Jun 222014
 

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Great Fortified Cities

Great fortified cities, I razed their foundation;
The strength of my right hand has set the world shaking
Captains of armies mere insects for breaking,
I wearied of war chiefs, their ev’ry formation;

The hearts of Time’s lions were mine for cremation,
The roar of my voice set their insides to quaking,
Clefts through great kings my strong arm always raking,
I trampled the necks of the princes of nations.

From Cush unto Germany all knelt before me,
Thrace, Greece and Lydia felt my ambition,
India rendered each column and storey.

To take heaven’s stars then I made it my mission,
In ruling mere clay my heart yet found no glory —
In the end I was killed by a stupid physician.

יעקב פראנשיס
ערים בצורות


עָרִים בְּצוּרוֹת עַד יְסוֹד דָּרַסְתִּי
וּבְעֹז יְמִינִי הֶחֱרַדְתִּי אֶרֶץ,
שָׂרֵי צְבָאוֹת אֶחֱשֹׁב כְּשֶׁרֶץ
אֶתְמוֹל, וְרָאשֵׁי מַחֲנִים מָאַסְתִּי:

לִבּוֹת לְבִיאֵי הַזְּמַן הֵמַסְתִּי,
מִקּוֹל שְׁאוֹנִי בָּא בְּלִבָּם קֶרֶץ,
פָּרַץ זְרוֹעִי בַּמְלָכִים פֶּרֶץ,
וּבְצַוְּארוֹנֵי רוֹזְנִים רָמַסְתִּי;

שַֹמְתִּי לְרַגְלַי אַשְׁכְּנַז וָגֹמֶר,
תִּירָס וְיָוָן, פּוּל וְלוּד הִבְעַתִּי,
הֹדּוּ וְכוּשׁ לִי נָתְנוּ כָּל תֹּמֶר;

בֵּין כּוֹכְבֵי רוֹם עֵין שְׂעִפַּי שַׁתִּי,
יִבֶז כְּבָר לִבִּי מְשׁׂל בַּחֹמֶר —
סוֹף סוֹף בְּיַד רוֹפֵא אֱוִילִי מַתִּי.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕarím betzurót ʕad yesód darásti
Uv-ʕóz yeminí heḥerádeti ‘éretz
Saréi tzeva’ót ‘eḥeshóv ke-shéretz
‘Etmól, ve-rashéi maḥaním ma’ásti

Libót levi’éi ha-zemán heimásti
Mi-qól she’oní ba be-libám qéretz
Parátz zeroʕí bamlakhím péretz
Uv-tzavronéi rozním ramásti

Sámti le-raglái ‘ashkenáz va-gómer
Tirás ve-yaván, pul ve-lúd hivʕáti
Hódu ve-khúsh li natnú kol tómer

Bein kokhvéi rom ʕein seʕipái sháti,
Yivéz kevár libí meshól ba-ḥómer —
Sof sof be-yád roféi ‘evilí máti.

May 022014
 

I think rappers like to believe that they invented the oft-intertwined concepts of “rhyme-biting” and “beef.” They did not.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Who Put, You Braying Ass

Who put, you braying ass, into your purse
The silver of this poetry? You twit,
Who stashed inside your sack this gleaming goblet—
Or’s filthy lucre how you’ve been imbursed?

It’s not, buffoon, we know it’s not your verse —
Your song? I shake my head at it, I spit,
Decry it all the way you would a bandit,
And may its glory be your shame and curse.

Could I believe that your fool mind attained
The lofty heights of verse, when up ’til now
You and your songs we jeered time and again!

And if this poem our vocal praise has gained,
It’s not for your unworthy self, I vow:
For our acclaim goes only to your pen.

יעקב פראנשיס
מי שם, חמור נוער


מִי שָֹם, חֲמוֹר נוֹעֵר, בְּאַמְתַּחְתֶּךָ
כֶּסֶף מְלִיצָה זֹאת? וּמִי הִצְנִיעַ,
בַּעַר, בְּפִי שַֹקָּךְ יְקָר גָּבִיעַ —
לוּלֵי גְזֵלָה הִיא בְּתוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ?

