Feb 062015
 

Yehuda Matzliaḥ Padova (Leon Prospero Padova) (? – 1728)
A World Inverted

O unschooled man who comes and goes before me,
Draw near and hear from me these admonitions:
My ev’ry word is just, without a defect,
Your soul shall draw from every sound its comfort.
See how this world withholds from you unfairly
Eternal peace and rest and also seizes
Your mind; your strength it casts into the chasm,
And there all pride on bended knee is humbled.

O hear you well, my words are not yet swallowed:
For are you not the man who once considered
Himself above all living souls, deserving
Obeisance from the world, with might tight-girded?
The beasts and creatures heeded all your orders,
The buds and blossoms you plucked by the handful,
And earth’s mute stones with scorn you freely trampled,
but unrevealed to you: the hidden meaning.

Unveil your wisdom’s eyes so truth they’ll follow;
Regard your strength and glory as if broken.
Indeed, upon your back will thickets thicken,
The grass will overgrow the place you’re buried,
And with no shame at all will sink its roots in,
And thistles’ thorns will fill your former dwelling
And silent stones o’er which you once went striding
Will be piled up above your head forever.

O Man, do you not stir with wrath and ire?
And do you not berate all those created
Subservient to you? Now see how fearless
At times like this they’ve all worked to restrain you!
And where are all your holdings and your legions?
And where are men’s delights once held so dearly?
How woefully into their graves they’ve fallen,
Their light goes dim and their bright flame’s extinguished.

I stand as keystone, calling out with purpose;
With reasoned words I’ll be the nations’ banner.
The tongues of men cleave firmly to their palates,
Their mouths won’t open, bellowing like thunder,
Instead they mutely stand with lips gone rotten.
Now heed me, for I lead the way with honor:
Should men be high of heart? When wrath befalls them
Salvation flees and settles far beyond them.

And so should men take heed of this instruction
And leave their births a distant recollection,
Will not this tiny drop they’ve drawn start flowing,
And will they not then scorn and leave their homelands?
Their hearts, uncircumcised, and heads are humbled
The moment that they see their doom is fated;
Instead they’ll rush to take this path I’ve shown them,
Then rise to Eden gleeful and rejoicing.

יהודה מצליח פאדובה
עולם הפוך

 
אֱנוֹשׁ עוֹבֵר וָשָׁב וְאֵין לוֹ דָעַת
קְרַב אֶצְלִי וּשְׁמַע דְּבַר תּוֹכָחַת
בְּצֶדֶק אִמְרֵי פִי בְּלִי מִגְרָעַת
בְּמוּסָרָם תִּמְצָא לְנַפְשָׁךְ נָחַת
רְאֵה כִּי תֵבֵל מִמְּךָ מוֹנַעַת
שְׁלֵמוּת הַנִּצְחִית וְגַם לוֹקָחַת
גְּאוֹן עֻזְּךָ תּוֹרִיד בְּאֵר הַשָֹּחַת
וְשָׁם הִנֵּה כָּל גַּאֲוָה נִכְנָעַת.
 
שְׁמַע הַקְשֵׁב כִּי לֹא דְבָרַי לָעוּ
הֲלֹא אַתָּה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁבְתָּ
עֲלוֹת עַל כָּל בִּרְיוֹת וְלָךְ יִכְרָעוּ
בְּרוּאֵי כָל עוֹלָם וְעֹז אָזַרְתָּ
בְּהֵמוֹת עִם חַיּוֹת לְךָ נִשְׁמָעוּ
וְצִצִּים וּפְרָחִים בְּיָד כָּרָתָּ
וְלִי אֶבֶן דּוּמָם בְּבוּז רָמַסְתָּ
וְסוֹדוֹת תַּכְלִית לֹא לְךָ נוֹדָעוּ.
 
פְּקַח עֵינֵי שִׂכְלָךְ אֱמֶת יִדְרשׁוּ
רְאֵה עֻזְּךָ נִשְׁבַּר וְתִפְאַרְתֶּךָ
עֲלֵי גַבְּךָ הֵן חוֹרְשִׁים יַחְרשׁוּ
עֲשָׂבִים עוֹלִים עַל רְפִידָתֶךָ
בְּאֵין מַכְלִים דָּבָר הֲלֹא יִשְׁרשׁוּ
וְקוֹץ דַּרְדַּר הֵן מָלְאוּ בָתֶּיךָ
וְדוֹמָמִים, מִדְרַס הֲלִיכָתֶךָ,
זְקוּפִים עַל רֹאשְׁךָ וְלֹא יָמוּשׁוּ.
 
