Yehuda HaLevi: Supplication for Yom Kippur (From Medieval Hebrew)

With Yom Kippur less than a month away, this baqasha (Supplicatory Prayer) seems a timely addition to this blog's medieval Hebrew collection. To render this and some other Andalusi Hebrew poems, I finally decided on a principle of assonance and accentual meter, similar to the methods I've used to translate Classical Arabic and, occasionally, Persian poetry. The kinship of Islamicate literatures seemed to justify it. 

Supplication for Yom Kippur
By Yehuda HaLevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Michael Leibowitz (Thank You For Your Support)
Click to hear me recite the original in medieval Andalusi Hebrew

O Lord, here before You is all my desire,1
    Whether or not it escapes my lips.    
I would seek Your favor, a moment, then die
    If only You would grant my wish.
I’d commit my spirit into Your hands,2
    And sleep. Such a sleep would delight.
Afar from You - in life I am dead,
    But when I cleave close - in death I'm alive.3
In faith I know not how I might draw near You,
    What worship to give, what words to try.
Instruct me, Lord, in Your ways. With guidance
    Deliver me from the dungeon of lies.
While yet I have strength to bear affliction
    Teach me and do not despise my plight,
Before I become to myself but a burden,
    And what little I am weighs me down with time,
Before I must yield against my own will
    And collapse as my cankered bones expire,
And come to the place my forefathers came to
    And there by their place of rest find mine.
For across the face of this earth I am foreign,
    While deep in her womb my true home lies.
My youth till now has done what it wanted.
    When shall I provide for me and mine? 
The world of pleasures He placed in my heart
    Has kept me from keeping my end in mind.
How can I serve my Creator, while captive
    To nature’s lust, and servant to desire?
When I know the rank worm will soon be my sister,4
    How can I aspire to a rank on high? 
And how can my heart rise merry today
    Knowing not if a merry morrow will rise?
Night upon night, and day upon day
    Have pledged to consume this flesh of mine.
They will scatter me half to spiriting wind
    And return me half to dust for all time.
What more can I say? I’ve been hunted from boyhood
    Through withering age by my enemy desire. 
What is Time to me but Your will and favor?
    And if not with You, then what am I?
Here I stand stripped naked of any virtue,
    My only covering Your justice and kindness.
So what use this speaking? Why plead or aspire? 
    O Lord, here before You is all my desire.


1- c.f. Psalms 38:10 Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my sighing is not hid from Thee.
2- c.f. Psalms 31:6 Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, Thou God of truth.
3- c.f. Berakhoth 18a-b, where the wicked are called dead while living, and the virtuous called living while dead.
4. c.f. Job 17:14 If I have said to corruption: 'Thou art my father', to the worm: 'Thou art my mother, and my sister'

The Original:

