May 032014

Well, this being the world’s largest repository of Italian Hebrew poetry in translation, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d eventually get to Rahel Morpurgo, one of the very few Italian poets anybody knows about and whose works are (fairly) widely distributed. Why is those things? Well, Mrs. Morpurgo (née Luzzatto, which is like being a Kennedy in Jewish Italy) is the very first female Hebrew poet of the modern(ish) era (although not the first female Italian Jewish poet, just the first one to compose in Hebrew), and really the first female Hebrew poet we know by name (and whose poetry we have) since, um, Miriam?

Anyway, this is an entry into that classic Hebrew genre, the riddle-poem. First person who guesses the answer gets a shiny piece of…money.

Rahel Morpurgo (1790 – 1871)
A Riddle: Dust Am I

Dust Am I in Life, All the More So in Death

Before you here discern me
You’d profit if you burn me;
My light would sate your soul,
Your treasures I make whole.

Upon me priests make offerings,
Beneath me reign your mighty kings,
If for this you held out your hand
You’d find fulfilled your wishes grand.

רחל מורפורגו
חידה: עפר אני

עָפָר אֲנִי בְּחַיַּי קַל וָחֹמֶר בְּמִיתָתִי
הֲרֵי אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ
שָׂרְפֵנִי לְטוֹבָתֶךָ;
לְאוֹרִי תִּשְׂבַּע נַפְשֶׁךָ,
וְעָלַי כָּל-חֶמְדָּתֶךָ.
עָלַי יַקְטִיר כֹּהֲנֶךָ,
וְתַחְתַּי יִמְלֹךְ מַלְכֶּךָ,
אִם בָּזֶה תַּהֲפֹךְ יָדֶךָ
אָז תִּמְצָא מַאֲוַיֶּיךָ.


Haréi ‘aní lefanékha
Sorféini le-tovatékha;
Le-‘orí tisbáʕ nafshékha,
Ve-ʕalái kol ḥemdatékha.

ʕal0i yaqtír kohanékha,
Ve-taḥtí yimlókh malkékha,
‘Im ba-zéh tahafókh yadkhá
‘Az timtzá ma’avayékha.

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