הֲלֹא תֵעוֹר אָדָם בְּאַף חֵמָתָה
הֲלֹא תִגְעַר בִּרְיוֹת אֲשֶׁר נוֹצָרוּ
כְּנוּעִים לָךְ אֵיכָה בְּלִי אֵימָתָה
לְעֵת כָּזֹאת כֻּלָּם בְּךָ עָצָרוּ
וְאַיֵּה בֵית מִדּוֹת וְחֵיל חוֹמָתָה
וְאָן חֶמְדַּת אִישִׁים אֲשֶׁר אָצָרוּ
וְאֵיךְ תּוֹךְ קֶבֶר זֶה בְּאוֹי נִסְגָּרוּ
הֲדַר אוֹרָם נִדְעַךְ וְנֵר כָּבָתָה.
 
אֲנִי אֶבֶן רֹאשָׁה בְּקוֹל אֶזְעָקָה
לְנֵס עַמִּים אֶעְמֹד בְּדִבְרֵי טָעַם
לְשׁוֹן אָדָם כָּעֵת לְחֵיךְ דָּבָקָה
וְלֹא יִפְתַח פִּיהוּ בְּקוֹל אוֹ רָעַם
לְבַד יַעְמֹד דּוּמָם בְּפֶה נָמָקָּה
רְאוּ כִּי לִי מִשְׂרָה וְלִי הַנֹּעַם
וּמַה יִגְבַּהּ לֵב אִישׁ וּבְעֵת הַזַּעַם
יְשׁוּעָה מֶנּוּ נָסְעָה רָחָקָה.
 
בְּכֵן אִישִׁים מוּסָר הֲלֹא יִקָּחוּ
וְלֵדָתָם תִּהְיֶה לְזֵכֶר לָמוֹ
הֲלֹא טִפָּה קַלָּה אֲשֶׁר קָלָחוּ
סְרוּחָה מוֹלַדְתָּם אֲזַי יִכְלָמוּ
לְבָבָם הֶעָרֵל וְרֹאשׁ יִשָּׁחוֹ
בְּעֵת יֶחְזוּ כִּי נוֹפְלִים יִתָּמּוּ
לְדַרְכָּם זוֹ קַל חִישׁ בְּצֵיד יַקְדִּימוּ
אֲזַי יַעְלוּ עֵדֶן וְשֶׁם יִשְׂמָחוּ.
י

Jun 222014
 

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Great Fortified Cities

Great fortified cities, I razed their foundation;
The strength of my right hand has set the world shaking
Captains of armies mere insects for breaking,
I wearied of war chiefs, their ev’ry formation;

The hearts of Time’s lions were mine for cremation,
The roar of my voice set their insides to quaking,
Clefts through great kings my strong arm always raking,
I trampled the necks of the princes of nations.

From Cush unto Germany all knelt before me,
Thrace, Greece and Lydia felt my ambition,
India rendered each column and storey.

To take heaven’s stars then I made it my mission,
In ruling mere clay my heart yet found no glory —
In the end I was killed by a stupid physician.

יעקב פראנשיס
ערים בצורות


עָרִים בְּצוּרוֹת עַד יְסוֹד דָּרַסְתִּי
וּבְעֹז יְמִינִי הֶחֱרַדְתִּי אֶרֶץ,
שָׂרֵי צְבָאוֹת אֶחֱשֹׁב כְּשֶׁרֶץ
אֶתְמוֹל, וְרָאשֵׁי מַחֲנִים מָאַסְתִּי:

לִבּוֹת לְבִיאֵי הַזְּמַן הֵמַסְתִּי,
מִקּוֹל שְׁאוֹנִי בָּא בְּלִבָּם קֶרֶץ,
פָּרַץ זְרוֹעִי בַּמְלָכִים פֶּרֶץ,
וּבְצַוְּארוֹנֵי רוֹזְנִים רָמַסְתִּי;

שַֹמְתִּי לְרַגְלַי אַשְׁכְּנַז וָגֹמֶר,
תִּירָס וְיָוָן, פּוּל וְלוּד הִבְעַתִּי,
הֹדּוּ וְכוּשׁ לִי נָתְנוּ כָּל תֹּמֶר;