לֹא לָךְ, כְּסִיל, לֹא לָךְ מְלִיצָתֶךָ —
לִזְמִירְךָ אֶשְׁרֹק וְרֹאשׁ אָנִיעַ,
עָלָיו כְּעַל גַּנָב אֲנִי אָרִיעַ,
וִיהִי כְבוֹד הוֹדוֹ לְרֹב בָּשְׁתֶּךָ.

אֵיךְ אַאֲמִין כִּי דַעְתְּךָ הִגִּיעָה
לִשְׁמֵי מְרוֹם הַשִּׁיר — הֲרֵי עַד עָתָּה
כָּל פֶּה לְךָ לָעַג וְלִרְנָנֶיךָ!

גַּם אִם לְזֹאת תּוֹדָה בְּקוֹל נַשְׁמִיעָה,
לֹא לָךְ תְּהִי, כִּי לֹא לְךָ יָאָתָה:
הַמַּהֲלָל יֻתַּן לְצִפָּרְנֶיךָ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Mi sam, ḥamór noʕéir, be-‘amtaḥtékha
Késef melitzáh zot? U-mí hitzníaʕ,
Báʕar, be-fí saqákh yeqár gavíaʕ —
Luléi gezeiláh hi be-tókh beitékha?

Lo lakh, kesíl, lo lakh melitzatékha —
Lizmirkhá ‘eshróq ve-rósh ‘aníaʕ,
ʕaláv ke-ʕál ganáv ‘aní ‘aríaʕ,
Vihí khevód hodó le-róv boshtékha.

‘Eikh ‘a’amín ki daʕtekhá higíʕah
Lishméi meróm ha-shír — haréi ʕad ʕátah
Kol peh lekhá laʕág ve-lirnanékha!

Gam ‘im le-zót todáh be-qól nashmíʕah,
Lo lakh tehí, ki lo lekhá ya’átah:
Ha-mahalál yután le-tzipornékha.

Nov 292013
 

This kind of incorrigible player-hating is what got Yaakov chased out of Mantua. Not that it did much to dissuade him. And good for us, because in the grand and noble history of hating players (but never the game), few have done it with such panache as Yaakov Frances. This is one of several poems Frances wrote against an ideological opponent named Yechiel, whose name Frances wrote in a code of his own devising in the superscriptions above his poems. This one was evidently composed after said Yechiel’s death; the superscription reads: “para a morte de amramb, homim de nenhun virtude e par consequencia enemigo dos virtuosos” — “For the death of ‘amramb’ [Yechiel], a man lacking all virtue and thus the enemy of virtuous men.”

And does Yaakov treat the death of a bitter ideological foe with the grace and dignity one might expect of learned rabbi and man of letters? No. Actually, he writes a sonnet begging the King of Demons to torture the hell out of the motherfucker.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Rise, Ashmodai!

Rise, Ashmodai! Rise up, send out runners,
Speed to your Hell, and throughout every region
Within your domain, charge that now is the season
To gather the tar and the sulfur and timbers;

Order from all of your fleetest taskmasters:
Gather the hosts of the demons, the legions!
This wrathful day is to punish the treasons
Of this hateful villain, this father of jesters!

Spark up the fire, don’t be tender-hearted
If you should recall ere a day he still sent
To fill up your Pit hordes of spirits departed;

Upon necks of princes he trampled unguarded,
And if, Ashmodai, you should think to relent —
By his brazen hands from your crown you’ll be parted!

יעקב פראנשיס
קום אשמדאי


קוּם, אַשְׁמְדַאי! קוּם לָךְ, דְּחֹף רָצִים
אֶל תָּפְתְּךָ מַהֵר, וּבִמְדִינוֹת
מַלְכוּתְךָ פִּתְגָם שְׁלַח לִקְנוֹת
עִטְרָן וְנֵפְטְ, גָּפְרִית וְרֹב עֵצִים.

