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The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse: I have just picked out my favourites
Pinturicchio
voodooqueen126

Heaven and Earth

I survey the heavens and the stars; I look at the earth with its creeping creatures; and I understand in my heart that they were all intricately fashioned. Look up at the sky—like a tent, whose clasps are joined to it by loops; the moon and its starts – like a shepherdess grazing her flock in a pasture; the moon among the sweeping clouds—like a ship sailing with raised pennants; a cloud –like a girl walking through a garden, watering the myrtles; a cloud of dew—like a maiden shaking the drops from her hair onto the ground. But the earth’s inhabitants are like an army pitching its tents for a night, looting the local granaries. And all flee before the terror of death—like a dove chased by a hawk. All are doomed to be like an earthenware plate which has been smashed to bits.

By Samuel Hanagid (993-1056){C} (Carmi 1981, 295){C}

Take Heart

In times of sorrow, take heart, even though you stand at death’s door: the candle flares up before it dies, and wounded lions roar.

By Samuel Hanagid (993-1056){C} (Carmi 1981, 296){C}

Winter Wine Song

Av has died and Elul has died, and so has their warmth. Tishri, too, has died and been gathered to them. The cold days have com, the must has grown red and is now silent in its barrel. Therefore, my friend, go find companions—and let each man fulfil his own desires! They said: ‘Behold the clouds pouring down, listen to the heavens thundering. See the frost and the tongues of fire: one falls down as the others rise and swirl. Arise drink from the cup, and then again out of the jug; drink night and day!’{C} (Carmi 1981, 296-297){C}

The Jasmine

Look at the jasmine, whose branches, leaves, and stems are green as chrysolite, whose flowers are white as rock crystal, whose tendrils are red as carnelian-like a white-faced youth whose hands are shedding the blood of innocent men.

By Samuel Hanagid (993-1056){C} (Carmi 1981, 297){C}

The Beautiful Boy

I would lay down my life for that gazelle (even though he betrayed me, my heart still keeps his love) who said to the rising moon: ‘You see my radiant face, and yet you dare to show yourself?’ And in the dark the moon looked like an emerald in the palm of a black girl.

Samuel Hanagid (993-1056){C} (Carmi 1981, 298){C}

The Narcissus

Lovely and fair, like blended perfumes and choicest spices; like richly coloured jugs; or like a bowl of gold in a bowl of silver: the one is like snow, and the other is like saffron and is encircled by six petals, as the Sabbath is by the week-days.

By Abraham Hakohen (fl early eleventh century) {C}(Carmi 1981, 304){C}

The Poet’s Illness

‘Your showers of tears, like a torrent, have made the plains rise like mountain ranges. Why not celebrate the grapevine, hy not sing the praises of wine, which could pursue your sorrows and make them flee as Jeroboam son of Nebat fled to Egypt?’

I answered him: ‘Yes, the heart forgets its trouble and rejoices in wine as does a man in riches. But disease has consumed my flesh and set the shreds of my body ablaze like brushwood.

[I have grown so thin] that a nose-ring could serve me as a crown and a ringlet as an ankle-band. Sickness burned my innards with fever like fire, till thought my bones would melt. Sores infested my innards and carried out Time’s orders faithfully. Bones that are filled with suffering –how should they not disintegrate? I rage against the disease that has wasted away my body. [It has made me so weak]  that a myrtle looks to me like an oak. And I rage agains the night that spreads out its tents of gloom.

Then when I asked: ‘How is the East robed?’, they answered: ‘Covered with blue and dawning light.’ And at last, when the dawn lifted its flags and raised its morning stars like banners, my innards were soothed, for they were filled with dew, and drops of water flowed upon me.

By Solomon Ibn Gabirol (c1021-c1058){C} (Carmi 1981, 307-308){C}

Earth’s Embroidery

With the ink of its showers and rians, with the quill of its lightning, with the hands of its clouds, winter wrote a letter upon the garden, in purple and blue. No artist could ever conceive the like of that. And this is why the earth, grown jealous of the sky, embroidered stars in the folds of the flower-beds.

