Feb 232016
 

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
The Beauty Who Gilds Her Adornments

The beauty who gilds her adornments
with the light from the strand ’round her neck –
myrtles strained to surround the place where she lay
for they yearned for the scent of her oils.
How lovely her crimsoning brightness
from under the greens of her clouds –
the moment the sun so ashamed hid its face
it sent clouds so they’d cover her own.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
יפה תייפה שהרוניה

 
יָפָה תְיַפֶּה שַׂהֲרֹנֶיהָ
אוֹר הָעֲנָק מִצַּוְרֹנֶיהָ
סַבּוּ הֲדַסִּים אֶת מְסִבָּתָהּ
כּי חָמְדוּ רֵיחַ שְׁמָנֶיהָ
יָפוּ אֲדַמְדַּמֵּי מְאוֹרֶיהָ
תַּחַת יְרַקְרַקֵּי עֲנָנֶיהֶ
חַמָּה בְּעֵת הִתְעַלְּמָה שָׂמָה
עָבוֹת מְקוֹם עָבוֹת לְפָנֶיהָ.י

Jun 152015
 

A fun, complex rhyme scheme that doesn’t work in English. C’est la vie.

Yitzḥak ha-Seniri (12th century – 13th century)
God, May You Wake Up and See

Oh God, may you wake up and see
  How strife surges among your dejected,
Breaching houses and walls; while your weary flock
  Broken wanders the wild, untended.

Your meek one foresees cruel temptations
  But trusts in your most holy name;
Living God, pray, how long shall you slumber
  Through Edom and Araby’s glad exultations?

Oh dove, you whose hopes lie with me
  I see how in bondage you dwell;
Exult freely in glory, forget your distress
  Await me, my daughter, your reward is with me!

Your nesting dove sets out and flies
  Beset by the ice and the cold;
In the desert the crows lie in wait for the dove;
  God, redeem me! her heart wails and cries.

Those who seek me should hold their heads high,
  For monarchs come bearing a gift;
My flock I’ll bring in, my shrines I’ll rebuild,
  I’ll seek out the root of the son of Yishai.

Oh build up your Temple, reclaim
  Zion’s towers, to weaken my strife,
Restore her; I’ll dwell, a choice lamb from the flock,
  With you in your halls to extol your great name.

יצחק השנירי
האל העירה וראה

 
הָאֵל הָעִירָה וּרְאֵה
 צַר עַל עַם שָׁפָל יִגְאֶה
פּוֹרֵץ גֶּדֶר חֶדֶר עֵדֶר הַנִּלְאֶה
 נָע בַּמִּדְבָּר נִשְׁבָּר בַּבַּר אֵין רוֹאֶה
 
צָעִיר חוֹזֶה מַדּוּחַ
 וּבְשֵׁם קָדְשָׁךְ בָּטוּחַ
אֵל חַי כַּמָּה שַׁמָּה לָמָּה יָנוּחַ
 גַּם יִתְעַדַּן חֶמְדָּן וּמְדָן עִם שׁוּחַ
 
יוֹנָה כִּי בִי תּוֹחַלְתֵּךְ
 רָאִיתִי בִּשְׁבִי שִׁבְתֵּךְ
גָּאוֹן נִפְשִׁי חָפְשִׁי וּנְשִׁי צוֹק עִתֵּךְ
 חכִּי בִּתִּי עִתִּי אִתִּי מַשְׂכֻּרְתֵּךְ
 
נוֹסְעָה יוֹנָתָךְ חוֹנָה
 בִּכְפוֹר וּבְקֶרַח לָנָה
גַּם בַּחֹרֶב עוֹרֵב אוֹרֵב לַיּוֹנָה
 לִבָּהּ שׁוֹאֵל מֵאֵל גּוֹאֵל יָבוֹא נָא
 
רֹאשׁ יִשְׂאוּ בָּנִים דּוֹרְשַׁי
 יוֹבִילוּ מְלָכִים שַׁי
צֹאנִי אֶקְנֶה אֶפְנֶה אֶבְנֶה מִקְדָּשַׁי
 אֶהְיֶה דּוֹרֵשׁ שֹׁרֶשׁ יוֹרֵשׁ בֶּן יִשַׁי
 
וּבְנֵה מִקְדָּשׁ וּמִגְדַּל
 צִיּוֹן וּכְבוֹד צַר יִדַּל
אוֹתָהּ הָשֵׁב אֵשֵׁב יֵשֵׁב שֶׂה נִבְדָּל
 תּוֹךְ אוּלַמָּךְ עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמָךְ יִתְגַּדַּל
י

Feb 052015
 

Shlomo ibn Gabirol (1021? – 1058?)
Black of Hair

Black of hair yet he’s ruddy and bronzed
  Though desired, his bearing’s all pride
As if lust he disdains and forbears
  Neither hoped for nor paid any mind
Have you e’er seen a man hate his loves
  When for rivals he yearns and he pines?
My beloved’s sweet words have more worth
  Than clear emeralds or silver’s bright shine
In dark night may you gaze at his cheek
  And envision the flick’ring of fire.

