Apr 212014

Alright, actually this poet is not strictly anonymous, since we know her identity at least by relation, but her name is unknown, and I have to keep my categories in order. The poet is the wife of the brilliant and hopelessly rootless poetic innovator Dunash ben Labrat, and this poem was introduced to me by dear friend of Soul and Gone and all-around scholar and gentleman Noam Sienna. With Noam’s kind permission, I’ll let him explain the poem’s provenance:

Recovered in pieces from the Cairo genizah, this poem was not completely published until 1971, and even then the author remained unknown. The heading of the poem was finally found in 1984 by the scholar Ezra Fleischer: “By the Wife of Dunash ibn Labraṭ, Addressed to Him,” making this the only medieval Hebrew poem known to be authored by a woman. Details of the life of Dunash’s wife, including her name, remain unknown; from the context of the poem it appears Dunash was forced to leave Spain, leaving behind his wife and son, for reasons unknown; it appears likely that it was due to friction with Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut. It is also unknown whether they were ever reunited, although new evidence from the Geniza suggests not.

Endless are the Genizah’s treasures. There are no shortage of poems from this era, in both Hebrew and Arabic, built around this theme (parting), and even no shortage of poems that seem to use these stock forms and topics to express very real emotion (and genuine biographical detail) on the part of the poet – but to find one from a woman’s perspective is a rare and wonderful thing indeed. The poignancy of the poem speaks for itself.

The Wife of Dunash ben Labrat (late 10th century)
Will Her Love Recall

And will her love recall his graceful doe
  Cradling her son and left alone?
Who set his right hand’s seal on her left
  Is not his arm wrapped with her precious stones?
That day she made a keepsake of his cloak
  And he made hers a keepsake of his own —
Would he remain in all the land of Spain
  If he’d been given half her prince’s throne?

אשתו של דונש בן לברט / زوجة دناش بن لبراط
היזכור יעלת החן ידידה

הֲיִזְכּוֹר יַעֲלַת הַחֵן יְדִידָהּ
 בְּיוֹם פֵּירוּד וּבִזְרוֹעָהּ יְחִידָהּ
וְשָׂם חוֹתַם יְמִינוֹ עַל שְׂמֹאלָהּ
 וּבִזְרוֹעוֹ הֲלֹא שָׂמָה צְמִידָהּ
בְּיוֹם לָקְחָה לְזִכָּרוֹן רְדִידוֹ
 וְהוּא לָקַח לְזִכָּרוֹן רְדִידָהּ –
הֲיִשָּׁאֵר בְּכָל אֶרֶץ סְפָרַד
 וְלוּ לָקַח חֲצִי מַלְכוּת נְגִידָהּ?


Ha-yizkór yaʕalát ha-ḥéin yedidáh?
Be-yom peirúd u-vizroʕáh yeḥidáh?
Ve-sam ḥotám yeminó ʕal semoláh
U-vizroʕó ha-ló sámah tzemidáh?
Be-yóm laqḥáh le-zikarón redidó
Ve-hú laqáḥ le-zikarón redidáh —
Ha-yisha’éir be-khól ‘éretz sefarád
Ve-lú laqáḥ ḥatzí malkhút negidáh?

Oct 162012

Another wine poem! Actually, ostensibly the first wine poem, one of the earliest attempts to marry Hebrew with Arab poetics.

You’ll notice that Dunash tacks on an awkwardly pious conclusion (we know where his heart is really at). As we have already seen, his poetic successors felt less constrained.

The lines in the translation are twelve syllables, except when they’re not.

Dunash ben Labrat (920 – 990)
He Says, “Do Not Sleep!”

[The Poet Responds to an Invitation to Wine Feast]
He says, “Do not sleep! / Rather drink vintage wine
Among henna and lilies / and aloes and myrrh,
Among pomegranates / and date palms and grapevines,
And the sweetest of saplings / and tamarisk groves,
With the burble of fountains / and sighing of lutes
On the lips of the singers / on harps and on lyres,
Where trees tower over / boughs laden with fruit,
Every bird will sing out / from his place ‘mongst the leaves,
The doves coo in reply / and hum out melodies,
To be answered by turtledoves / trilling like flutes.
Let’s drink amongst flowerbeds / bordered by lilies,
We’ll drive off despair / with an ecstatic song,
We’ll eat sweet fineries / and then drink down whole goblets,
We’ll behave like giants / drain wine by the bowlful!
I’ll rise with the morning / to slaughter the bullocks,
The choicest and fattest / of rams and calves also,
We’ll pour out fine oil / and burn fragrant incense,
Ere doom falls upon us / let’s live to the fullest!”
   I rebuked him: “Be silent! / How can you ignore
How God’s footstool yet lies / in uncircumcised hands?
Yet you speak only folly / and choose only sloth,
You give voice to mere nonsense / like jesters and fools,
You’ve abandoned the study / of mighty God’s Torah,
You sing while in Zion / the foxes run rampant.
Could we dare to drink wine? / Could we hold our heads high –
When we are but nothing! / Despised and disgusting!”