בֵּין כּוֹכְבֵי רוֹם עֵין שְׂעִפַּי שַׁתִּי,
יִבֶז כְּבָר לִבִּי מְשׁׂל בַּחֹמֶר —
סוֹף סוֹף בְּיַד רוֹפֵא אֱוִילִי מַתִּי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕarím betzurót ʕad yesód darásti
Uv-ʕóz yeminí heḥerádeti ‘éretz
Saréi tzeva’ót ‘eḥeshóv ke-shéretz
‘Etmól, ve-rashéi maḥaním ma’ásti

Libót levi’éi ha-zemán heimásti
Mi-qól she’oní ba be-libám qéretz
Parátz zeroʕí bamlakhím péretz
Uv-tzavronéi rozním ramásti

Sámti le-raglái ‘ashkenáz va-gómer
Tirás ve-yaván, pul ve-lúd hivʕáti
Hódu ve-khúsh li natnú kol tómer

Bein kokhvéi rom ʕein seʕipái sháti,
Yivéz kevár libí meshól ba-ḥómer —
Sof sof be-yád roféi ‘evilí máti.

Jun 202014
 

Hey, another Luzzatto. With yet another nice wedding song for the groom. They just don’t marry people off with style anymore.

Moshe Hayim Luzzatto (1707 – 1744)
A Poem for the Wedding of Meir ben Moshe Aziz

With rays of gold, how like sunrise you carry
From east your form with splendor so amazing
Before its brilliance like a fire blazing;
The land exults, the heavens revel merry.

But when are drowned its sparks so luminary,
Then light and joy are hid from all our gazing,
There stands pale skin, no pomp worthy of praising,
The black descends, glow drains from faces wary.1

O groom, the sun’s fierce light is your demeanor,
And after evening falls the day burns wild,
To gird your brow with bliss undimmed, endeavor!

For even lacking dark your sparks glare keener,
Illumed with strength you are, the moon’s own child,
Your hand fill full of gaiety forever.

משה חיים לוצאטו
שיר לחתונת מאיר בן משה עזיז

 
שֶׁמֶשׁ בְּצֵאתוֹ בַּהֲדַר קַרְנַיִם
מִבּוֹאֲכָה קָדִים בְּרֹב תִּפְאֶרֶת,
לִפְנֵי תְהִלָּתוֹ כְּאֵשׁ בּוֹעֶרֶת
תָּגֵל אֲדָמָה, יִשְׂמְחוּ שָׁמָיִם.
 
אַךְ עֵת בְּרָקָיו טֻבְּעוּ בַמַּיִם,
אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה אָז תְּהִי נֶעְדֶּרֶת,
תַּחַת כְּבוֹדוֹ תַּעֲמֹד בַּהֶרֶת,
קַדְרוּת וּפָארוּר קִבְּצוּ אַפָּיִם.
 
חָתָן, פְּנֵי חַמָּה מְאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ,
אַךְ גַּם בְּעֶרֶב יוֹם תְּהִי זוֹרֵחַ,
תַּחְגֹּר עֲדֵי עַד גִּיל וְאוֹר עַל מֶצַח.
 
יִגָּהּ בְּלִי מַחְשָׁךְ שְׁבִיב אוֹרֶךָ,
מֵאִיר בְּעֹז אַתָּה, בְּנוֹ יָרֵחַ,
שֹׂבַע שְׂמָחוֹת עַל יְמִינָךְ נֶצַח.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Shémesh be-tzeitó ba-hadár qarnáyim
Mi-bo’akháh qadím be-róv tif’éret
Lifnéi tehilató ke-‘éish boʕéret
Tágeil ‘adamáh, yismeḥú shamáyim.

‘Akh ʕatáh beraqáv tubʕú va-máyim
‘Oráh ve-simḥáh ‘az tehí neʕdéret
Táḥat kevodó taʕamód bahéret,
Qadrút u-farúr qibtzú ‘apáyim.

Ḥatán, penéi ḥamáh me’ór panékha
‘Akh gam be-ʕérev yom yehí zoréiaḥ
Taḥgór ʕadéi ʕad gil ve-‘ór ʕal métzaḥ.