שלמה אבן גבירול / سليمان ابن جبيرول
שער שחור

 
שְׂעַר שָׁחֹר וְהוּא אָדֹם וּמֻצְהָב / וְחֵשֶׁק לַנְּפָשׁוֹת בּוֹ וְרָהַב
אֲשֶׁר כָּל-חֹֽשְׁקוֹ שָׂנֵא וּבִלַּע / וְלֹא נָתַן רְצוֹן נַפְשׁוֹ וְיָהָב
הֲרָאִיתָ אֱנוֹשׁ יִשְׂנָא אֲהוּבָיו / וְאֶת-מִתְקוֹמֲמָיו חָשַׁק וְאָהַב
יְדִידִי טוֹב דְּבַר-פִּיו מִבְּדֹלַח / וּמִשֹּׁהַם וּמִכֶּסֶף וְזָהָב
בְּחשֶׁךְ לַֽיְלָה הַבֵּט לְלֶחְיוֹ / תְּדַמֶּנּוּ לְלַפִּיד אוֹ לְלָהַב.
י

Feb 042015
 

Shmuel ha-Nagid (993 – 1056?)
Whenever One Requires My Aid

Whenever one requires my aid
As if for his king are his words of praise;
But if ever I should call on him
With jeers and scorn am I repaid!

שמואל הנגיד / إسماعيل بن النغريلة
אשר צריך

 
אֲשֶׁר צָרִיךְ לְעֶזְרָתִי
כְּמוֹ מַלְכּוֹ יְרַצֵּנִי
וְיִלְעַג לִי אֲשֶׁר צָרִיךְ
אֲנִי אֵלָיו וְיִבְזֵנִי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Ashér tzaríkh le-ʕezratí
Kemó malkó yeratzéini
Ve-yilʕág li ‘ashér tzaríkh
‘Aní ‘eiláv ve-yivzéini.

Jan 202015
 
Berry Sakharof and Rea Mokhiach - Shfal Ruaḥ

Shlomo ibn Gabirol (1021? – 1058?)
Cowed in Spirit

Cowed in spirit, with bended knees and bowed back,
I come to you burdened with great fear and dread.
In your mighty presence, I seem to myself
As a miniscule worm that crawls in the dirt.
Does the fullness of earth, whose expanse knows no end,
Praise you like I do, and what are its means?
The angels on high can’t encompass your splendor —
And that being true, how much less then could I!
The font of my wisdom, my God, I’ll seek out,
Who garners the praise of the souls of all life.

שלמה אבן גבירול / سليمان ابن جبيرول
שפל רוח

 
שְׁפַל רוּחַ, שְׁפַל בֶּרֶךְ וְקוֹמָה,
אֲקַדֶּמְךָ בְּרֹב פַּחַד וְאֵימָה.
לְפָנֶיךָ אֲנִי נֶחְשָׁב בְּעֵינַי
כְּתוֹלַעַת קְטַנָּה בָאֲדָמָה.
מְלֹא עוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר אֵין קֵץ לְגָדְלוֹ,
הֲכָמֹנִי יְהַלֶּלְךָ, וּבַמֶּה?
הֲדָרְךָ לֹא יְכִילוּן מַלְאֲכֵי‑רוֹם ‑
וְעַל אַחַת אֲנִי כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה!
אֲשַׁחֵר אֵל בְּרֵאשִׁית רַעֲיוֹנַי
אֲשׁר לִשְׁמוֹ תְהַלֵּל כֹּל נְשָׁמָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Shefál rúaḥ, shefál bérekh ve-qomáh,
‘Aqadémkha be-róv páḥad ve-‘eimáh.
Lefanéikha ‘aní neḥsháv be-ʕeinái
Ke-toláʕat qetanáh ba-‘adamáh.
Meló ʕolám, ‘ashér ein qeitz le-godló,
Ha-khamóni yehalélkha, u-va-méh?
Hadarkhá lo yekhilún mal’akhéi rom —
Ve-ʕal aḥát, ‘aní kámah ve-khámah!
‘Ashaḥéi ‘eil bereishít raʕayonái
‘Ashér lishmó tehaléil kol neshamáh.

