May 012014
 

Pre-modern Hebrew poetry unambiguously discussing contemporary events is always of interest, particularly when the contemporary event is a plague outbreak. This poem deals with the Italian outbreak in 1374.

In a parallel universe High Fidelity in which John Cusack and Jack Black lament historical atrocities committed by Christians against the Jews instead of frustrated love affairs and late-period Stevie Wonder, the vengeful annihilation of entire Jewish communities during outbreaks of the plague would definitely make the All-Time Top Five Things Christians Should Feel Bad About. It’s not our fault we took baths occasionally (well, technically, I suppose it is).

Shlomo ben Yitzḥak mei-Perugia (14th century)
Please Summon Forth Cures

Please summon forth cures and medication
Merciful healer, for the sick of your nation
Take this plague from those awaiting salvation
End this scourge and avert annihilation
Say “Angel, stay your hand,” and order placation
Heal us, O Lord, that we may know alleviation
We have been every day
To these beasts as their prey
Edomites and Hittites,
Nabateans, Qedarites,1
Your mercy shall come, we proclaim
For Eternal Redeemer is your name

Those bitter of spirit, O when shall you heal them?
Though the people have sinned, may your kindness befall them,
And your flock’s cruel destroyer, O why does it thwart them?
It’s taken the sons, and no mother it’s sent them
Hurry, make haste, from captivity save them
Before the day comes when you seek and can’t find them
And when wrath shall hold sway
On that terrible day
Pain shall o’ertake the earth
Like the pain of first birth
Pity, O Lord, the nation you claim
For Eternal Redeemer is your name

שלמה בן יצחק מפרוג׳ה
העלה־נא ארוכה

 
הַעֲלֵה־נָא אֲרוּכָה וּמַרְפֵּא
לְחוֹלֵי עַמְּךָ אֵל רַחֲמָן רוֹפֵא
עֲצֹר מַגֵּפָה מֵעָם לְךָ מְצַפֶּה
כַּלֵּה דֶבֶר וּמַשְׁחִית וְלֹא נִסָּפֶה
וְתֹאמַר לַמַּלְאָךְ יָדְךָ הַרְפֵּה
רְפָאֵנוּ יְיָ וְנֵרָפֵא
רַב לָנוּ לִהְיוֹת
לָבַז לְחַיּוֹת
אֲדוֹמִיּוֹת חִתִּיּוֹת
קֵדָר וּנְבָיוֹת
וִיבֹאוּנוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ / כִּי גֹאֲלֵנוּ מֵעוֹלָם שְׁמֶךָ.
 
מָרֵי נֶפֶשׁ מָתַי תִּרְפָּאֵם
וְעָם בְּךָ מָעֲלוּ חַסְדְּךָ יְבוֹאֵם
וּמַשְׁחִית קִנְּךָ לָמָּה יְנִיאֵם
הַבָּנִים לָקַח וְלֹא שִׁלַּח הָאֵם
מְהֵרָה חוּשָׁה מִשְּׁבִי הוֹצִיאֵם
טֶרֶם תְּבַקְּשֵׁם וְלֹא תִמְצָאֵם
וּבְבוֹא יוֹם עֶבְרָה
הַיּוֹם הַנּוֹרָא
וְהָיְתָה עֵת צָרָה
צָרָה כְּמַבְכִּירָה
חוּסָה יְיָ עַל־עַמֶךָ / כִּי גֹאֲלֵנוּ מֵעוֹלָם שְׁמֶךָ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Haʕaléih-na ‘arukháh u-marpéi
Le-ḥoléi ʕamkhá ‘eil raḥamán roféi
ʕatzór mageifáh mei-ʕám lekhá metzapéh
Kaléih déver u-mashḥít ve-ló nisaféh
Ve-tomár la-mal’ákh yadkhá harpéih
Refai’éinu ‘adonái ve-neiraféi
Rav lánu lihyót
La-váz le-ḥayót
‘Adomiyót ḥitiyót
Qeidár u-nevayót
Vivo’únu raḥamékha / ki go’aléinu mei-ʕolám shmékha.

Maréi néfesh matái tirpa’éim
Ve-ʕám bekhá maʕalú ḥasdekhá yevo’éim
U-mashḥít qinkhá lámah yeni’éim
Ha-baním laqáḥ ve-ló shiláḥ ha-‘éim
Meheiráh ḥúshah mi-shví hotzi’éim
Térem tevaqshéim ve-ló timtza’éim
U-vevó yom ʕevráh
Ha-yóm ha-norá
Ve-haytáh ʕeit tzaráh
Tzaráh ke-mavkiráh
Ḥúsah ‘adonái ʕal ʕamékha / ki go’aléinu mei-ʕolám shmékha.