Yigáh belí maḥshákh shevív ‘orékha,
Mei’ír be-ʕóz ‘atáh, benó yaréiaḥ
Sóvaʕ semaḥót ʕal yeminákh nétzaḥ.

  1. Joel 2:6.
May 292014
 

Ephraim Luzzatto (1729 – 1792)
Chana, Graceful Doe

Chana, graceful doe, O how you carry
Triumph o’er ev’ry girl with your looks’ splendor
For sweeter than fine wine’s the love you tender
Which draws forth hearts intent on making merry.

Draw not your beauty’s bow, I pray you spare me,
Against the arrows of your eyes I’m no contender.
Bring a scarf to hide your face, for I surrender;
Of that red wrath I’m weary and I’m wary.

O glory, grace and beauty all completed,
Your place among the cherished chosen earning,
For with all these my heart you have defeated.

Bright sparks fly forth from where your neck curves turning,
The form of loveliness, no blemish meted;
The glare of flame and fire within is burning.

אפרים לוצאטו
חנה איילת חן

 
חַנָּה אַיֶלֶת חֵן אַתְּ כִּי תִתְמֹכִי
כָּבוֹד עַל הַבָּנוֹת בִּצְבִי מַרְאַיִךְ
אַתְּ כִּי מִיֵּין הַטּוֹב טוֹבוּ דוֹדַיִךְ
וּלְהִתְעַנֵּג בָּהֶם כָּל לֵב תִּמְשֹׁכִי.
 
אֶת קֶשֶׁת יִפְעַתֵךְ אַל נָא תִדְרֹכִי
אַל יִמְחַצוּנִי נָא חִצֵּי עֵינַיִךְ
הָבִיאִי הַצָּעִיף כַּסִי פָנַיִךְ
מִן הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה עָיֵף אָנֹכִי.
 
הַהוֹד עִם הֶהַדַר הַחֵן וָיֹפִי
כִּי לִבְחִירֵי חֶמְדָּה עֶדְנָה תִהְיֶינָה
בָּהֵנָּה אַתְּ אֶת לִבָּתִּי תִגֹּפִי.
 
מֵחֶלְקַת צַוָּארֵךְ זִיקוֹת תֵּצֶאנָה
וָצֶלֶם הַנָּאוָה זַכָּה מִדֹּפִי
נֹגַהּ אֵשׁ לֶהָבָה תּוּקַד מִמֶּנָּה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ḥanáh ‘ayélet ḥein ‘at ki titmókhi
Kavód ʕal ha-banót bitzví mar’áyikh
‘At ki mi-yéin ha-tóv tovú dodáyikh
U-lehitʕanéig bahém kol leiv timshókhi.

‘Et qeset yifʕatéikh ‘al na tidrókhi
‘Al yimḥatzúni na ḥitzéi ʕeináyikh
Haví’i ha-tzaʕíf kasí fanáyikh
Min ha-‘adóm ha-zéh ʕayéif ‘anókhi.

Ha-hód ʕim he-hadár ha-ḥéin va-yófi
Ki livḥiréi ḥemdáh ʕednáh tihyénah
Ba-héinah ‘at ‘et libatí tigófi.

Mei-ḥelqát tzavaréikh ziqót teitzénah
Va-tzélem ha-naváh zakáh mi-dófi
Nógah ‘eish lehaváh tuqád miménah.

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.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

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.

May 112014
 

Shimshon Cohen Modon (1679 – 1727)
With Gaping Maws

Lawlessly with gaping maws they all decree
Scourges with their speech and words upon their soul;
Lips profaned with vile sins beyond control
When their throats they open with a bugler’s glee.

Making coarse the tongue, all speakers’ true esprit,
Speech was made a sign that mankind might extol;
They that holy sign and seal defile whole,
Field beasts loudly lowing, fools they seem to me.

They’re no fish, who never make the smallest sounds,
They’re no lions roaring, storming in the pass,
They’re no wolf who after his prey quickly bounds;

This with heart ablaze I tell that hateful mass:
Every last one seems a pack of baying hounds,
Every last among them seems a braying ass.

שמשון כהן מודון
הפוערים פיהם

 
הַפּוֹעֲרִים פִּיהֶם בְּלִי־חֹק גּוֹזְרִים
דֶּבֶר בְּכָל־דִּבְרָה לְנַפְשׁוֹתָם
כִּי טִמְּאוּ שָׂפָה בְנַבְלוּתָם
עֵת פָתְחוּ גָרוֹן וְקוֹלָם מַחְצְצְרִים.
 
