May 132014

This one is really kind of clever, in a couple of ways. First of all, it’s a fine example of good-natured poetic fuckery, the poet’s equivalent of that trick the more literate among us all learned in school, how to write 500 words on an essay question’s prompt without ever actually approaching the question (I assume every teacher realizes what’s going on immediately, but just gives it a pass because anyone who can successfully pull it off is already writing beyond their grade level, and chutzpadik to boot).

The second is that Immanuel has been asked to write an ottava rima, which he does indeed, but he refers to the style as writing “`al ha-sheminit,” (lit. “on the eighth”), a direction found at the beginning of a couple Psalms, probably in reference either to an eight-stringed instrument or some kind of harmony arrangement for the Levitical choir. Both sheminit and ottava (“octave”) come from the same root in their respective languages, the number eight.

Anyway, according to the superscription, apparently a young man asked the poet to compose a poem in ottava rima, without specifying a theme. It would seem, given the flippant tone of the resulting poem, that Immanuel is not terribly impressed with the form (and this generation thinks it invented metatextuality).

Immanuel Frances (1618? – 1710?)
On the Eight

A poem my son requested on the eight:
I took to write some paper, ink, a pen.
And while I yet expended my thoughts’ weight,
I looked and saw I’d made the rhyme by then!
The rest with God’s help I will quick create,
According to his wishes and his yen.
For even if two lines are all you’ve spun,
On the eight, your poem’s already done.

עמנואל פראנשיס
על השמינית

עַל־הַשְּׁמִינִית שִׁיר בְּנִי שׁוֹאֵל
אֶקַּח לְכָתְבוֹ עֵט נְיָר וּדְיוֹ.
אָמְנָם בְּעוֹד שֶׁחַבְּרוֹ אוֹאֵל
אֶרְאֶה וְהִנֵּה נַעֲשָׂה חֶצְיוֹ.
גַּם הַשְּׁאָר אַעַשׂ בְּעֶזְרַת אֵל
עַל־קַו שְׁאֵלָתוֹ וּמַאְוַיּוֹ.
כִּי אִם־שְׁתֵּי שִׁטּוֹת לְבָד אוּלָם
עַל־הַשְּׁמִינִית שִׁיר כְּבָר נִשְׁלָם.


ʕal ha-sheminít shir bení sho’éil
‘Eqáḥ le-khotvó ʕeit neyár u-dyó.
‘ómnam be-ʕód she-ḥabró ‘o’éil
‘Er’éh ve-hinéih naʕasáh ḥetzyó.
Gam ha-she’ár ‘aʕás be-ʕezrát eil
ʕal qav she’eilató u-ma’vayó.
Ki ‘im shetéi shitót levád ‘ulám
ʕal ha-sheminít shir kevár nishlam.