Sep 302012

Readers with some background in the Hebrew Bible will doubtless notice that this poem is mostly constructed from snatches of the Song of Songs (which, as it is my absolute favorite work of Hebrew poetry, I’ve also translated, but I need some time to further ruminate before posting). However, while the female lover (the “Shulamite”) comes across as the dominant voice in the Song of Songs, here the perspective is entirely the male lover’s. The last line, of course, quotes Psalm 137.

I also feel compelled to point out that the Hebrew word “dodim” is not so much “love” as “lovemaking” (i.e., it implies a degree of physicality rather than just an emotion), but for whatever reason, I cannot use the word “lovemaking” with a straight face. Perhaps it has something to do with my youthful intellectual corruption by noted scholar of Hebrew poetry Frank Zappa זצ”ל:

What I think is very cynical about some rock and roll songs – especially today – is the way they say: “Let’s make love.” What the fuck kind of wussy says shit like that in the real world? You ought to be able to say, “Let’s go fuck,” or at least, “Let’s go fill-in-the-blank – but you gotta say “Let’s make love” in order to get on the radio. This creates a semantic corruption, by changing the context in which the word ‘love’ is used in the song.1

And yet, I could hardly translate “Et Dodim Kallah” as “Fucking Time, Bride!”, so we’ll have to make do with an unfortunately semantically corrupted “love.” May Zappa forgive me.

And on the subject of rock and roll songs, “Et Dodim Kallah” was made a hit by none other than Ha-Melekh bikhvodo uve’atzmo, the Voice, the only Israeli musician from whose life could be made an appropriate tawdry and maudlin biopic: Zohar Argov. You’ll find it attached below. Argov’s abridged version shuffles the order of the lines and partially rewrites a couple. If you’d like to, um, sing along (not that most people could sing along with Zohar Argov זצ”ל), the song’s line order when compared to the original poem is: first (repeated once) and second (the “maawal“); then, after the band comes in, first, second, third, fourth, eleventh, twelfth, seventh and eighth (with each line repeated).

And do not forget to glory in the magnificent Yehuda Keisar on the Mizrachi guitar (which is invariably an Gibson 335, which I suppose makes it basically Lucille in a galabiyeh).

Zohar Argov - Et Dodim Kallah

Ḥaim ben Sahel (10th century)
The Time for Love has Come, My Bride

The time for love has come, my bride – come into my garden
The grapevines have blossomed, my pomegranate blooms
The rains have passed, the winter’s gone
Arise, my darling – how desire overwhelms!
We’ll go out into the fields, we’ll spend the night in the desert
There, o delight of my eyes, I’ll give you my love
Ah, you are fair and so lovely – your teeth are like snow
Honey and milk lie under your tongue
Go now, and tend in the tracks of your flock
Let me hear your voice – show yourself to me
I’ve come, gazelle, to shepherd in the gardens,
To see your beauty; your eyes are doves
I’ve gathered myrrh and picked the lilies
I’ve prepared a table and poured the wine
Many waters could not quench
the love which will know no rest tonight
Since the day you left to wander I’ve taken other maidens
Yet if I forget you, may my right hand forget its cunning

חיים בן סהל
עת דודים כלה

עֵת דּוֹדִים כַּלָּה בּוֹאִי לְגַנִּי
פָּרְחָה הַגֶּפֶן הֵנֵץ רִמּוֹנִי
חָלַף הַגֶּשֶׁם הַסְּתָו עָבַר
קוּמִי רַעְיָתִי הַחֵשֶׁק גָּבַר
נֵצֵא הַשָּׂדֶה נָלִין בַּמִּדְבָּר
שָׁם אֶתֵּן דּוֹדַי לָךְ מַחְמַד עֵינִי
יָפִית וְנָעַמְתְּ כַּשֶּׁלֶג שִׁנֵּךְ
דְּבַשׁ וְחָלָב תַּחַת לְשׁוֹנֵךְ
צְאִי נָא וּרְעִי בְעִקְבֵי צֹאנֵךְ
קוֹלֵךְ הַשְׁמִיעִינִי מַרְאֵךְ הַרְאִינִי
יָרַדְתִּי עָפְרָה לִרְעוֹת בַּגַּנִּים
לִרְאוֹת בְּיָפְיֵךְ עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים
אָרִיתִי מוֹרִי לִלְקוֹט שׁוֹשַׁנִּים
עָרַכְתִּי שֻׁלְחָן מָסַכְתִּי יֵינִי
מַיִם רַבִּים לֹא יוּכְלוּ לְכַבּוֹת
אֶת הָאַהֲבָה לַיְלָה לֹא תִשְׁבּוֹת
מִיּוֹם נְדוֹדֵךְ נָשָׂאתִי רִיבוֹת
עוֹד אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי


ʕeit dodím kaláh, bó’i le-ganí
Parḥáh ha-géfen, heinéitz rimoní
Ḥaláf ha-géshem, ha-setáv ʕavár
Kúmi raʕyatí, ha-ḥéishek gavár
Netzéi ha-sadéh, nalín ba-midbár
Sham ‘etéin dodái lakh, maḥmád ʕeiní
Yafít va-naʕámt, ka-shéleg shinéikh
Devásh ve-ḥaláv táḥat leshonéikh
Tze’í na u-reʕí ve-ʕikvéi tzonéikh
Koléikh hashmiʕíni, mar’éikh har’íni
Yarádeti ʕofráh lirʕót ba-ganím
Lir’ót be-yofyéikh ʕeináyikh yoním
‘Aríti morí lilkót shoshaním
ʕarákhti shulḥán, masákhti yeiní
Máyim rabím lo yukhlú lekhabót
‘Et ha-ahaváh láilah lo tishbót
Mi-yóm nedodéikh nasá’ti rivót
ʕod ‘im ‘eshkáḥeikh tishkáḥ yeminí

  1. The Real Frank Zappa Book, 90.