צַוֵּה עֲלֵיהֶם נוֹגְשִׁים אָצִים
לֶאְסֹף צְבָא שֵׁדִים וְלִגְיוֹנוֹת,
כִּי יוֹם עֲבָרוֹת זֶה וְעֵת עַנּוּת
אִישׁ רַע וְשׂוֹנֵא טוֹב, אֲבִי לֵצִים.

הַצֵּת בְּעֵרָה בּוֹ, וְאַל יֵרַךְ
לִבָּךְ בְּעֵת תִּזְכֹּר אֲשֶׁר אֶתְמוֹל
מִלֵּא נְשָׁמוֹת יַרְכְּתֵי בוֹרָךְ;

עַל צַוְּרוֹנֵי רוֹזְנִים דָּרַךְ
אִישׁ זֶה, וְאִם בּוֹ, אַשְׁמְדַאי, תַּחְמֹל —
מָחָר בְּעַזּוּת יַעֲשֹׁק כִּתְרָךְ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Qum, ‘Ashmedái! Qum lakh, deḥóf ratzím
‘el toftekhá mahéir, u-vimdinót
malkhutkhá pitgám sheláḥ liqnót
ʕitrán ve-neift, gofrít ve-róv ʕetzím.

Tzavéih ʕaleihém nogshím ‘atzím
le’sóf tzevá sheidím ve-ligyonót,
ki yom ʕavarót zeh ve-ʕéit ʕanút
‘ish raʕ ve-sonéi tov, ‘aví leitzím.

Hatzéit beʕeiráh bo, ve-‘ál yeirákh
libákh be-ʕéit tizkór ‘ashér ‘etmól
miléi neshamót yarketéi vorákh;

ʕal tzavronéi rozním darákh
‘ish zeh, ve ‘im bo, ‘Ashmedái, taḥmól —
maḥár be-ʕazút yaʕashók kitrákh!

Apr 152013
 

The Italian Hebrew poets were especially known for their linguistic dexterity, often inserting puns (or creating entire poems) based on similar-sounding words in Hebrew and Italian/Portuguese. This is a small taste of that cleverness. According to the poem’s superscription, a young Frances wrote the poem for a friend in love with a girl named Surlina. Her name is worked into the last line of the poem – suri li na means “please turn towards me!” (in the feminine imperative). Cute.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
For a Girl Named Surlina

If your voice is so sweet,
If your form is so fine —
Can your heart be so cruel?
May it be like their kind!
For how long can I pine?
Oh, please cleave unto me,
My spirit, draw near me,
My desire, turn towards me!

יעקב פראנשיס
לנערה בשם סורלינה


אִם קוֹלֵךְ עָרֵב,
אִם מַרְאֵך נָוֶה —
אֵיךְ לִבֵּךְ אַכְזָר?
לָהֶם נָא יִשְׁוֶה!
עַד מָה לָךְ אֶדְוֶה?
עִמִּי תִדְבָּקִי,
גּשִׁי לִי, נַפְשִׁי,
סוּרי לִי נָא, חֶשְׁקִי!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Im koléikh ʕaréiv.
‘Im mar’ikh navéh —
Eikh libéikh ‘akhzár?
Lahém na yishvéh!
ʕad mah lakh ‘edvéh?
ʕimí tidbakí,
Goshí li, nafshí,
Súri li na, ḥeshkí!

Mar 092013
 

A biting satire, in the voice of the proletariat, aimed at the shiftless rabbinic elite. It’s good he’s dead; if he thought it was bad in Baroque Mantua, he would shit a mattone at the state of modern Charedism.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
My Heart Is Melting

Woe, my heart is melting, storm-tossed and irate
Like a child always sobbing at my fate:
Boorish, foolish, coarse; my ignorance so great —
Can’t I be a rabbi, sitting at the gate?