By Solomon Ibn Gabirol (c1021-c1058) {C}(Carmi 1981, 310){C}

Tempest at Dawn

The heavy clouds of heaven lowed like oxen, for the winter was scowling with rage. They were like ship-masts driven on by a tempest, like captains sounding their horns in alarm. Then the face of heaven was darkened by fog, and the morning-stars stammered out their light. The sun bore the clouds on its wings over the earth, and when they burst open. How still they stood, how heavily they faced the earth, where once they were swift and flew like eagles! The wind beat the plates of rain, cut the cloud into strips which reached down to the abyss. The cloud and its battalions levelled the earth’s ridges, prepared its furrows for sowing. Then the harvest of the hills, hidden away, like a secret known to one man but not disclosed to the many, was revealed. All winter long its clouds wept until the trees of the filed, which had been dead, lived again.

By Solomon Ibn Gabirol (c1021-c1058){C} (Carmi 1981, 310-311){C}

The Fleas

And the fleas charge like war-horses; they swoop down like birds to devour my skin. They caper around me like he-goats, and rouse me out of sleep. I have become weary of killing both young and old to rout them; yet they know no fear. They are stout-hearted like warriors in battle who pluck up their courage when their comrades fall. Though they are a bit lazy during the day, when night comes they are as nimble as thieves. Day after day I loath them, and my hands are sick of killing them; but their bites have covered my flesh with sores that blossom like pomegranates. O god, wipe them out, for I am in anguish and cannot sleep—while they exult.

By Joseph ibn Sahl(died c 1123). {C}(Carmi 1981, 322){C}

The Rose/or The Lily

The garden put on a coat of many colours, and its grass garments like robes of brocade. All the trees dressed in chequered  tunics, and showed their wonders to every eye. The new blossoms all came forth in honour of Time renewed, came gaily to welcome him. But at their head advanced the rose, king of them all, for his throne was set on high. He came out from among the guard of leaves and cast aside his prison-clothes. Whoever does not drink his wine upon the rose-bed- that man will surely bear his guilt!

By Moses ibn Ezra (c1055-after 1135){C} (Carmi 1981, 323){C}

Wine Song For Spring

The cold season has slipped away like a shadow. Its rains are already gone, its chariots and its horsemen. Now the sun, in its ordained circuit, is at the sign of the Ram, like a king reclining on his couch. The hills have put on turbans of flowers, and the plain has robed itself in tunics of grass and herbs; it greets our nostrils with the incense hidden in its bosom all winter long.

Give me the cup that will enthrone my joy and banish sorrow from my heart. The wine is hot anger; temper its fierce fire with my tears. Beware of Fortune: her favours are like the venom of serpents, spiced with honey. But let your soul deceive itself and accept her goodness in the morning, even though you know that she will be treacherous at night.

Drink all day long, until the day wanes and the sun coats its silver with gold; and all night long, until the night flees like a Moor, while the hand of dawn grips its heel.

By Moses ibn Ezra (c1055-after 1135){C} (Carmi 1981, 323-324){C}

The Apple

Truly God created the apple only to delight those who smell and fondle it. Seeing how green and red are joined in it, I imagine it to be the faces of the wan lover and the blushing beloved. By Moses ibn Ezra (c1055-after 1135) {C}(Carmi 1981, 326){C}

To The Minstrel

Play for me, minstrel, for you vanquish my thoughts of grief and sorrow, and they disappear like a shadow. Your lute is like a leg joined to a hip, without a thigh to divide them. My heart leaps out to the lute’s strings—now some of them are in motion and some are at rest. I marvel at the grace of the plectrums which roam the lute and, keeping time, pounce upon the strings, then set them free. The melody and the gestures accord in measure and in number and have been established by veritable proof; they are the joy of desolate souls and they hover over the afflicted to shield them from torment. Now the doors of darkness are closed, and the heavenly dwellings open before the initiates. They ascend, without stairs, to the realm of souls, an cross the rivers of delight. Their thoughts become so pure that people almost say: the spirit of the Lord’s angels is resting upon them. The wretched rejoice with those who play the lute and pipe, finding relief from their tears. And only my pain persists: for my father’s sons who have perished and for my friends who have gone away.

