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

Oct 102012
 

Like a lot of mystical piyut, this poem is framed as a conversation between two lovers (the model for which is of course the Song of Songs). And like any good mystical poetry, whether by Jewish Kabbalists or Muslim Sufis, the ecstasy of the divine encounter is expressed as a heady combination of the frankly erotic, the puzzlingly esoteric, and the slightly drunken. Since English isn’t gendered in the manner of Hebrew, I’ve set the female speaker’s lines in italics.

Shalom Shabazi (1619 – 1720?)
Graceful Doe

A graceful doe supports me in exile
And here in her bosom she’ll lodge me.
To drink from her cup I am always prepared,
She mingles her wine with my lees.
Before me, my friends, drink and be drunk,
Rouse the reason that’s sleeping within me.
There in her palace sits the daughter of kings,
Her table ready for those who are with me.
For every lover there comes a time to part,
But with ardor my love shall recall me.
He adorns his lady with grace and with kindness,
In paths of grace and of kindness he leads me.

For my beloved I spread out the clouds of the heavens,
My desire she never denies me.
Fifty are her gates, solid and firm, and with
The favor of Leah her wisdom sustains me.
She arouses Rachel’s love for her children,
Unto the tenth kingdom’s secret she’ll raise me.
God, hasten to bring unto thine people salvation,
And may my tongue be made pure within me.
Thy great peace shall encompass those whole of heart,
The sons of the pure man, a charm unto thee.

שלום שבזי / سالم الشبزي
איילת חן

 
אַיֶלֶת חֵן בְּגָלוּת תִּסְמְכֵנִי
וּבַלַּיְלָה בְּתוֹךְ חֵיקָהּ מְלוֹנִי
לְכוֹס יֵינָהּ אֲנִי תָּמִיד מְזוּמָּן
וְנִתְעָרַב חֲמַד יֵינָהּ בְּיֵינִי
שְׁתוּ דוֹדִים לְעוּמָּתִי וְשִׁכְרוּ
וְהָעִירוּ לְשֵׂכֶל רַעֲיוֹנִי
בְּהֵיכַל בַּת מְלָכִים הַכְּבוּדָה
וְשׁוּלְחָנָהּ מְזוּמָּן לַהֲמוֹנִי
זְמָן הִפְרִיד לְכָל רֵעִים וְדוֹדִים
אֲבָל דּוֹדִי בְּאַהֲבָה יִזְכְּרֵנִי
יְקַשֵּׁר חֵן וְחֶסֶד עַל גְּבֶרֶת
בְּמַעְגַּל חֵן וְחֶסֶד יִמְשְׁכֵנִי
מְפַרְשֵׁז בַּעֲנַן עָבֵי שְׁחָקִים
לְרַעְיָתִי וְהִיא תָפִיק רְצוֹנִי
שְׁעָרֶיהָ חֲמִשִּׁים הֵם קְבוּעִים
זְכוּת לֵאָה בְּבִינָה תִסְעֲדֵנִי
תְּעוֹרֵר אַהֲבַת רָחֵל לְבָנִים
בְּסוֹד מַלְכוּת עֲשִׂירִית תַּעֲלֵנִי
אֱלֹהִים חִישׁ לְעַמֶּךָ יְשׁוּעָה
בְּעֵת רָצוֹן תְּצַחְצֵחַ גְּרוֹנִי
שְׁלוּמֵי לֵב בְּרוֹב שָלוֹם תְּסוֹבֵב
בְּנֵי אִישׁ תָּם סְגוּלַת אַב הֲמוֹנִי
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Ayélet ḥein be-galút tismekhéini
U-ve-láilah be-tókh ḥeikáh meloní
Le-khós yeináh ‘aní tamíd mezumán
Ve-nitʕaréiv ḥemád yeináh be-yeiní
Shetú dodím le-ʕumatí ve-shikhrú
Ve-haʕíru le-séikhel raʕayoní
Be-heikhál bat melakhím ha-kevudáh
Ve-shulḥanáh mezumán la-hamoní
Zemán hifríd le-khól reiʕím ve-dodím
‘Avál dodí be-‘ahaváh yizkeréini
Yekashér ḥein ve-ḥesed ʕal gevéret
Be-maʕgál ḥein ve-ḥesed yimshekhéini
Mefarshéiz ba-ʕanán ʕavéi sheḥakím
Le-raʕyatí ve-hí tafík retzoní
Sheʕaréha ḥamishím heim kevuʕím
Zekhút lei’áh be-vináh tisʕadéini
Teʕoréir ‘ahavát raḥeil le-vaním
Be-sód malkhút ʕasirít taʕaléini
‘Elohím ḥish le-ʕamékha yeshuʕáh
Be-ʕéit ratzón tetzaḥtzéiaḥ geroní
Sheluméi leiv be-róv shalóm tesovéiv
Benéi ‘ish tam segulát ‘av hamoní

