Apr 282014
 

“I bet the [girl] [he] was singing that about was real happy.”
“Well, actually, [he] was singing about God.”
“Oh, well, he’s always happy. No, wait, he’s always mad…”

Yisrael Najara (1555? – 1625?)
Arrows the Bow of Your Eye Has Drawn

Arrows the bow of your eye has drawn; opposed my heart stands as their aim
Away turn your eyes from my own; pity the heart that your wand’ring shan’t tire,
With desire for you, doe of dazzling acclaim.

I labored to wonder and gaze on the eye that would sparkle with flame
Many maidens are worthy, but you are valued and precious, and none are the same
How might I forget you, O daughter of nobles, if my soul to yours has been chained?
To the place you desire, arise and return; the scattered lambs I shall reclaim
Be you firm, for you’ll no longer be least among wives;1 “princess” shall be your name.

ישראל נג’ארה
ידרוך חציו קשת עינך

 
יִדְרוֹךְ חִצָּיו קֶשֶׁת עֵינֵךְ לִּבִּי נִצָּב לוֹ מַטָּרָה
הָסֵבִּי עֵינֵךְ מִנֶּגְדִּי חוּסִי עַל־לֵב לִנְדוּדֵךְ לֹא יָנוּם
לְחִשְׁקֵךְ לֹא יָנוּם יַעֲלַת תִּפְאָרָה.
 
שָׁקַדְתִּי לִהְיוֹת מִשְׁתָּאֶה מַבִּיט עַיִן תּוֹפַע נְהָרָה
רַבּוֹת בָּנוֹת יָקְרוּ אַךְ אַתְּ עֲרוּכָה בַכֹּל וּשְׁמוּרָה
אֵיךְ אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ בַּת נָדִיב אִם נַפְשֵׁךְ עִם נַפְשִׁי נִקְשָׁרָה
לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵךְ קוּמִי עֲלִי עַתָּה אֶקְבֹּץ שֶׂה פְּזוּרָה
חִזְקִי כִּי לֹא יִקָּרֵא עוֹד שְׁמֵךְ צָרָה כִּי אִם שָׂרָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Yidrókh ḥitzáv qéshet ʕeinéikh libí nitzáv lo mataráh
Haséibi ʕeinéikh mi-negdí ḥúsi ʕal leiv lindudékh lo yanúm
Le-ḥishqéikh lo yanúm yaʕalát tif’aráh.

Shaqádeti lihyót mishta’éh mabít ʕáyin tofáʕ neharáh
Rabót banót yaqrú ‘akh ‘at ʕarukháh va-kól u-shemuráh
‘Eikh ‘eshkaḥéikh bat nadív ‘im nafshéikh ʕim nafshí niqsharáh
Limḥóz ḥeftzéikh qúmi ʕalí ʕatáh eqbótz seh pezuráh
Ḥizqi ki lo yiqaréi ʕod shméikh tzaráh ki ‘im saráh.

  1. צרה here can have a number of potentially correct readings: “sorrow,” “enemy” or “subordinate wife.” I think the latter is correct, since “princess” (sarah) is of course the name of Abraham’s beloved primary wife.
Feb 162013
 

Technically, the addressee here is God, but at a certain point with the mystic poets, it gets really hard to tell. That’s probably why they engendered (no pun intended) such controversy (Najara was a disciple of the Arizal, who firmly supported him against his many critics). This is a wonderful poem in Hebrew, in my favorite meter. I’ve written personal poems in this exact meter before I even knew there was historical precedent for it, which is, if you can imagine, a strange thing to discover. (Seriously, there’s even one in a notebook somewhere where every other line starts with “lu ‘ehyeh.)

Yisrael Najara (1555? – 1625?)
Sleep Strays from My Eyes

Sleep strays from my eyes, storm-tossed like a ship
On seas of your love, these things I recall:
If I were a babe, and you were my nurse,
I’d nurse your fair breasts, and break my parched thirst.
If I were a stream, and you and I sat
In my garden’s shade, I’d guard your sweet fruits.
If I were a spear, and by you was thrust
In your rivals’ hearts, I’d drink of their blood.
If I were a tent, and you dwelt within,
We’d couple with love, and be clad in joy.
If I were a tongue, and you my reply,
The flame of my lust I’d quiet with song.
If I were a slave, and you were my lord,
I’d long but to serve, I’d shun liberty.

