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?