By Moses ibn Ezra (c1055-after 1135){C} (Carmi 1981, 329){C}

The Ideal Woman

A mouth as round as a signet-ring, fit for a royal hand to seal with; teeth that are like crystals, or like pellets of hail as they fall to earth; also, a neck like the neck of a gazelle when it thirsts and lifts up its eyes to heaven; breasts like apples of henna, studded at their tips with a bit of myrrh; a belly like white dough or like a heap of wheat; a navel in her belly like a cistern, as though she were an empty well; very narrow hips, like the hips of a bee as it flits through the vineyard; legs like pillars, on which the thighs can rest, as well as ample buttocks; hands and feet that are both small and fresh, the feet like those of a young girl; wholly beautiful from head to foot, flawless, perfect; a woman resourceful and intelligent, whose equal cannot be found in the whole world; who during intercourse… on her bed; wise in the ways of the household; whose beauty and good sense are unrivalled; unique in the world—whoever falls in love with such a woman, how can he ever fall asleep at night?

By Anonymous.{C} (Carmi 1981, 360-361){C}

The Lightning

And the lightning laughs at the clouds, like a warrior who runs without growing weary or faint. Or like a night watchman who dozes off, then opens one eye for an instant, and shuts it.

By Judah Al-Ḥarizi (1165-1225)

The Sun

Look: the sun has spread its wings over the earth dispel the darkness. Like a great tree, with its roots in heaven, and its branches reaching down to the earth.

By Judah Al-Ḥarizi (1165-1225)

The Lute

Look: the lute sounds in the girl’s arms, delighting the heart with its beautiful voice. Like a baby crying in his mother’s arms, while she sings and laughs as he cries.

By Judah Al-Ḥarizi (1165-1225)

{C}(Carmi 1981, 389){C}

The Fate of the Adulterer

I shall now lament my desires, the silenced beat of my drum. Friends, my own sins deprived me of favours, so great were my offences. My merry harp was turned to mourning and my flute to the sound of weeping and lament, when my desire died and my passion vanished, when the gracious gifts of love came to an end.

The day was far gone, the shadows had fled, no wind stirred in the gardens. And my heart was filled with a sudden dread of death—what hope is there for an ass like me? Oh, my passion will set fire to the earth’s foundations, clouds will hover above my grave. And if I should die while still young, my complaints will accompany me down into Sheol.

In days gone by I was a hunter, hot in pursuit of desires. In all the provinces, [my lust] was likened to [the fires of] hell. But all those loves that had no virtue to them have now turned against me and fearfully disfigured me. The dust of my grave will be sent to foreign merchants, to be blended in cosmetics for pleasure-loving girls. From the boards of my coffin [they will concoct powders] for barren women, to have them bring forth sons and daughters. Of my maggots they will compound ointments for stammerers and mutes, to make them speak sevent tongues. My hair will serve as strings in musical instruments, which will then play sweetly without a player. My sash will be made into a loincloth for the adulterer, to put a stop to his fornicating and whoring. And all my belongings will be declared holy relics, and my clothes will be treasured as keepsakes. Oh, who will grind my bones as fine as dust before they are turned into icons?

May my words endow the fool with wisdom, and the young and wise with understanding!

By Isaac Hagorni (fl. Late thirteenth century) {C}(Carmi 1981, 397-399){C}

Spring Song

Winter is gone, gone is my sorrow. The fruit-tree is in flower, and my heart flowers with joy.

The spikenards as one, give forth their scent; the orchard of rare fruit is in full blossom. The hearts of friends are  filled with merriment. O hunted gazelle who escaped far from my hut, come back, come drink my mulled wine and my milk!

Sorrows fled the day the flower-beds revived, fenced in by myrtles, braided with embroideries. Swiftly, then, all cares took flight. I am surrounded by coffers full of perfumes, dripping liquid myrrh. The boughs of the nut-tree trail low along my couch.

Trees of delight sway among the shadows: cassia on the left, aloes on the right. With an emerald-coloured cup, ringed [with gold], and garnet coloured wine, mixed with dew, I shall forget the misery and grief hidden in my heart.

What made my beloved, who used to graze between my fawn [-like breasts], leave and take to the woods? Come to the arms of your dearest, who sings of her longing for you. O, my fair love, light the western lamp for me. In you towering cherub, my flame will burn anew.

By Nahum (? late thirteenth century){C}(Carmi 1981, 420-421){C}

Bibliography

{C}Carmi, T., ed. 1981. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse. London: Penguin Books.

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