Yea, my workshop I have dubbed a mourners’ feast,
And my tools the tools of a murd’rous beast —
From these reins of toil I yearn to be released,
For the title “teacher,” my heart’s cry hasn’t ceased:

For with such a name, quite wealthy grow the poor,
Thus they’re at the top, and never want for more,
And with grief their hearts will never be made sore;
Drinking well at ev’ry fete, they’re cheered as ne’er before!

What have I with laymen? How they waste away!
How they groan and sigh and tremble every day!
With their host of labors do they not decay?
Burdened always with travails they’ll never stay!

Sages know no pain; I see how they behave,
Eating others’ labors, that for which men slave;
Just for that they lift a limb, only that they crave
‘Til their time draws near and they go forth to the grave.

O my people, heed my wisdom, lend an ear!
Grow wise in the word of God, your faith revere,
Away from all your toil your precious spirits steer!
Take this lesson, don’t refuse it — do you hear?1

יעקב פראנשיס
ליבי מאוד ימס


לִבִּי מְאֹד יִמַּס וְיֹאחֵז סַעַר,
אֶבְכֶּה בְּכִי תָמִיד לְדִמְיוֹן נַעַר:
תַּחַת הֱיוֹתִי בּוּר, כְּסִיל וּבַעַר
מָתַי אֱהִי רַבָּן וְיוֹשֵׁב שַׁעַר?

כִּי בֵּית מְלָאכָה אֶקְרְאָה ‘מַרְזֵחַ’,
אֶקְרָא כְּלִי אוּמָן ‘כְּלִי מַטְבֵּחַ’ —
מִמּוֹסְרוֹת עָמָל לְהִפָּתֵחַ
לִבִּי לְשֵׁם מוֹרֶה בְּמַר צוֹרֵחַ:

בּוֹ הָעֲנִיִּים לַעֲשִׁירִים שָׁבוּ,
בּוֹ יֵשְׁבוּ בָּרֹאשׁ וְאִם לֹא אָבוּ,
וּבְעִצְּבוֹן לֵבָב לְבַל יִכְאָבוּ
יִשְׁתּוּ בְּכָל מִשְׁתֶּה וְלֵב יִיטָבוּ.

מַה לִּי לְהֶדְיוֹטוֹת וְהֵם יֶהְבָּלוּ,
יֵאָנְחוּ כָּל עֵת וְיִתְחַלְחָלוּ,
וּבְרֹב יְגִיעֵיהֶם הֲלֹא יִמָּלוּ —
תָּמִיד בְּטֹרַח הֵם וְלֹא יֶחְדָּלוּ.

אֶרְאֶה חֲכָמִים אֵין בְּלִבָּם שֶׁבֶר
יֹאכְלוּ יְגִיעַ וַעֲמַל כָּל גֶּבֶר;
עַל כֵּן בְּכָל עֵת יַחֲלִיפוּ אֵבֶר,
אַף יִקְרְבוּ פָּנִים עַד בֹּא הַקֶּבֶר.

עַמִּי, קְחוּ עֵצָה וְלִי תִשְׁמָעוּ!
בִּינוּ בְּתוֹרַת אֵל וְדָת תֵּדָעוּ,
מִיגִיעֲכֶם אֶת נַפְשְׁכֶם תִּמְנָעוּ,
שִׁמְעוּ, קְחוּ מוּסָר וְאַל תִּפְרָעוּ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Libí me’ód yimás ve-yoḥéiz sáʕar,
‘Evkéh bekhí tamíd le-dimyón náʕar:
Táḥat heyotí bur, kesíl u-váʕar
Matái ‘ehí rabán ve-yoshéiv sháʕar?

Ki beit melakháh ‘ekre’áh marzéiaḥ,
‘Ekrá kelí ‘umán kelí matbéiaḥ —
Mi-mosrót ʕamál lehipatéiaḥ
Libí le-shéim moréh be-már tzoréiaḥ:

Bo ha-ʕaniyím la-ʕashirím shávu,
Bo yeishvú ba-rósh ve-‘ím lo ‘ávu,
Uv-ʕitzbón leiváv le-vál yikh’ávu
Yishtú be-khól mishtéh ve-léiv yitávu.