וַיְנַבְּלוּ לָשׁוֹן יְקָר הַמְּדַבְּרִים
אַךְ לָאֱנוֹש אֹמֶר לְאוֹת נֶחְתָּם
וַיְנַאֲצוּ הָאוֹת וְהַחוֹתָם
וּלְבַהֲמוֹת שָׂדֶה אֲדַמֶּה בוֹעֲרִים.
 
לֹא אֶל־דְּגֵי הַיָּם לְנֶצַח שׁוֹתְקִים
לֹא אֶל־אֲרִי נוֹהֵם וּמִשְׂתָּעֵר
לֹא אֶל־זְאֵב אוֹ דֹב לְטֶרֶף דּוֹלְקִים.
 
זֹאת אֹמְרָה לָהֶם בְּלֵב בּוֹעֵר:
נִדְמוּ לְמִשְׁמָרַת כְּלָבִים צוֹעֲקִים
נִדְמוּ לְמִשְׁמָרַת חֲמוֹר נוֹעֵר.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Ha-poʕarím pihém bli ḥoq gozrím
Déver be-khól divráh le-nafshotám
Ki tim’ú safáh ve-navlutám
ʕeit patḥú garón ve-qolám maḥtzetzerím.

Va-yenablú lashón yeqár ha-medabrím
‘Akh la-‘enósh ‘ómer le-‘ót neḥtám
Va-yena’atzú ha-ót ve-ha-ḥotám
U-le-vahamót sadéh ‘adaméh voʕarím.

Lo ‘el degéi ha-yám le-nétzaḥ shotqím
Lo ‘el ‘arí nohéim u-mistaʕéir
Lo ‘el ze’éiv ‘o dov le-téref dolqím.

Zot ‘omráh lahém be-léiv boʕéir:
Nidmú le-mishmarát kelavím tzoʕaqím
Nidmú le-mishmarát ḥamór noʕéir.

May 022014
 

I think rappers like to believe that they invented the oft-intertwined concepts of “rhyme-biting” and “beef.” They did not.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Who Put, You Braying Ass

Who put, you braying ass, into your purse
The silver of this poetry? You twit,
Who stashed inside your sack this gleaming goblet—
Or’s filthy lucre how you’ve been imbursed?

It’s not, buffoon, we know it’s not your verse —
Your song? I shake my head at it, I spit,
Decry it all the way you would a bandit,
And may its glory be your shame and curse.

Could I believe that your fool mind attained
The lofty heights of verse, when up ’til now
You and your songs we jeered time and again!

And if this poem our vocal praise has gained,
It’s not for your unworthy self, I vow:
For our acclaim goes only to your pen.

יעקב פראנשיס
מי שם, חמור נוער


מִי שָֹם, חֲמוֹר נוֹעֵר, בְּאַמְתַּחְתֶּךָ
כֶּסֶף מְלִיצָה זֹאת? וּמִי הִצְנִיעַ,
בַּעַר, בְּפִי שַֹקָּךְ יְקָר גָּבִיעַ —
לוּלֵי גְזֵלָה הִיא בְּתוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ?

לֹא לָךְ, כְּסִיל, לֹא לָךְ מְלִיצָתֶךָ —
לִזְמִירְךָ אֶשְׁרֹק וְרֹאשׁ אָנִיעַ,
עָלָיו כְּעַל גַּנָב אֲנִי אָרִיעַ,
וִיהִי כְבוֹד הוֹדוֹ לְרֹב בָּשְׁתֶּךָ.

אֵיךְ אַאֲמִין כִּי דַעְתְּךָ הִגִּיעָה
לִשְׁמֵי מְרוֹם הַשִּׁיר — הֲרֵי עַד עָתָּה
כָּל פֶּה לְךָ לָעַג וְלִרְנָנֶיךָ!

גַּם אִם לְזֹאת תּוֹדָה בְּקוֹל נַשְׁמִיעָה,
לֹא לָךְ תְּהִי, כִּי לֹא לְךָ יָאָתָה:
הַמַּהֲלָל יֻתַּן לְצִפָּרְנֶיךָ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mi sam, ḥamór noʕéir, be-‘amtaḥtékha
Késef melitzáh zot? U-mí hitzníaʕ,
Báʕar, be-fí saqákh yeqár gavíaʕ —
Luléi gezeiláh hi be-tókh beitékha?