דונש בן לברט / دناش بن لبراط
ואומר אל תישן

[תשובה על הזמנה למשתה יין]
וְאוֹמֵר אַל תִּישַׁן! / שְׁתֵה יַיִן יָשָׁן –
וְכֹפֶר עִם שׁוֹשָׁן / וּמֹר עִם אֲהָלִים
בְּפַרדֵּס רִמּוֹנִים / וְתָמָר וּגְפָנִים
וְנִטְעֵי נַעְמָנִים / וּמִינֵי הָאְשָׁלִים,
וְרֶגֶשׁ צִנּוֹרִים / וְהֶמְיַת כִּנּוֹרִים
עֲלֵי פֶה הַשָׁרִים / בְּמִנִּים וּנְבָלִים,
וְשָׁם כָּל עֵץ מוּנָף / יְפֵה פֶרִי עָנָף
וְצִפּוֹר כָּל כָּנָף / יְרַנֵּן בֵּין עָלִים,
וְיֶהְגּוּ הַיּוֹנִים / כְּהוֹגִים נִגּוּנִים,
וְהַתּוֹרִים עוֹנִים / וְהוֹמִים כַּחְלִילִים.
וְנִשְׁתֶּה בַעְרוּגוֹת / בְּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים סוּגוֹת,
וְנָנִיס הַתּוּגוֹת / בְּמִינֵי הִלּוּלִים,
וְנֹאכַל מַמְתַקִּים / וְנִשְׁתֶּה מִזְרָקִים
וְנִנְהַג כַּעְנָקִים / ונִשְׁתֶּה בִסְפָלִים,
וְאָקוּם בִּבְקָרִים / אֲנִי לִשְׁחֹט פָּרִים
בְּרִיאִים נִבְחָרִים / וְאֵילִים וַעְגָלִים,
וְנִמְשַׁח שֶׁמֶן טוֹב / וְנַקְטִיר עֵץ רָטֹב
בְּטֶרֶם יוֹם קָטוֹב / יְבוֹאֵנוּ נַשְׁלִים.
  גְּעַרְתִּיהוּ דֹּם, דֹּם, / עֲלֵי זֹאת אֵיךְ תִּקְדֹּם –
וּבֵית קֹדֶשׁ וַהְדוֹם / אֱלֹהִים לָעְרֵלִים!
בְּכִסְלָה דִבַּרְתָּ / וְעַצְלָה בָחַרְתָּ
וְהֶבֶל אָמַרְתָּ / כְּלֵצִים וּכְסִילִים,
וְעָזַבְתָּ הֶגְיוֹן / בְּתוֹרַת אֵל עֶלְיוֹן
וְתָגִיל – וּבְצִיּוֹן / יְרוּצוּן שׁוּעָלִים.
וְאֵיךְ נִשְׁתֶּה יַיִן / וְאֵיךְ נָרִים עַיִן –
וְהָיִינוּ אַיִן / מְאוּסִים וּגְעוּלִים!


Ve-‘oméir ‘al tishán / shetéh yáyin yashán
Ve-khófer ʕim shoshán / u-mór ʕim ‘ahalím
Be-fardéis rimoním / ve-tamár ugfaním
Ve-nitʕéi naʕmaním / u-minéi ha’shalím
Ve-régesh tzinorím / ve-hemyát kinorím
ʕaléi feh ha-sharím / be-miním unvalím
Ve-shám kol ʕeitz munáf / yeféi féri ʕanáf
Ve-tzipór kol kanáf / yeranéin bein ʕalím
Ve-yehgú ha-yoním / ke-hogím niguním
Ve-ha-torím ʕoním / ve-homím kaḥlilím
Ve-nishtéh vaʕrugót / ba-shoshaním sugót
Ve-nanís ha-tugót / be-minéi hilulím
Ve-nokhál mamtakím / ve-nishtéh mizrakím
Ve-ninhág kaʕnakím / ve-nishtéh visfalím
Ve-‘akúm bivkarím / ‘aní lishḥót parím
Beri’ím nivḥarím / ve-‘eilím vaʕgalím
Ve-nimsháḥ shémen tov / ve-naktír ʕeitz ratóv
Be-térem yom katóv / yevo’éinu nashlím
Gaʕartíhu dom dom / ʕaléi zot ‘eikh tikdóm
U-véit kódesh vahdóm / ‘elohím laʕreilím
Be-khisláh dibárta / ve-ʕatzláh vaḥárta
Ve-hével ‘amárta / ke-leitzím ukhsilím
Ve-ʕazávta hegyón / be-torát ‘eil ʕelyón
Ve-tagíl u-ve-tziyón / yerutzún shuʕalím
Ve-‘éikh nishtéh yáyin / ve-‘éikh narím ʕáyin
Ve-hayínu ‘áyin / me’usím u-geʕulím

Oct 052012

I was once horrified to discover that this well-known Shabbat piyut, which should be sung in basically this melody, is sung desecrated by some American “Jews” to the tune of The-motherfucking-Sloop John B. That particular dinner was indeed the worst trip I’d ever been on.