Mah li le-hedyotót ve-héim yehbálu,
Yei’anḥú kol ʕeit ve-yitḥalḥálu,
Uv-róv yegiʕeihém ha-ló yimálu —
Tamíd be-tóraḥ heim ve-ló yeḥdálu.

‘Er’éh ḥakhamím ‘ein be-libám shéver
Yokhlú yegíaʕ va-ʕamál kol géver;
ʕal kein be-khól ʕeit yaḥlífu ‘éiver,
‘Af yikrevú paním ʕad bo ha-kéver.

ʕamí, keḥú ʕeitzáh ve-lí tishmáʕu!
Bínu be-torát ‘eil ve-dát teidáʕu,
Migiʕakhém ‘et nafshekhém timnáʕu,
Shimʕú, keḥú musár ve-‘ál tifráʕu.

  1. Proverbs 8:33.
Mar 052013
 

A poem from exile, after being run out of Mantua on a rail for too sharply criticizing the powers-that-were in the Jewish community.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Run Out, You Dogs

Run out, you dogs, who yelp barking with wonder,
“Woof!” — yelp out! — “Woof! Your poems are too factual!”
My mouth’s full of darts, and yours but with ill will;
I know how to bite; you but howl with thunder.

Wag forth your senseless tongues, nation of blunder!
Batter my poems as if striking an anvil!
So from afar my great fury I fan still —
How shall my mouth make you spoils and plunder?

A lion am I, though dressed in a sheepskin,
Cleaving pursuers with sharp fangs and claws,
Woe to the bitten, their dreadful emotion!

Nothing will cure them, not balm and not medicine,
With Truth’s potent poison I’ll line my cruel jaws,
Poison that kills like the deadliest potion.

יעקב פראנשיס
אוצו כלבים


אוּצוּ, כְּלָבִים צוֹעֲקִים לִנְבֹּחַ,
הַב — צַעֲקוּ — הַב הַב, לְשִׁירָךְ טַעַם!
אַךְ יֵשׁ בְּפִי חֵץ, אִם בְּפִיכֶם רַעַם,
אֵדַע נְשֹׁךְ, אִם תֵּדְעוּ לִצְרֹחַ.

חִרְצוּ לְשׁוֹנְכֶם, עַם חֲסֵרֵי מֹחַ,
הִלְמוּ פְּנֵי שִׁירִי כְּהוֹלֵם פַּעַם!
אָכֵן לְמֵרָחוֹק יְהִי הַזַּעַם,
לָמָּה לְפִי תִהְיוּ שְׁבִי מַלְקוֹחַ?

הִנְנִי אֲרִי טוֹרֵף לְבוּשׁ עוֹר כֶּשֶׂב,
גַּם רוֹדְפַי פִּתְאֹם בְּשִׁנַּי אַחַץ,
אוֹי אֶל נְשׁוּכֵיהֶם וְרֹב צַלְמָוֶת:

לֹא יַחֲלִים אוֹתָם צֳרִי אוֹ עֵשֶב,
אֶרֶס אֱמֶת אַטִּיל בְּתוֹךְ הַמַּחַץ,
אֶרֶס אֲשֶׁר יָמִית כְּסַם הַמָּוֶת.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Útzu, kelavím tzoʕakím linbóaḥ,
Hav — tzaʕakú — hav hav, le-shirákh táʕam!
‘Akh yeish be-fí ḥeitz, ‘im be-fikhém ráʕam,
‘Eidáʕ neshókh, ‘im teidʕú litzróaḥ.

Ḥirtzú leshonkhém, ʕam ḥaseiréi móaḥ,
Hilmú penéi shirí ke-holéim páʕam!
‘Akhéin le-mei-raḥók yehí ha-záʕam,
Lámah le-fí tiheyú sheví malkóaḥ?

Hinení ‘arí toréif levúsh ʕor késev,
Gam rodfái pit’óm be-shinái ‘áḥatz,
‘Oi ‘el neshukheihém ve-róv tzalmávet:

Lo yaḥalím ‘otám tzorí ‘o ʕéisev,
‘Éres ’emét ‘atíl be-tókh ha-máḥatz,
‘Éres ‘ashér yamít ke-sám ha-mávet.