ישראל נג’ארה
תדד שנת עיני

 
תִּדַּד שְׁנַת עֵינִי וְאֶסְעַר כָּאֳנִי
תּוֹךְ יָם תְּשׁוּקָתָךְ, וְאֵלֶּה אֶזְכְּרָה:
לוּ אֶהְיֶה יוֹנֵק וְאַתָּה אוֹמְנִי,
אִינַק שְׁדֵי יָפְיָךְ, צְמָאִי אֶשְׁבְּרָה.
לוּ אֶהְיֶה שֶׁלַח, וְאַתָּה וַאֲנִי
נֵשֵׁב בְּצֵל גַּנִּי, לְפִרְיָךְ אֶשְׁמְרָה.
לוּ אֶהְיֶה רֹמַח וְאַתָּה נוֹתְנִי
תּוֹךְ לֵב מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ, בְּדָמָם אֶשְׁכְּרָה.
לוּ אֶהְיֶה אֹהֶל וְאַתָּה שׁוֹכְנִי,
נִתְעַלְּסָה אַהַב, בְּגִיל נִתְאַזְּרָה.
לוּ אֶהְיֶה לָשׁוֹן וְאַתָּה מַעֲנִי,
אַשְׁקִיט יְקוֹד חִשְׁקִי בְּשִׁיר וַאְזַמְּרָה.
לוּ אֶהְיֶה עֶבֶד וְאַתָּה רוֹזְנִי,
אֶשְׁאַף עֲבוֹדָתָךְ, דְּרוֹר לֹא אֶבְחֲרָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Tidád shenát ʕeiní ve-‘esʕár ka-‘oní
Tokh yam teshukatákh, ve-‘éleh ‘ezkeráh:
Lu ‘ehyéh yonéikh ve-‘atáh ‘omní,
‘Inák shedéi yofyákh, tzema’í ‘eshberáh.
Lu ‘ehyéh shélaḥ, ve-‘atáh va-‘aní
Neishéiv be-tzéil ganí, le-firyákh ‘eshmeráh.
Lu ‘ehyéh rómaḥ ve-‘atáh notní
Tokh leiv mesanékha, be-damám ‘eshkeráh.
Lu ‘ehyéh óhel, ve-‘atáh shokhní,
Nitʕalsáh ‘áhav, be-gíl nit’azráh.
Lu ‘ehyéh lashón ve-‘atáh maʕaní,
‘Ashkít yekód ḥishkí be-shír va’zamráh.
Lu ‘ehyéh ʕéved ve-‘atáh rozní,
‘Esh’áf ʕavodatákh, derór lo ‘evḥaráh.

Oct 142012
 

A poem by the most prominent Jewish mystic after, I suppose, Shimon bar Yoḥai himself. If you’ve ever heard of Lurianic Kabbalah or poked around the tomb or synagogue of the Arizal in Tzfat, this poem is by that Luria (or that Arizal).

The word I’ve translated as “desire” for the sake of meter is yetzer, generally translated as “inclination,” which refers to the Jewish concept of two competing impulses, one good and one evil, wrestling in each man’s soul over his conduct. Luria here is complaining to his evil inclination.

Yitzḥak Luria (1534 – 1572)
What About You, My Desire

What about you, my desire, makes you always pursue me?
As a constant foe you always perceive me –
Day after day, you freely lay traps
Until in the pit of my snares you catch me!
You’ve been an enemy and foe since the days of my youth
You gnash your teeth against me and hate me
Yet my soul once considered to walk after you
As if the shadow of your hand would protect me
And yet by first watch my eyes awoke crying
For you, concealed by cloud, pursued me
If ever I imagined you might prove a help
That on a sorrowful day, I’d cry out and you’d tell me:
“The pleasant words of your mouth are like nectar to me!” –
Surely with a hook unto ruin you’d drag me!

יצחק לוריא
מה לך יצרי

 
מַה לְּךָ יִצְרִי תָּמִיד תִּרְדְּפֵנִי
וּלְאוֹיֵב לָךְ כָּל יוֹם תַחְשְׁבֵנִי
יוֹם לְיֹום תִּטְמֹן חִנָּם פַּח יְקוּשִׁים
עַד אֲשֶׁר תּוֹךְ פַּח מוֹקְשַׁי תִּלְכְּדֵנִי
צַר וְאוֹיֵב לִי אַתָּה מִנְּעוּרַי
תַּחֲרֹק עָלַי שֵׁן וַתִּשְׂטְמֵנִי
חָשְׁבָה נַפְשִׁי לִנְטוֹת אַחֲרֶיךָ
כִּי בְּצֵל יָדָךְ מִצַּר תִּצְּרֵנִי
קִדְּמוּ עֵינַי לִבְכּוֹת בָּאשְׁמוּרוֹת
כִּי בְעָב סַכּוּתָ וַתִּרְדְּפֵנִי
אִם אֲדַמֶּה כִּי תִּהְיֶה לִּי לְעֶזְרָה
וּבְיוֹם צָרָה אֶקְרָא וּתְעֲנֵנִי
צוּף דְּבַשׁ אִמְרֵי נֹעַם חִכְּךָ לִי
הֵן בְּחַכָּה עַד דַּכָּא תִּמְשְׁכֵנִי
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mah lekhá yitzrí tamíd tirdeféini
U-le-‘oyéiv lakh kol yom taḥshevéini
Yom le-yóm titmón ḥinám paḥ yekushím
ʕad ‘ashér tokh paḥ mokshái tilkedéini
Tzar ve-‘oyéiv li ‘atáh mi-neʕurái
Taḥarók ʕalái shein va-tisteméini
Ḥashváh nafshí lintót ‘aḥarékha
Ki be-tzéil yadákh mi-tzár titzréini
Kidmú ʕeinái livkót bashmurót
Ki ve-ʕáv sakúta va-tirdeféini
‘Im ‘adaméh ki tihyéh li le-ʕezráh
U-ve-yóm tzaráh ‘ekrá u-teʕanéini
Tzuf devásh ‘imréi nóʕam ḥikekhá li
Hein be-ḥakáh ʕad daká timshekhéini