People listen to the Beach Boys. What the fuck.

Here’s Dunash, the man who, to our eternal delight, Arabized Hebrew poetry. He also made an acrostic of his name in the first, second, third and sixth verses, like a straight player:

Dunash ben Labrat (920 – 990)
He Shall Proclaim Freedom

He shall proclaim freedom to sons and daughters
And protect you like the pupil of his eye
Pleasing are your reputations, never to desist
Sit and relax on the Sabbath day

Seek my abode and my sanctuary
And make me a symbol of salvation
Plant a fruitful vine in my vineyard
Heed the outcry of my people

Tread the press in Bozrah
And in conquering Babylon too
Shatter with wrath and fury those who rise against me
Hear my voice on the day I call

God, bring forth on the desert mountain
Myrtle, acacia, cypress and box tree
And to the cautious, and those who caution
Bring forth peace like a river’s waters

Trample my enemies, O vengeful God
With melting heart and woe
And we shall open our mouths and fill them
With the song our tongues sing for you

Know Wisdom in your soul
And she shall be a crown for your head
Observe the commandments of your Holy One
Keep your holy Sabbaths

דונש בן לברט / دناش بن لبراط
דרור יקרא

דְּרוֹר יִקְרָא לְבֵן עִם בַת
וְיִנְצָרְכֶם כְּמוֹ בָבַת
נְעִים שִׁמְכֶם וְלֹא יֻשְׁבַּת
שְׁבוּ וְנוּחוּ בְּיוֹם שַׁבָּת

דְּרוֹשׁ נָוִי וְאוּלָמִי
וְאוֹת יֶשַׁע עֲשֵׂה עִמִּי
נְטַע שׂוֹרֵק בְּתוֹךְ כַּרְמִי
שְׁעֵה שַׁוְעַת בְּנֵי עַמִּי

דְּרוֹךְ פּוּרָה בְּתוֹךְ בָּצְרָה
וְגַם בָּבֶל אֲשֶׁר גָּבְרָה
נְתוֹץ צָרַי בְּאַף עֶבְרָה
שְׁמַע קוֹלִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא

אֱלֹהִים תֵּן בְּמִּדְבָּר הַר
הֲדַס שִׁטָּה בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר
וְלַמַּזְהִיר וְלַנִּזְהָר
שְלוֹמִים תֵּן כְּמֵי נָהָר

הֲדוֹךְ קָמַי אֵל קַנָּא
בְּמוֹג לֵבָב וּבִמְגִנָּה
וְנַרְחִיב פֶּה וּנְמַלֶּאנָה
לְשׁוֹנֵנוּ לְךָ רִנָּה

דְעֶה חָכְמָה לְנַפְשֶׁךָ
וְהִיא כֶתֶר לְרֹאשֶׁךָ
נְצוֹר מִצְוַת קְדוֹשֶׁךָ
שְׁמוֹר שַׁבַּת קָדְשֶׁךָ


Derór yikrá le-vén ʕim bát
Ve-yintzorkhém kemó vavát
Neʕím shimkhém ve-ló yushbát
Shevú ve-núḥu be-yóm shabát

Derósh naví ve-‘ulamí
Ve-‘ot yéshaʕ ʕaséh ʕimí
Neṭáʕ soréik be-tókh karmí
Sheʕéi shavʕát benéi ʕamí

Derókh puráh be-tókh Botzráh
Ve-gám bável ‘ashér gavráh
Netótz tzarái be-‘áf va-ʕevráh
Shemáʕ kolí be-yóm ‘ekrá

‘Elohím tein ba-midbár har
Hadás shitáh berósh tidhár
Ve-la-mazhír ve-la-nizhár
Shelomím tein ke-méi nahár

Hadókh kamái ‘eil kaná
Be-mog leiváv u-va-megináh
We-narḥív peh u-nemalénah
Leshonéinu lekhá rináh

Deʕéi ḥokhmáh le-nafshekháh
Ve-hí kéter le-roshekhá
Netzór mitzvát qedoshékha
Shemór shabát qodshekhá