Jan 162015
 

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
To Each Nose Ascends

To each nose ascends the scent of perfume
When bright Venus above is bound to the Moon
With their brilliance the whole of Earth is illumed
By purest white light, unspoiled by clouds’ gloom
Every man’s heart shall exult and make love
And old Time himself shall delight in glad tunes
Be merry, rejoice, and glory drink down
A most serene guise the king’s daughter assumes
Will not lovers indulge you with the warmth of their breasts
And carpets and couches with verdure bestrewn?

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
בכל אף יעלה

 
בְּכָל אַף יַעֲלֶה רֵיחַ לְבוֹנָה
בְּיוֹם הֵילֵל מְחֻבָּר אֶל לְבָנָה
וְעַל כָּל פַּאֲתֵי תֵבֵל נְהָרָה
וְהָאוֹר צַח וְאֵין עָלָיו עַנָנָה
וְיִתְעַלֵּס לְבַב כֹּל בָּאֳהָבִים
וְיֵעָלֵס זְמָן בִּכְנַף רְנָנָה
חֲדֵה וּשְׁמַח וְרַוֵּה עִם כְּבוּדָה
וּבַת מֶלֶךְ פְּנִימָה שַׁאֲנַנָּה
הֲלֹא דוֹדִים יְרַוּוּךָ בְדַדִּים
וּמַרְבַדִּים וְעֶרֶשׂ רַעֲנָנָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Be-khól ‘af yaʕaléh réi’aḥ levonáh
Be-yóm heilél meḥubár ‘el levanáh
Ve-ʕal kol pa’atéi teivéil neharáh
Ve-ha-ór tzaḥ ve-‘éin ʕaláv ʕananáh
Ve-yitʕaléis leváv kol ba-‘ohavím
Ve-yeiʕaléis zemán bikhnáf renanáh
Ḥadéih u-semáḥ ve-ravéih ʕim kevudáh
U-vat mélekh penímah sha’ananáh
Ha-ló dodím yeravúkha ve-dadím
U-marvadím ve-ʕéres raʕananáh.

May 172014
 

Our first Algerian poet, and actually our first North African poet period, unless you want to count the Andalusi poets who drifted from time to time over the Strait of Gibraltar. A cousin of the Sa`adiah Gaon and a prominent early Hebrew and Arabic linguist. This poem isn’t strictly metered in Hebrew, but each divine quality, arranged in an acrostic, has some alliterative counterpart on the other side of the caesura.

Yehuda ibn Quraysh (10th century)
Whose Is the Faith

Whose is all the faith? / Is it not him who holds all the secrets of Earth?
Whose is all creation? / Is it not the creator of the ends of the Earth?
Whose is all the might? / Is it not him who triumphs over the sweep of the Earth?
Whose is all the wisdom? / Is it not him walks on the heights of the Earth?
Whose is all the splendor? / Is it not God in his heavens and over the Earth?
Whose is all the glory? / Is it not him whose shine lights the corners of Earth?
Whose is all the song? / Is not him who keeps his covenant with all flesh on Earth?
Whose is all the mercy? / Is it not the Lord whose mercies fill all the Earth?
Whose is all the goodness? / Is it not him good to all every day of the Earth?
Whose is all the worth? / Is it not him whose hand built the pillars of Earth?
Whose is all the honor? / Is it not him for whose honor is the fullness of Earth?
Whose is all the garb of strength? / Is it not him who owns both the heavens and Earth?
Whose is all the kingship? / Is it not the great king over all of the Earth?
Whose is all the infinite? / Is it not him held in awe by the kings of Earth?
Whose are all the praises? / Is it not him who set laws over heaven and Earth?
Whose is all the wonder? / Is it not the agent of salvation in the midst of the Earth?

