Apr 232014

Dear readers, all four of you:

As you may have noticed, this site features a great and ever-growing heap of translations. I think we’ve passed the 300 mark. Since it’s always been my mission with this site to highlight poetry that has never been posted online in translation, or translated at all, and that poetry spans dozens of poets and countries and eras, I’ve decided to endeavor to impose a little order on the chaos. You will see on that I’ve rearranged the categories on the sidebar to order translations according to language, geographical origin and era. It’s not a perfect system, especially given the roving nature of many Hebrew poets, but I think all will agree that it makes navigating the morass of poetry a bit simpler. Please bear with me as I slowly work through all the posts one by one and file them accordingly.

With abiding love for all four of you,

May 102013

If you hadn’t already noticed, I’ve set out a shingle and opened up a shop for custom Hebrew calligraphy. That means any poem on this whole site (in the public domain) that you like (or anything else, really) can be turned into a frame-ready piece of calligraphy suitable for accenting any room or office, or pawning off on any friend or relative you can’t think of a more practical gift for.

And though I passionately despise Facebook and all its works and all its pomps, my legal counsel insisted – quite forcefully, and repeatedly, and without consideration of my delicate poet’s feelings (“Dude, I love you, but you’re an idiot”) – that I create a Facebook page for this site’s poetry and calligraphy. Apparently it’s all about getting the eyeballs. Or the clicks. Or the likes. Or the whatevers. I am wary at best of all this online social media marketing absurdity (despite having done it for a living back when it was slightly less batshit insane). But if it’s not out of your way, please like Soul and Gone’s Facebook page, or direct your friends to it, or however it actually works (I am not entirely sure, honestly). Tell your Bible-thumping Christian friends I do Bible verses (although please also note to them that things like “love is patient, love is kind” and “for God so loved the world” were actually originally written in Greek; this has been a recurring problem for me).

I will continue translating Hebrew poetry into English on the regular for absolutely free, of course. That is Soul and Gone’s mission statement, such as it is. But if you’ve got Hebrew calligraphy needs, keep a brother in mind. I need a new lightbox, and wine isn’t free.


P.S. This just happens to be this blog’s 300th post! It’s gotta be mazldik!

Jan 102013

Turns out most of this blog is prohibited – and one of its favorite poets by name even – by no less an authority than R’ Yosef Karo himself! And I, your ever-faithful translator, am in special trouble!

…And also poetry and proverbs containing profane1 speech, such as the book of Immanuel, and – it goes without saying – “words of desire” are forbidden to read on Shabbat, and even considering them without reading [is also forbidden]! This is decreed for reasons of shitrei hedyotot.2 They are also forbidden during the week, for reasons of moshav leitzim,3 even if written in the Holy Tongue. Regarding “words of desire,” there is an additional prohibition, even if written in the Holy Tongue, for they arouse the evil inclination — and whoever composes them, or copies them, or (it goes without saying) prints them is among those who cause the public to sin.4

Shulḥan `Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayim 307, paragraph 30.

Reader: I ask, from the depths of my afflicted soul, for meḥilah for having unwittingly led you down paths of sin. Rest assured I will be purging these pages of all filth and wickedness in the coming hours. To be safe, I will now translate only Psalms, and share particularly inspiring Shabbos table talks.

May we all merit our rightful portion in the World to Come,

  1. i.e., not holy.
  2. Secular, especially financial, writings, forbidden on Shabbat.
  3. Psalm 1:1. “Blessed is the man who does not…sit in the company of jesters (“moshav leitzim”).
  4. Maḥti’ei rabim, a more severe category of sinner than one who sins by himself.
Dec 212012
:הַמְּתַרְגֵּם מְרֻאְיָן עַל-יְדֵי בַּת-קוֹלוֹ
כַּמָּה חֳדָשִׁים הִשְׁקַעְתָּ?
  אִם אֵינֶנִּי טוֹעֶה, כְּבָר שְׁלוֹשָׁה.
וְעַל כַּמָּה יָמִים דִלַּגְתָּ?
  אֲפִילוּ לֹא יוֹם אֶחָד — זוּ עֻבְדָּה!
וְכַמָּה שִׁירִים כְּבָר תִּרְגַּמְתָּ?
  חֵי נַפְשִׁי, מֵאָה וְשִׁבְעָה.
וּמַה לָעוֹלָם תָּרַמְתָּ?
  אַיִן, בִּתִּי, מְאוּמָה.
וּמַה יִתְרוֹן לְךָ בְּכָל עֲמָלְךָ שֶׁעָמַלְתָּ?
  אַל תִּשְׁאֲלִינִי שֶׁמָּא אֲדֻכָּא.
Dec 142012