Lo lakh, kesíl, lo lakh melitzatékha —
Lizmirkhá ‘eshróq ve-rósh ‘aníaʕ,
ʕaláv ke-ʕál ganáv ‘aní ‘aríaʕ,
Vihí khevód hodó le-róv boshtékha.

‘Eikh ‘a’amín ki daʕtekhá higíʕah
Lishméi meróm ha-shír — haréi ʕad ʕátah
Kol peh lekhá laʕág ve-lirnanékha!

Gam ‘im le-zót todáh be-qól nashmíʕah,
Lo lakh tehí, ki lo lekhá ya’átah:
Ha-mahalál yután le-tzipornékha.

Apr 292014
 

Ephraim Luzzatto (1729 – 1792)
O Maiden Like the Breaking Dawn

O maid who like the breaking dawn is shining,
From you my soul flees, frightened beyond measure;
It’s not convinced me that it’s aimless pining
For I exult in you, your peace and pleasure.

Your neck is pure as finest woolen lining,
Your scent delights like a perfumer’s treasure;
But so has come Desire, without confining
His wrath; and I might die of his displeasure.

I’ve freed my heart to hatch some plan and rear it,
But my thoughts stray wild ’til reason forsakes duty,
Should I speak my piece whate’er once my doubts were?

“The one who heeds his eyes destroys his spirit”;
But if I listened I’d profane your beauty,
And yet, my spirit — what is life without her?

אפרים לוצאטו
עלמה הנשקפה

 
עַלְמָה הַנִּשְׁקָפָה, בָּרָה כַשַׁחַר,
נַפְשִׁי חַתָּה מִמֵּךְ, הָלְאָה בוֹרַחַת;
לֹא כֵן אָמְנָה חוּשִׁי שֶׁאֵין לוֹ שָׁחַר
כִּי בָּךְ עָלֵז עַל רֹב שָׁלוֹם וָנַחַת.
 
הִנֵּה צַוָּארֵךְ צַח מִצֶּמֶר צַחַר,
עָרֵב רֵיחַ אַפֵּךְ מִכָּל־מִרְקַחַת;
אַךְ בִּגְלָלֵךְ הַחֵשֶׁק בָּא, וַיַּחַר
עָלַי אַפּוֹ; כִּמְעַט אָמוּת לַשַּׁחַת.
 
תַּתִּי לִבִּי לָתוּר וּלְבַקֵּשׁ חֵפֶשׂ,
אַךְ בִּשְׂעִיפַי תּוֹעֶה עַד כֹּה הִסְכַּלְתִּי,
אִם מִשְׁפָּטִי אַטֶּה הֵנָה אוֹ הֵנָה.
 
״הוֹלֵך אַחַר עֵינָיו חֹמֵס הַנֶּפֶשׁ״;
אוּלָם אִם זֹאת אַקְשִׁיב, יָפְיֵךְ חִלַּלְתִּי,
וָאָנָה לִי חַיִּים אִם לֹא מִמֶּנָּה?
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕalmáh ha-nishqafáh baráh kha-sháḥar
Nafshi ḥátah miméikh, hál’ah voráḥat
Lo khein ‘amnáh ḥushí she-‘éin lo sháḥar
Ki bakh ʕaléiz ʕal rov shalóm ve-náḥat.

Híneih tzavaréikh tzaḥ mi-tzémer tzáḥar
ʕarév réiaḥ ‘apéikh mi-kól mirqáḥat
‘Akh biglaléikh ha-ḥéisheq ba, va-yáḥar
ʕalái ‘apó; kimʕát ‘amút la-sháḥat

Tatí libí latúr u-levaqéish ḥéifes
‘Akh bisʕipí toʕéh ʕad koh hiskálti
‘Im mishpatí ‘atéh héinah ‘o héinah

Holéikh ‘aḥár ʕeináv ḥoméis ha-néfesh
‘Ulám ‘im zot ‘aqshív, yofyéikh ḥilálti
Va-‘ánah li ḥayím ‘im lo miménah?