יהודה אבן קורייש / يهوذا ابن قريش
למי האמונה

 
כָּל הָאֱמוּנָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לַאֲשֶר בְּיָדוֹ מֶחְקְרֵי אָרֶץ
כָּל הַבְּרִיאָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְבוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַגְּבוּרָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְגָאֹה גָּאָה עַל חוּג הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַדַּעַת לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְדֹרֵךְ עַל בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ
כָּל הֶהָדָר לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְהוּא אֱלֹהִים בַּשָּמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל הָאָרֶץ
כָּל וְהַהוֹד לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לִוְאוֹרוֹ עַל כַּנְפוֹת הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַזִּמְרָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְזֹכֵר בְּרִית לְכָל בָּשָׂר אֲשֶר עַל הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַחֶסֶד לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְחֶסֶד אֲדֹנָי מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַטּוֹבָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְטוֹב לַכֹּל עוֹד כָּל יְמֵי הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַיְקָר לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְיָדוֹ יָסְדָה אָרֶץ
כָּל הַכָּבוֹד לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לִכְבוֹדוֹ מְלֹא כָּל הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַלְּבוּש עֹז לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְלוֹ שָמַיִם אַף לוֹ אָרֶץ
כָּל הַמְלוּכָה לְמִי הִיא / הֲלֹא לְמֶלֶך גָּדוֹל עַל כָּל הָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַנֵצַח לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְנוֹרא לְמַלְכֵי אָרֶץ
כָּל הַסִּלְסוּל לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְשָׂם חֻקּוֹת שָמַיִם וָאָרֶץ
כָּל הַפֶּלֶא לְמִי הוּא / הֲלֹא לְפֹעֵל יְשוּעוֹת בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Kol ha-’emunáh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló la-‘ashér be-yadó meḥqaréi ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-beri’áh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-voréi qetzót ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-gevuráh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-ga’óh ga’áh ʕal ḥug ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-dáʕat le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-doréikh ʕal bamotéi ‘áretz?
Kol ha-hadár le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-hú ‘elohím ba-shamáyim mi-maʕál ve-ʕál ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-hód le-mí hu? / Ha-ló liv’oró ʕal kanfót ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-zimráh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-zokhéir berít le-khól basár ‘ashér ʕal ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-ḥésed le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-ḥésed ‘adonái mal’áh ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-továh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-tóv la-kól ʕod kol yeméi ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-yeqár le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-yadó yasdáh ‘áretz?
Kol ha-kavód le-mí hu? / Ha-ló likhvodó meló kol ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-levúsh ʕoz le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-ló shamáyim ‘af lo ‘áretz?
Kol ha-melukháh le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-mélekh gadól ʕal kol ha-‘áretz?
Kol ha-néitzaḥ le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-norá le-malkhéi ‘áretz?
Kol ha-silsúl le-mí hu? / Ha-ló le-sám ḥuqót shamáyim va-‘áretz?
Kol ha-péle le-mí hi? / Ha-ló le-foʕéil yeshuʕót be-qérev ha-‘áretz?

May 092014
 

Can it have been more than a year since our last ibn Ezra tajnis? That’s unpossible!

Anyway, while the meaning of this one is clear (he likes wine! A lot!), the words pidyon and kofer are sort of difficult to translate, both being related to the Temple service. Pidyon is a price paid to the priests to redeem someone or something that would normally belong to the Temple; traditional Jews today still practice pidyon ha-ben, in which a firstborn non-Levite son is symbolically redeemed from a priest for a small (nowadays generally symbolic) amount of money; when the Temple was still standing, this was probably a major source of revenue. A kofer can be either the Biblical poll tax or the expiation-price to clear oneself of a minor sin. Again, the words are hard to translate, but the general sense is clear.

Moshe ibn Ezra (1060? – 1140?)
I’d Gladly Be Sold

I’d gladly be sold to the planters of vines
  and be an offering to the pruners and pickers
Beneath the presser, as soon as he tires
  and weakens, I’d give him the spirit of princes.

משה אבן עזרא / موسى ابن عزرا
אהי פדיון לנוטעי הזמורה

 
אֱהִי פִדְיוֹן לְנֹטְעֵי הַזְּמוֹרָה / וְכֹפֶר לַאֲשֶׁר יִזְמוֹר וְיִבְצֹר
וְתַחַת דָּשׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְרֹךְ וְרוּחַ / נְגִידִים בּוֹ בְּעֵת יַחְלֹש וְיִבְצֹר.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Ehí pidyón le-notʕéi ha-zemoráh / ve-khófer la’ashér yizmór ve-yivtzór
Ve-táḥat dash ‘ashér yidrókh ve-rúaḥ / negidím bo be-ʕéir yaḥlósh ve-yivtzór.

May 042014
 

Been awhile since I’ve done one of the Rihal’s love poems.

Yehuda ha-Levi (1075? – 1141?)
To That Doe of a Girl, My Goodwill

To that doe of a girl, my goodwill!
May her passion’s flame burn in me still!

The fawn who like sunlight arose
Who tortures her love as she roams
Oh, would that this pain she’d depose,
Whether by vow, or by free will,
And me, may she swear not to kill!

My life only dwells by her leave
And spirits to her firmly cleave
Grace from her words all receive
Her mouth scatters gemstones and crystal
She forms from it jewels with her skill

A portrait of beauty’s her hair,
But how can a doe rend and tear
like lions at men pure and fair?
Your eyes see no worth in my soul –
From mine bitter tears endless roll.