An “Admiel Kosman poem”:1

בְּעֵדֶן עֲדִינוּתֵנוּ הִתְעַדַּנּוּ עֲדִינוֹת, אִשְׁתִּי,
וְכָּל מַעֲדַנֵּי הַמֶּלֶךְ הֶעֱדִינוּנוּ מַעֲדַנּוֹת —
עֲדַיִן בְּמוֹעֲדוֹן הַלַּיְלָה הִבְהִיק הָאוֹר כְּמַעְדֵּן עָדִין
וּשְׁנֵינוּ, כֹּה מְעֻדָּנִים, אִשְׁתִּי:
קִשַׁרְנוּ מַעֲדַנּוֹת כּוֹכְבֵי גַּלְגַּל בְּעֶדְנַת צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּין.
וְתַּעֲלָא בְּעִדָּנֵיהּ סְגִיד לֵיהּ —
כִּי עָדַן עֹדֶן עִדָּנֶנוּ עַד עָדִין.
  1. This is not an actual Admiel Kosman poem. I made this up. Ha-meivin yavin. Don’t hate me, Admiel. I heart you. Let’s be friends.
Nov 222012

That’s officially two uninterrupted months of at least one translation per day. And far more posts in the last two months than in this site’s rather spartan previous four years combined. Anyone want to validate me a little? No? Thought not.

At least we’ll always have Andalusia.

Oct 242012


This accursed Jew was in himself one of the most perfect men, although God had denied him his guidance. He excelled in learning, endurance, intelligence and wit, charm of character, perseverance, astuteness, cunning, self-control and natural courtesy. He knew how to act according to the requirements of the moment, how to flatter his enemies and remove suspicion from their heart by his fine manners. What an uncommon man! He wrote with two pens and cultivated two fields of learning. He was passionately interested in the Arabic language, explored it, studied the literature written in this language and investigated its roots. His hand and his tongue mastered it quite freely, and he used to write in Arabic in his own name and on behalf of his king, applying if necessary Muslim invocations to God and his prophets. He exalted Islam and enlarged on its advantages, so that his letters sounded like propaganda for that faith. He was also proficient in the learning of the ancients, in the various branches of mathematics, and his lore of astronomy surpassed that of the astronomers. He also knew all about geometry and logics. His consummate debating crushed his opponents. As he was wise, he spoke little …. although he thought much.

Ibn Hayyan, upon the death of Shmuel ha-Nagid.1

  1. as quoted in Jefim Schirmann, “Samuel Hannagid, the Man, the Soldier, the Politician,” Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr. 1951), pp. 99-126.
Oct 132012

As part of my thanklessly quixotic mission to bring Hebrew poetry to the roughly seven billion people who neither speak Hebrew nor like poetry, I spend an inordinate amount of time vowelling Hebrew text. For those of you who have not had the unique pleasure of inserting vowels into Hebrew text in a word processor, it involves typing one’s text, unvowelled, and then hitting Caps Lock and going back to insert the appropriate vowel dots into each and every single letter, a task accomplished by pressing Shift and one of the number keys. This is one of those perverse inversions of the notion of progress, like social networking or the replacement of buttons on household electronics with touch-sensitive “smudge” zones, that makes one wonder what precisely is so enchanting about the Future; I could vowel an unpointed text by hand in a scant fraction of the time it takes to do it with the magic box. Actually, I even enjoy it: I get to use my fine-tipped art pens and feel like a sofer. But Progress has its own ideas, and as always, nobody asked me.

But should you find yourself deep in the slickly vowelled pit, take heart, O lover of the Holy Tongue: I have devised a way to make the pointing of Hebrew text a somewhat less daunting proposition. I have invented the Hebrew Vowel Drinking Game.

The rules are simple. Drinking in the stipulated quantity is mandatory when one enters the following vowels or combinations of vowels:

Two patah in a row (רַחַשׁ): Drink.
An alef or ayin bearing a shva (אְ, עְ): Drink.
Kubutz (אֻ): Drink.
Hei mappiq (הּ): Drink.
Three nekudot in a single letter (שָּׁ): Drink.
A qamatz followed by a shva that’s read as an [o] vowel (קָדְשֶׁךָ): Drink.
Hataf qamatz (חֳ): Two drinks.
Three qamatz in a row (הָאָדָם): Two drinks.
Three patah in a row (הַשַּׁעַר): Two drinks.
Two geminated consonants in a row (הַשַּׂקִּים): Drink, and then another drink for the linguists, baby, and then pour one out in memory of contrastive gemination in the Hebrew language, ז”ל.

DISCLAIMER: The Hebrew Vowel Drinking Game is absolutely not to be played with hard liquor during the pointing of any text containing over three stanzas. If your text doesn’t have stanzas, God help you, man. You didn’t hear about it here.