Apr 262014
 

Well, with the help of Soul and Gone’s resident Mysterious Masked Man who happens to be a scholar of Italian Jewish literature and history, we’ve solved the mystery of yesterday’s poem. The intended target of this poetic bromance was Avraham ha-Cohen of Zante, a physician, Jewish scholar and poet from Crete who studied medicine in Padua (where he befriended Ferrarese and the local circle of poets) and spent his life on Zante, known better as Zakynthos, a Greek island which was then under the dominion of La Serenissima Repubblica, the glorious-if-often-douchey Venetian Empire.

It bears mentioning, first of all, that there’s a long tradition of Hebrew poets writing epistles of praise to one another, often over incredible distances. The Andalusi poets did this all the time, and they yielded some very fine works which I haven’t yet gotten around to translating (I’ve been more interested in translating the diss poems, as my longtime readers may have noticed). Generally, if the poet on the receiving end was touched, he would respond in kind, conventionally in the same style, often using the same rhymes (as in the poem below).

It also bears mentioning that the poem Avraham wrote below in response to Mordechai Ferrarese is, unfortunately, a little bit racist. Any good student of history knows that it’s often unhelpful to retroject our modern mores when we study historical figures, but…well, it’s not a lovely metaphor. But it is what it is. As you might expect, Cohen inverts Ferrarese’s praise, downplaying his own merits while extolling Ferrarese’s. It would all be rather sweet were it not for the whole race thing. But hey, in the denouement of the saga of Ḥever the Kenite’s unfortunate marriage in Yehuda al-Harizi’s Taḥkemoni, he beats his new bride to death with a stick and it’s played for laughs, so, you know, taking a broad view of Hebrew poetry, it could be worse.

Avraham ben Shabbetai ha-Cohen of Zante (early 18th century)
An Ethiop Whose Skin Bears a Tale

An Ethiop whose skin bears a tale, not of grace,
But of darkness, not light, bestowed by the skies;
Towards all watchers will flow the smoke of her face,
A river of tears too from their sobbing eyes.

Though in the mirror her clothes too she’ll embrace
Brightly-hued garments, fur collars, her guise,
Bracelets and bangles and jewels all in place,
But double’s the shame, twice as black she’ll arise.

A sad man is he who would don his own crown
To the youths in the street he’d be scorn’s very height;
His fine silks are mud, they disgrace the sapphire,

But your poems are marv’lous, with excess they’ve shone,
The blackest of skin they’d turn bright with delight,
The hand of a wretch with their grace they’ve brought higher.

אברהם בן שבתאי הכהן מזנטי
כושית אשר עורה לעד עליה

 
כּוּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר עוֹרָהּ לְעֵד עָלֶיהָ
חֹשֶׁךְ וְלֹא אוֹר כּוֹנֲנוּ שָׁמָיִם
יַגֵּר בְּרוֹאֶיהָ עֲשַׁן פָּנֶיהָ
נַחַל דְּמָעוֹת מִבְּכִי עֵינָיִם.
 
גַּם כִּי בְמַרְאֶה תַּעֲרֹךְ כֵּלֶיהָ
בִּגְדֵי צְבָעִים עִם סְגוֹר פַּרְוָיִם
צָמִיד וְאֶצְעָדָה וְקִשּׁוּרֶיהָ
מִשְׁנֶה כְלִמּוֹת הֵם שְׁחוֹר כִּפְלָיִם.
 
נִקְשֶׁה אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׁא בְרֹאשוֹ כֶּתֶר
קֶלֶס נְעָרִים הוּא בְּחוּצוֹת קָרֶת
הַבּוּץ לִבֹץ יִהְיֶה לְבוּז אַחְלָמָה.
 
אַךְ שִׁירְךָ מַפְלִיא וְנָתוֹן יֶתֶר
עוֹר יַהֲפֹךְ כּוּשִׁי בְּאוֹר תִּפְאָרֶת
וִימִין קְשֵׁה יוֹם עַל־עֲרָבוֹת רָמָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Kúshit ‘ashér ʕoráh le-ʕéid ʕaléha
Ḥóshekh ve-ló ‘or konaná shamáyim
Yagéir be-ro’éha ʕashán panéha
Náḥal demaʕót mi-bekhí ʕeináyim.

Gam ki ve-mar’éh taʕarókh keiléha
Bigdéi tzevaʕím ʕim segór parváyim
Tzamíd ve-‘etzʕadáh ve-qishuréha
Mishnéh khelimót heim sheḥór kifláyim.

