַגַח בָּם / בְּעַשְׁתְּרוֹת / הַקַּרְנָיִם.


Melitzatí / le-‘éin meivín / ke-ḥómetz raʕ / le-shináyim
Tevalbéil bo / me’ór sikhló / kemó ʕashán / le-ʕeináyim
Ve-hu ‘isháh / be-ʕiyunó / ke-mavkiráh / ʕal ha-‘ovnáyim
Ve-kha-qoréi / ‘ashér dagár / ve-ló yalád / tokh maḥnáyim
‘Avál hi lakh / yedíd shoqéil / neʕimutáh / ʕim moznáyim
Neginát shir / ʕaléi ʕasór / ʕaléi néivel / be-‘oznáyim
Ve-‘ím qatán / ‘aní negdákh / u-magíaʕ / le-motnáyim
Medód ʕerkí / ke-veinoní / be-‘amát ‘ish / ha-beináyim
Ve-‘asáfta / sefát lashón / ve-rúaḥ ḥein / be-ḥofnáyim
‘Ashér meilítz / tenagáḥ bam / be-ʕashterót / ha-qarnáyim.