Sep 292012
 

Im Tahpetzah

The rabbi-king of the Yemeni-Jewish poet-kabbalists, Shabazi writes in an elliptical, allusive and highly condensed style that can make translation an interesting puzzle. I’ll admit to not fully understanding the line “galgal ve-‘adrikhal melavim lo” – the words can be translated easily enough, but I have the feeling I’m missing some key allusion or context. If anyone out there knows, please share.

This particular piyut happens to have been recorded by the occasionally compelling Israeli pan-Jewish world music collective the Idan Raichel Project. Click the thingy below to hear it – this partial version of “Im Taḥpetzah” starts at the nineteenth line (“luḥót shnáyim heim be-yósher nikhtevú“) and runs through the twenty-sixth (“kabéitz pezuréinu ‘ashér nitpazrú“). I must admit that the Zionist in me always appreciated how Raichel’s version ends with the poem’s plaintive supplication for the ingathering of the exiles, which also serves Raichel’s cross-Diasporic mélange well. As befits Yemenite piyut, the Yemeni-Israeli singers of Raichel’s “Im Taḥpetzah” deliver it in the particularly badass Yemenite liturgical accent, which is a treat (although who told them they could have a shva carry stress?). Have fun.

Idan Raichel - Im Taḥpetzah

Shalom Shabazi (1619 – 1720?)
If You Should Desire

If you should desire, son of man, to know the most select secrets
Obtain for yourself a fellow, and dear friends
So that your heart might live, and your soul rejoice
That discernment and spirit might be one
Clothe yourself in humility from youthful days onward
Despise the counsel of those prideful in their ignorance
Your good name shall go forth and you shall gain your desire
Seek truth in the volumes the sages composed
The doctrine of the wise, received from their ancestors
On the day they encircled and thronged about Sinai, in their wisdom
The father of all prophets ascended to the heights
Towards the fog his footsteps hurried
Graciously accompanied by the heavenly sphere and the Architect
He ascended on high and opened every closed gate
Facing toward Sinai, my tribes were assembled
And the angels on high advanced with banners
Whirling flames came down from the Presence
Thunder, lightning and cloud were joined
Two tablets are they, written forthrightly
On which are ten commandments, examined and witnessed
They heard my voice, but you will not
The commandments flow from the mouth of the Mighty; and so was kept the Torah
Blessed is he who has merited to behold his congregation
Purity lies within the Torah, and from it souls prosper
Recall, Lord of All, the grace of your Torah
Gather your dispersed, who were scattered
Straighten our way for the sake of your kindness
For loving-kindness overwhelms those who fear you