אֲדֹנָי! נֶגְדְּךָ כָל‑ תַּאֲוָתִי,   וְאִם לֹא אַעֲלֶנָּה עַל שְׂפָתִי.
רְצוֹנְךָ אֶשְׁאֲלָה רֶגַע ‑ וְאֶגְוָע,   וּמִי יִתֵּן וְתָבוֹא שֱׁאֶלָתִי,
וְאַפְקִיד אֶת‑ שְׁאָר רוּחִי בְּיָדְךָ   וְיָשַׁנְתִּי וְעָרְבָה לי שְׁנָתִי!
בְּרָחְקִי מִמְּךָ – מוֹתִי בְחַיָּי,   וְאִם אֶדְבַּק בְּךָ – חַיַּי בְּמוֹתִי,
אֲבָל לֹא אֵדְעָה בַּמֶה אֲקַדֵּם,   וּמַה תִּהְיֶה עֲבֹדתִי וְדָתִי.
דְּרָכֶיךָ, אֲדֹנָי, לַמְּדֵנִי,   וְשׁוּב מִמַּאֲסַר סִכְלוּת שְׁבוּתִי,
וְהוֹרֵנִי בְעוֹד יֶשׁ‑ בִּי יְכֹלֶת   לְהִתְעַנּוֹת, וְאַל תִּבְזֶה עֱנוּתִי,
בְּטֶרֶם יוֹם אֱהִי עָלַי לְמַשָּׂא,   וְיוֹם יִכְבַּד קְצָתִי עַל קְצָתִי,
וְאִכָּנַע בְּעַל כָּרְחִי, וְיֹאכַל   עֲצָמַי עָשׁ וְנִלְאוֹ מִשְּׂאֵתִי,
וְאֶסַּע אֶל מְקוֹם נָסְעוּ אֲבוֹתָי,   וּבִמְקוֹם תַּחֲנוֹתָם תַּחֲנוֹתִי.
כְּגֵר תּוֹשָׁב אֲנִי עַל גַּב אֲדָמָה,   וְאוּלָם כִּי בְּבִטְנָהּ נַחֲלָתִי.
נְעוּרַי עַד הֲלֹם עָשׂוּ לְנַפְשָׁם,   וּמָתַי גַּם אֲנִי אֶעֱשֶׂה לְבֵיתִי?
וְהָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בְּלִבִּי   מְנָעַנִי לְבַקֵּשׁ אַחֲרִיתִי!
וְאֵיכָה אֶעֱבֹד יוֹצְרִי – בְּעוֹדִי   אֲסִיר יִצְרִי וְעֶבֶד תַּאֲוָתִי?
וְאֵיכָה מַעֲלָה רָמָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ –   וּמָחָר תִּהְיֶה רִמָּה אֲחוֹתִי!
וְאֵיךְ יִיטַב בְּיוֹם טוֹבָה לְבָבִי,   וְלֹא אֵדַע – הֲיִיטַב מָחֳרָתִי?
וְהַיָּמִים וְהַלֵּילוֹת עֲרֵבִים   לְכַלּוֹת אֶת­‑ שְׁאֵרִי עַד כְּלוֹתִי.
וְלָרוּחַ יְזָרוּן מַחֲצִיתִי,   וּלֶעָפָר יְשִׁיבוּן מַחֲצִיתִי.
וּמַה אֹמַר – וְיִצְרִי יִרְדְּפֵנִי   כְּאוֹיֵב מִנְּעוּרַי עַד בְּלוֹתִי?
וּמַה לִּי בַּזְמָן – אִם לֹא רְצוֹנְךָ?   וְאִם אֵינְךָ מְנָתִי ‑ מַה מְנָתִי?
אֲנִי מִמַּעֲשִׂים שׁוֹלָל וְעָרוֹם   וְצִדְקָתְךָ לְבַדָּהּ הִיא כְסוּתִי –
וְעוֹד מָה אַאֲרִיךְ לָשׁוֹן וְאֶשְׁאַל!   אֲדֹנָי, נֶגְדְּךָ כָל‑ תַּאֲוָתִי!

Yehuda HaLevi: My Heart is in the East (From Medieval Hebrew)

This poem, the first from the poet's cycle מכבל ערב mikkevel ˁarav "Out of Arabian Bonds", is one of his most famous today because, as one of his poems of yearning to return to the Land of Israel, it has warmed the cockles of many a modern Zionist's heart, and is even taught to Israeli highschool students today. Indeed, Yehuda HaLevi (in a questionable retroactive projection of modern political identity) is often touted as "the first Zionist," sometimes even by scholars who really should know better.

My Heart Is In The East
By Yehuda HaLevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in a reconstruction of medieval Andalusi Hebrew pronunciation

My heart is in the east, and the rest of me at the edge of the west.
How can I taste the food I eat? How can it give me pleasure? 
How can I keep my promise now, or fulfill the vows I've made
While Zion remains in the Cross's reign1, and I in Arab chains? 
With pleasure I would leave behind all the good things of grand Spain,
If only I could gaze on the dust of our ruined Holy Place.


1- The poet had made a vow to leave Spain behind and journey to Jerusalem, which was at the time held by the Crusaders. The Crusaders, when they took the city of Jerusalem in 1099, had forbidden Jews to reside there.

The Original:

לבי במזרח
יהודה הלוי

לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.

Samuel HaNagid: In Your Time of Grief (From Medieval Hebrew)

In Your Time Of Grief
By Samuel HaNagid
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in reconstructed medieval Andalusi Hebrew pronunciation

In your time of grief, hold up your heart,
Even if you stand at slaughter's doors. 
The candle, before flickering out, flares up,
And the lion with a stab-wound roars.