Feb 262013
 

Hey, at least he could afford to see a doctor, efficacy notwithstanding.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Oh Doctors

Oh doctors, how long shall you rid Earth entire
Of dwellers? By day and by night how you slaughter!
How long shall you wield against God’s sons and daughters
Your pens like a sword, your words’ steel-forging fire?1

And why do all men, old or young, in their ire
Not nail you onto the cross, you marauders?2
The sickness inside a man, how might you augur
If your eyes can’t see through his scabs, I inquire?

I see you reply with an asp’s wrath, assuring,
“Faith, every pain, every sickness, all fractures,
Are made clear to us by what your gut produces!”

If so, in the judgment of feces and urine
Hangs every man’s life, and relief if one lacks cures,
Then eat shit, you villains, and drink urine’s juices!

יעקב פראנשיס
הוי רופאים


הוֹי רוֹפְאִים, עַד מַה תְּכַלּוּ חֶלֶד
מִיּוֹשְׁבָיו? יוֹם תִּרְצְחוּ וָעֶרֶב!
עַד מָה לְכָל נוֹצָר יְהִי כַּחֶרֶב
זֶה עִטְּכֶם וּדְבַרְכֶם אֵשׁ פֶּלֶד?

לָמָּה לְמִזָּקֵן וְעַד הַיֶּלֶד
לֹא יִתְקְעוּכֶם בַּשְּׁתִי וָעֵרֶב?
אֵיךְ תֵּדְעוּ, מַה מַּחֲלַת הַקֶּרֶב,
אִם עֵינְכֶם לֹא תַעֲבֹר הַגֶּלֶד?

אֶרְאֶה וְיֵשׁ מִכֶּם בְּכַעַשׂ פֶּתֶן
עוֹנֶה: ‘הֲרֵי כָּל צִיר, חֳלִי וָשֶׁבֶר
לָנוּ יְגַלּוּ תוֹצְאוֹת הַמֶּעִי!’

אִם כֵּן, אֲשֶׁר בִּפְקֹד רְעִי וָשֶׁתֶן
חַיֵּי אֱנוֹשׁ נִתְלוּ וּמַרְפֵּא גֶבֶר,
שֶׁתֶן, רְשָׁעִים, טַעֲמוּ וָרֶעִי!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

Hoi rof’ím, ʕad mah tekhalú ḥéled
Mi-yoshváv? Yom tirtzeḥú va-ʕérev
ʕad mah le-khól notzár yehí ka-ḥérev
Zeh ʕitkhém u-devarkhém ‘eish péled?

Lámah le-mizakéin ve-ʕád ha-yéled
Lo yitkeʕukhém ba-shetí va-ʕéirev?
‘Eikh teidʕú, mah maḥalát ha-kérev
‘Im ʕeinkhém lo taʕavór ha-géled?

‘Er’éh ve-yéish mi-kém be-kháʕas péten
ʕonéh: “Haréi kol tzir, ḥolí va-shéver
Lánu yegalú totz’ót ha-méʕi!”

‘Im kein, ‘ashér bifkód reʕí va-shéten
Ḥayéi ‘enósh nitlú u-marpéi géver,
Shéten, reshaʕím, taʕamú va-réʕi!

  1. The doctors’ prescriptions (the pen) and advice are no better than swords and fire.
  2. In Hebrew, this line is “why don’t they stick you on the weft-and-warp?”, which seems to be a reference to crucifixion. “Marauders” I added for the rhyme, and to fill out the line.
Feb 252013
 

Not dead, apparently. A canzonetta.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
The Fawn’s Clear Eyes

The fawn’s clear eyes have darkened,
And yet within the blackness
I see, passing through my heart, quick bolts of brilliance;
Her pupils both together
Have blackened, yet they’re gleaming,
Her eyes in equal measure
Grow dimmer; still they’re beaming.
All who wish to witness wonder,
Even shadows shine — at these eyes let them marvel.