Bear witness, my doe, with your cheeks
To my blood, how you strive and you seek
To end me, before my life’s peak;
Your sin you don’t try to conceal;
Your judgment you cannot appeal.

I remember the day when she aimed
To revive me, a vow never shamed,
With two apples,1 my soul she reclaimed,
To me she came back, to my thrill,
She’d pricked me2 and I felt it still.

The whole day she clung to my side,
But fled as the sun fled the sky
To go on her way, and she bitterly cried.

יהודה הלוי / يهوذا اللاوي
שלום לצביה נערה

 
שָׁלוֹם לַצְּבִיָה נַעֲרָה
וְאִם אֵשׁ חִשְׁקָהּ בִּי בָעֲרָה
 
יַעְלָה כַּשֶׁמֶשׁ עָלְתָה
דּוֹדָהּ בִּנְדוֹדָהּ עִנְּתָה
אִם הָרָעָה לִי כָלְתָה
מֵאִתָּהּ, אוֹ אִם נָדְרָה
וּלְהָרְגִי אִסָּר אָסְרָה
 
חַיִּים בִּרְצוֹנָהּ יִשְׁכְּנוּ
וּרְפָאִים עִמָּהּ נִתְכְּנוּ
מִדְבָּרֶיהָ חֵן יִתְּנוּ
בְּדֹלַח מִפִּיהָ פִזְּרָה
מֶנְהוּ שְׁנֵי טוּרִים חִבְּרָה
 
צְהוּבַת שֵׂעָר תְמִימַת יְפִי
צְבִיָּה וְאֵיךְ כַּאֲרִי תִּטְרְפִי
הֲטוֹב כִּי אִישׁ נָקִי תִגְּפִי
בְּעֵינֵךְ נַפְשִׁי לֹא יָקְרָה
בְּעֵינַי דִּמְעָה לָךְ נִגְּרָה
 
הֵן בִּלְחָיַיִךְ שָׂהֲדִי
דָּמִי, כִּי עָלַי תִּשְׁקְדִי
לִסְפּוֹתִי טֶרֶם מוֹעֲדִי
זֹאת חַטָּאתֵךְ לֹא נִסְתְּרָה
רְאִי כִּי לֹא תוּכְלִי כַּפְּרָהּ
 
אֶזְכֹּר הַיוֹם אֲשֶׁר יָעֲדָה
לְהַחֲיוֹתִי בוֹ וְלֹא בָגְדָה
וּבִשְׁנֵי תַפּוּחִים רִפְּדָה
נַפְשִׁי וְּלגוּפִי חָזְרָה
וְקֶדֶם אוֹתִי בָּם דָּקְרָה
 
כָּל הַיּוֹם צִדִּי חִבְּקָה
וְעֵת בּוֹא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ חָמְקָה
לָלֶכֶת לָהּ וּמַר צָעֲקָה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Shalóm la-tzeviyáh naʕaráh
Ve-‘ím ‘eish ḥishqáh bi vaʕaráh

Yaʕláh ka-shémesh ʕaltáh
Dodáh bindodáh ʕintáh
‘Im ha-raʕáh li khaltáh
Mei-‘itáh, ‘o ‘im nadráh
U-lehargí ‘isár ‘asráh

Ḥayím birtzonáh yishkenú
U-refa’ím ʕimáh nitkenú
Midbaréha ḥein yitnú
Bedólaḥ mi-píha fizráh
Ménhu shenéi turím ḥibráh

Tzehuvát seiʕár temimát yefí
Tzeviyáh ve-‘éikh ka-‘arí titrefí
Ha-tóv ki ‘ish naqí tigfí
Be-ʕeinéikh nafshí lo yaqráh
Be-ʕeinái dimʕáh lakh nigráh

Hein bilḥayáyikh sahadí
Damí, ki ʕalái tishqedí
Lispotí térem moʕadí
Zot ḥatatéikh lo nisteráh
Re’í ki lo tukhlí kaparáh

‘Ezkór ha-yóm ‘ashér yaʕadáh
Lehaḥayotí vo ve-ló vagdáh
U-vishnéi tapuḥím ripdáh
Nafshí u-le-gufí ḥazráh
Ve-qédem ‘otí bam daqráh

Kol ha-yóm tzidí ḥibqáh
Ve-ʕéit bo ha-shémesh ḥamqáh
Lalékhet lah u-már tzaʕaqáh.

  1. Probably her breasts if we’re being real, or her apple-like cheeks if we’re being prim; either way, Yehuda is playing with the Song of Songs here.
  2. With the “apples,” apparently.
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?
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

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?