  1. As I seem to find myself repeatedly pointing out, non-Israelite tribes in the Bible are frequently used in Hebrew literature to refer to whichever local gentiles Jewish communities were in contact with. The poet here seems to be discussing the massacres of Jews by Italians during the plague outbreak.
May 012014
 

Yaakov Fichman was one of those guys who started out writing in Ashkenazi Hebrew and then switched to the new Israeli accent (Bialik also tried this and notably failed). Benjamin Harshav says this one is in the Israeli accent — I kind of like it better in Ashkenazis, which probably means Fichman was fighting with the voice of the Ashkenaziyah muse in his head just like Bialik was, but I won’t argue with Benjamin Harshav when it comes to questions of poetic form and style. Now, as far as translation goes, I will fucking fight him on the beaches. Him and his wife. Bring it, Hrushovsky.

Yaakov Fichman (1881 – 1958)
For the Day’s Ire Shall Slacken

It’s not sadness in sunset, the blaze of the ire
Of the day going slack, it’s softness and wonder;
It’s the last of the stones sinking deep in the gyre,
It’s the last of the weight now slow slipping under.

Each daylight-struck blossom shall listen, asway,
Its veins again flowing with song strong as thunder;
Each footfall’s soft echo, like songs far away,
And ev’ry man’s heart now for singing made stronger.

Now sing out, my heart! For the hour’s grown late,
Filled full of silence, whispers veiled lie in wait.
And the song ripe as fruit here forgotten now dwells; —

Like a wave, in the arms of a sun asleep — swells,
Plucked from its stone by the touch of the night,
To expanses eternal, ne’er known by day’s light.

יעקב פיכמן
כי ירף זעף יום

 
לֹא עֶצֶב הוּא בִּשְׁקֹעַ יוֹם וְלַהַט
זַעְפּוֹ יִרְפֶּה, כִּי רֹךְ וְתִמָּהוֹן;
זוֹ אֶבֶן אַחֲרוֹנָה בַּתְּהוֹם שׁוֹקַעַת,
זֶה אַט צוֹנֵחַ כֹּבֶד אַחֲרוֹן.
 
כָּל צִיץ נְגוּעַ־יוֹם יַקְשִׁיב בְּרַעַד
עוֹרְקָיו שׁוּב רְנָנָה זֹרְמָה וָאוֹן;
כְּשִׁיר בָּא מֵרָחוֹק אָז הֵד כָּל צַעַד,
וְלֵב אָדָם רַק אָז יִכְשָׁר לָרֹן.
 
רֹן, לְבָבִי! שָׁעָה זוֹ מְאֻחֶרֶת
מָלְאָה, עִם הַדְּמָמָה, הֶמְיָה נִסְתֶּרֶת.
הַשִׁיר בָּשֵׁל כִּפְרִי עַל בַּד נִשְׁכַּח; —
 
כְּגַל, בִּזְרוֹעוֹת שֶׁמֶשׁ נָם, — תָּפַח,
נִתְלַשׁ לְמַגַּע־עֶרֶב מִסַּלְעוֹ,
מוּל רַחַב־אֵל, אוֹר יוֹם לֹא יְדָעוֹ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Lo ʕétzev hu bishqóaʕ yom ve-láhat
Zaʕpó yirpéh, ki rokh ve-timahón;
Zo ‘éven ‘aḥaronáh bathóm shoqáʕat,
Zeh ‘at tzonéiaḥ kóved ‘aḥarón.

Kol tzitz negúaʕ yom yaqshív be-ráʕad
ʕorqáv shuv renanáh zormáh va-‘ón;
Ke-shír ba mei-raḥóq ‘az heid kol tzáʕad,
Ve-léiv ‘adám raq ‘az yikhshár la-rón.

Ron, levaví! Shaʕáh zo me’uḥéret
Mal’áh, ʕim ha-demamáh, hemyáh nistéret.
Ha-shír bashéil kifrí ʕal bad nishkáḥ; —

Ke-gál, bizroʕót shémesh nam — tafáḥ,
Nitlásh le-mágaʕ ʕérev mi-salʕó,
Mul ráḥav ‘eil, ‘or yom lo yedaʕó.