יעקב פראנשיס
עיני עפרה קדרו

 
עֵינֵי עָפְרָה קָדָרוּ,
אָכֵן מִּתּוֹךְ הַחשֶׁךְ
חִצֵּי זֹהַר אֶרְאֶה, לִבִּי עָבָרוּ,
הִשְׁחִירוּ אַף צָחוּ
יַחְדָּו אִישׁוֹנֶיהָ,
חָשְׁכוּ וַיִּזְרָחוּ
גַּם יַחַד עֵינֶיהָ.
כָּל רוֹצֶה לִרְאוֹת פֶּלֶא:
גַּם אֹפֶל זַךְ — יִרְאֶה עֵינַיִם אֵלֶּה.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕeinéi ʕofráh kadáru,
‘Akhéin mi-tókh ha-ḥóshekh
Ḥitzéi zóhar ‘er’éh, libí ʕaváru,
Hishḥíru ‘af tzáḥu
Yaḥdáv ‘ishonéha,
Ḥashkhú va-yizráḥu
Gam yáḥad ʕeinéiha.
Kol rotzéh lir’ót péle:
Gam ‘ófel zakh — yir’éh ʕeináyim ‘éileh.

Feb 152013
 

Well, that’s…healthy.

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
Each Time I Recall

Each time I recall, like a fire ablaze,
The cheek of the fawn, the shrieks bitter and dread,
Each time I recall how she beat her hands, crazed,
Her lips clinging firm to the lips of the dead,

How she gnashed her teeth when good ladies agaze
With urgent hands tried then to come inbetween;
In defiance of all, with her lips’ honeyed glaze
She kissed her dear husband, and none intervene —

O’er all my desires, I then yearn overwrought
That on judgment day, in the shadow of death,
The sun of her kiss might illume this pariah;

“Draw nearer!” I’d say. And if ever I thought
I might taste her lips when I’d loosed my last breath,
I’d long for my death as if for the Messiah.

יעקב פראנשיס
עת אזכרה יום

 
עֵת אֶזְכְּרָה יוֹם כִּי כְּאֵשׁ בּוֹעֶרֶת
הָיָה לְחִי עָפְרָה וּמַר צָעָקָה;
עֵת אֶזְכְּרָה יוֹם, כַּף לְכַף דָּפָקָה;
פִּיהָ לְפִי מֵת הָיְתָה נִקְשֶׁרֶת,
 
עֵת כִּי לְהַפְרִידָהּ בְּיָד גּוֹרֶרֶת
רָצוּ בְּנוֹת הַחֵן, וְשֵׁן חָרָקָה;
נֶגֶד רְצוֹן כֹּל בַּעֲלָהּ נָשָׁקָה
עִם צוּף שְׂפָתֶיהָ, וְאֵין עוֹצֶרֶת —
 
עַל כָּל תְּשׁוּקוֹתַי אֲנִי תָאַבְתִּי
כִּי יוֹם פְּקֻדָּתִי וְיוֹם צַלְמָוֶת
שֶׁמֶשׁ נְשִׁיקָתָהּ בְּפִי יַזְרִיחַ,
 
וָאֹמְרָה: קִרְבִי! וְאִם חָשַׁבְתִּי
לִטְעֹם שְׂפָתֶיהָ בְּיוֹם הַמָּוֶת,
אוֹחִיל לְיוֹם מוֹתִי כְּמוֹ מָשִׁיחַ.
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

ʕeit ‘ezkeráh yom ki ke-‘éish boʕéret
Hayáh leḥí ʕofráh u-már tzaʕákah;
ʕeit ‘ezkeráh yom, kaf le-kháf dafákah;
Píha le-fí meit haytáh nikshéret,

ʕeit ki lehafridáh be-yád goréret
Ratzú benót ha-ḥein, ve-shéin ḥarákah;
Néged retzón kol baʕaláh nashákah
ʕim tzuf sefatéha, ve-‘éin ʕotzéret —

ʕal kol teshukotái ‘aní ta’ávti
Ki yom pekudatí ve-yóm tzalmávet
Shémesh neshikatáh be-fí yazríaḥ,

Va-‘ómrah: kirví! Ve-‘ím ḥashávti
Litʕóm sefatéha be-yóm ha-mávet,
‘Oḥíl le-yóm motí kemó mashíaḥ.