Niqshéh ‘ashér yisá ve-roshó kéter
Qéles neʕarím hu be-ḥutzót qáret
Ha-bútz li-vótz yihyéh le-vúz ‘aḥlámah.

‘Akh shirkhá maflí ve-natón yéter
ʕor yahafókh kúshi be-‘ór tif’áret
Vimín qeshéh yom ʕal ʕaravót rámah.

Apr 252014
 

You know how Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” is purportedly about a woman, but reveals itself (explicitly, eventually, for those very slow on the uptake) to actually be about hip-hop itself? This too is a poem along those lines. (That’s Soul and Gone: coming with that old-school shit to…that older-school shit.)

Rather than a genre, however, the sonnet below, by Mr. Ferrarese of Padua, is dedicated to a poet whose name I, quite frankly, cannot fully make out:

Do you see the manuscript quality I suffer for you people? Anyway, judging from the poem, his father’s name must be Yishai, and I think his is Avraham ha-Kohen…something. Zante? He must have been pretty swell, whoever he was.

Mordechai Ferrarese (early 18th century)
A Most Gorgeous Maiden

A most gorgeous maiden whose bounty of grace
Was rained down upon her from thundering skies
Arouses with brilliance, the light of her face,
Desire in all hearts, with one look from her eyes.

If her raiment’s splendor she would but embrace
She’d take golden embroid’ry and furs as her guise,
Each necklace and bracelet and ring in its place,
The glow of her fire would twofold arise.

The glory of kings too will yet raise its crown
On monarchy’s throne at the city’s top height
With amethyst, diamond and agate and sapphire.

With their rhymes, up on high have risen and shone
The poems of Yishai’s son, so filled with delight;
To the heavens their horn has raised e’er higher.1

מרדכי פיראריסי
עלמה יפהפיה

 
עַלְמָה יְפֵהפִיָּה אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיהָ
חֵן חֵן תְּשֻׁאוֹת יִרְעֲפוּ שָׁמָיִם
תָּעִיר בְּזִיו יָפְיָהּ בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיהָ
חֶמְדַּת לְבָבוֹת עִם רְאוֹת עֵינָיִם.
 
אַךְ אִם תְּכַהֵן גַּם פְּאֵר כֵּלֶיהָ
תַּעְדֶּה מְעִיל רִקְמַת זְהַב פַּרְוָיִם
נִזְמָהּ וְחֶלְיָתָהּ וְקִשּׁוּרֶיהָ
יִגַּהּ שְׁבִיב אִשָּׁהּ צְבִי כִפְלָיִם.
 
גַּם הוֹד מְלָכִים עוֹד יְרוֹמֵם כֶּתֶר
עַל כֵּס מְלוּכָה עַל מְרֹמֵי קָרֶת
בֵּין יַהֲלֹם סַפִּיר שְׁבוֹ אַחְלָמָה.
 
כֵּן בַּחֲרוּזִים נִשְׂאוּ עַל־יֶתֶר
שִׁירֵי בְנוֹ יִשַׁי בְּרֹב תִּפְאָרֶת
קַרְנָם בְּכָבוֹד עַד־שְׁחָקִים רָמָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕalmáh yefeifíyah ‘ashér ʕaléha
Ḥein ḥein teshu’ót yirʕafú shamáyim
Taʕír be-zív yofyáh be-‘ór panéha
Ḥemdát levavót ʕim re’ót ʕeináyim.

‘Akh ‘im tekhahéin gam pe’éir keiléha
Taʕdéh meʕíl riqmát zeháv parváyim
Nizmáh ve-ḥelyatáh ve-qishuréha
Yigáh shevív ‘isháh tzeví khifláyim.

Gam hod melakhím ʕod yeroméim kéter
ʕal keis melukháh ʕal meroméi qáret
Bein yahalóm sapír shevó ‘aḥlámah.

Kein ba-ḥaruzím nis’ú ʕal yéter
Shiréi venó Yishái be-róv tif’áret
Qarnám be-khavód ʕad sheḥaqím rámah.

  1. To those who haven’t flipped through their Gideon’s Bible, “to have one’s horn raised” is an ancient Hebrew expression of pride, appearing in Chana’s prayer of thanks in 1 Samuel – “my horn has been raised by God.”