שלום שבזי / سالم الشبزي
אם תחפצה

 
אִם תַּחְפְּצָה בֶן אִישׁ לְסוֹדוֹת נִבְחֲרוּ
תִּקְנֶה לְךָ חָבֵר וְרֵעִים יָקְרוּ
בַּעְבוּר יְחִי לִבָּךְ וְתִשְׂמַח נַפְשְׁךָ
שֵׂכֶל וְהַנֶּפֶשׁ בְּטוֹב יִתְחַבְּרוּ
וּלְבַשׁ עֲנָוָה מִיְּמֵי בַּחְרוּתְךָ
וּמְאַס עֲצַת רֵיקִים אֲשֶׁר יִתְיָהֲרוּ
שֵׁם טוֹב לְךָ יֵצֵא וְתַשִּׁיג חֶפְצְךָ
חַפֵּשׂ בְּמַסֶּכְתּוֹת גְּאוֹנִים חִבְּרוּ
מִשְׁנַת חֲכָמִים מֵאֲבוֹתָם קִבְּלוּ
יוֹם סָבְבוּ סִינַי בְּשִׁכְלָם נָהֲרוּ
עָלָה אֲבִי כָל הַנְּבִיאִים עַד מְרוֹם
אֶל הָעֲרָפֶל פְּעָמָיו מִהֲרוּ
וְגַלְגַּל וְאַדְרִיכַל מְלַוִּים לוֹ בְּחֵן
עָלָה וּפָתַח כָּל שְׁעָרִים נִסְגְּרוּ
נוֹכַח פְּנֵי סִינַי שְׁבָטַי נִקְהֲלוּ
גַּם מַלְאֲכֵי מַעְלָה דְּגָלִים עָבְרוּ
אֵשׁ יָרְדָה מֵהַשְּׁכִינָה סָחֲרָה
קוֹלוֹת וּבְרָקִים וְעָנָן נֶחְבְּרוּ
לוּחוֹת שְׁנַיִם הֵם בְּיוֹשֶׁר נִכְתְּבוּ
בָּם דִּבְּרוֹת עֶשֶׁר בְּעֵדוּת נֶחְקְרוּ
שָׁמְעוּ לְאָנֹכִי וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ
מִפִּי גְבוּרָה הֵם וְתוֹרָה שָׁמְרוּ
בָּרוּךְ אֲשֶׁר זִכָּה עֲדָתוֹ לַחֲזוֹת
תּוֹרָה תְמִימָה בָה נְפָשׁוֹת כָּשְׁרוּ
זָכְרָה אֲדוֹן הַכֹּל לְחֵן תּוֹרָתְךָ
קַבֵּץ פְּזוּרֵינוּ אֲשֶׁר נִתְפַּזְּרוּ
יַשֵּׁר דְּרָכֵינוּ לְמַעַן חַסְדְּךָ
כִּי עַל יְרֵאֶיךָ חֲסָדִים גָּבְרוּ
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Im taḥpetzáh, ben ‘ish, le-sodót nivḥarú
Tiknéh lekhá ḥavéir u-reiʕím yakrú
Baʕvúr yeḥí libákh ve-tismáḥ nafshekhá
Séikhel ve-ha-néfesh be-tóv yitḥabrú
U-levásh ʕanaváh mi-yeméi baḥrutekhá
U-me’ás ʕatzát reikím ‘ashér yityaharú
Sheim tov lekhá yeitzéi ve-tasíg ḥeftzekhá
Ḥapéis be-masekhtót ge’oním ḥibrú
Mishnát ḥakhamím mei-‘avotám kiblú
Yom savevú sinái be-sikhlám naharú
ʕaláh ‘aví khol ha-nevi’ím ʕad maróm
‘El ha-ʕarafél peʕamáv miharú
Ve-galgál ve-‘adrikhál melavím lo be-ḥéin
ʕaláh u-fatáḥ kol sheʕarím nisgerú
Nokháḥ penéi sinái shevatái niqhalú
Gam mal’akhéi máʕlah degalím ʕavrú
‘Eish yardáh mei-ha-shekhináh saḥaráh
Kolót u-verakím ve-ʕanán neḥberú
Luḥót shnáyim heim be-yósher nikhtevú
Bam dibrót ʕéser be-ʕeidút neḥkerú
Shamʕú le-‘anokhí ve-ló yihiyéh lekhá
Mi-pí ha-gevuráh heim ve-toráh shamrú
Barúkh ‘ashér zikáh ʕadató laḥazót
Toráh temimáh bah nefashót kashrú
Zakhráh ‘adon ha-kól le-ḥein toratekhá
Kabéitz pezuréinu ‘ashér nitpazrú
Yashéir derakhéinu lemáʕan ḥasdekhá
Ki ʕal yerei’ékha ḥasadím gavrú