Feb 142013
 

I don’t know if it’s comforting or disturbing to learn that the “Orthodox” (forgive the slight anachronism) community, which despite my kefirah in at least several of the `ikarim is the only community in whose synagogues I don’t feel confused and adrift, has been mercilessly rejecting its more spirited and/or artistically-inclined members for generations. It’s definitely gotten worse, though. Where is the Yaakov Frances of today, the poet laureate of Lakewood who would call the rabbonim flies and skinks for rejecting everything beautiful in the world that wasn’t a challah cover or a kiddush cup? Run out of town on a rail?

Yaakov Frances (1615 – 1667)
How Could a Bramble

How could a bramble o’er cedars prevail?
How could the blind be to colors attuned?
How could a snail rise up to the moon?
How could a ship without sailors yet sail?

How could the skink after fleet lions tail?
Horned rams by lizards are gored, rammed and hewn,
Terror of flies sets the eagles aswoon,
Fish in the rivers now beat down the whale!

The empty and brazen men that I now see
Decry my poems’ blessings; their anger replete
With wormwood, they sing songs of injury!1

Venom has written this boorish elite
‘Gainst my own poetry, flowing with honey,
Lest palates be pleasured and mouths be made sweet!

יעקב פראנשיס
איך נעצוץ ירום

 
אֵיךְ נַעֲצוּץ יָרוּם עֲלֵי תִדְהָר,
אֵיךְ בֵּין צְבָעִים יִבְחֲנוּ סוּמְאִים,
אֵיךְ צִי בְלֹא חוֹבֵל בְּלֵב יַמִּים,
יָשׁוּט, וְיַעַל שַׁבְּלוּל סַהַר?
 
אֵיךְ הַלְּטָאָה כַּכְּפִיר תִּדְהָר?
חֹמֶט יְנַגֵּחַ בְּנֵי רֵימִים,
יַפִּיל עֲלֵי נֶשֶׁר זְבוּב אֵימֵים,
תִּבְעַט בְּלִוְיָתָן דְּגַת נָהָר.
 
כִּי אֶחֱזֶה כָּל רֵיק וְכָל חָצוּף
בִּרְכַּת מְלִיצָתִי בְּאַף יִזְעַם
עִם שִׁיר פְּגָעִים לַעֲנָה רָצוּף.
 
כָּתְבוּ מְרוֹרוֹת בּוֹעֲרִים בָּעָם
נֶגֶד זְמִירָתִי מְלֵאָה צוּף,
כִּי אָז לְפֶה תִמְתַּק, לְחֵךְ תִּנְעַם!
י

Transliteration/תעתיק:

‘Eikh naʕtzútz yarúm ʕaléi tidhár,
‘Eikh bein tzevaʕím yivḥanú sum’ím,
‘Eikh tzi ve-ló ḥovéil be-léiv yamím
Yashút, ve-yáʕal shablúl sáhar?

‘Eikh ha-leta’áh kakfír tidhár?
Ḥómet yenagéiaḥ benéi reimím,
Yapíl ʕaléi nésher zevúv ‘eimím,
Tivʕát be-livyatán degát nahár.

Ki ‘eḥezéh kol reikh ve-khól ḥatzúf
Birkát melitzatí be-‘áf yizʕám
ʕim shir pegaʕím laʕanáh ratzúf.

Katvú merorót boʕarím ba-ʕám
Néged zemiratí melei’áh tzuf,
Ki ‘az le-féih timták, le-ḥeikh tinʕám!

  1. An allusion to Psalm 91, also called “the song of injuries,” and read as an invocation against demons and evil spirits.