The Original:

בְּעִתּוֹת עָצְבְּךָ חַזֵּק לְבָבָךְ,
וְאִם תַּעְמֹד עֲלֵי שַׁעַר הֲרֵגָה:
לְנֵר – מָאוֹר בְּטֶרֶם הַדְּעִיכָה,
וְלִכְפִירִים מְדֻקָּרִים – שְׁאָגָה.

Catullus: Poem 85 (From Latin)

Poem 85
By Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I loathe and love. You probably want to know why I do.
I do not know. But I do feel. I'm being cut in two. 

The Original:
Click here to download the Latin text with macrons

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Horace: Ode 3.30 (From Latin)

Ode 3.30: My Monument
By Horace
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

A monument outlasting bronze I've raised,
Whose heights no dynast's pyramid can exceed,
Which neither North Wind's bluster nor the rains'
Gnawing, nor countless years in slow stampede,
Nor flight of eras can level to the ground.
I'll not all die. Much of me will thrive long

Past Queen Funeria's reach. I in renown 
Of latter days shall grow ever fresh and young.
While yet the pontiff with the quiet virgin
Ascends to the Temple of Jove on that great hill,
I, born where the Aufidus river in violence surges
And droughted Daunus ruled a wild people, will 
Be named: the mighty leader from low birth
Who first led Greek song to Italic measure.
Now, Muse, take on the pridefulness I've earned,
And lay the laureate's wreathe on me with pleasure.

The Original:

Carmen XXX, Liber III
Quintus Horatius Flaccus

Exegi monumentum aere perennius
regalique situ pyramidum altius
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum.
non omnis moriar. Multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam. Usque ego postera
crescam laude recens. Dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex;
Dicar, qua violens obstrepit Aufidus
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnavit populorum, ex humili potens
princeps Aeolium, carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. Sume superbiam
quaestam meritis et mihi Delphica
lauro cinge volens, Melpomene, comam.

Yehuda Amichai: My Father (From Hebrew)

This is a poem whose full scope I did not appreciate until recently. 

Every generation that goes to war hopes that the next will not have to do likewise. The hope is often misplaced, as when The War to End All Wars proved to be no such thing in the face of its even more deadly and infinitely more tragic sequel. 
Yehuda Amichai's father, with whom this poem begins, served in WWI on the side of the Germans. Later Amichai himself volunteered and fought in WWII in the British army as a member of the Jewish Brigade, and then as a commando in the Negev Brigade during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, on which note the poem abruptly ends.
In the case of the father fighting for the Germans, the war is rightly described as "theirs." Yet for Amichai, the wars are understood as being very much his own, fighting as a Jew for his people. (The year after this poem was published, Amichai would serve yet again in the Sinai War, and again after that two decades later in the Yom Kippur War.)
The poem is understatedly tragic, as many of Amichai's poems are. The father had hoped to give his son wisdom, the understanding that all human beings are in some sense to be loved - a love which his son was to experience by seeing through his father's gaze. Yet the son cannot afford to accept that wisdom and vision. Like the leftovers of mother's cake in the father's knapsack, such understanding can no longer give sustenance. There is no place for universal love now, as he goes off to fight for his people. 
In the logic of the poem, though, the son will not be able to develop an understanding like that of his father in the wars he goes to. His father could only do so because he fought in someone else's (their) war, a war in which he could afford to see enemy combatants in a detached way. The son, now fighting a war of his own, will be forced to have a different perspective. As the people on whose side the father fought saw the war as their own and thus could not achieve the perspective the father did, so the son now in a war for his own people will presumably not be able to develop such a wisdom. He will also not be able to impart it to his own children. The wisdom and worldview of his forbears are dead, collateral damage in the cause of a people's nationhood. 
My translation is a function of this reading. This reading, in turn, is my own, and a function of my own perspective. Whether I am merely a tendentious fabulator, or am picking up on undercurrents of Amichai (not restricted to this poem) that many readers have not wanted to see, is really up to you to decide. In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I will say that the words "like them" in the final line are my addition.

My Father
By Yehuda Amichai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

Four years my father fought that war of theirs,
And did not love or hate his enemies.
But I know he was forming me, even there,
Day by day, out of his tranquilities,

The precious few tranquilities he gleaned
Between the smoke and bombs for a child's sake
And put them in the knapsack tattered at the seams,
With leftovers of mother's hardening cake.

He gathered with his eyes the nameless dead.
The numerous dead he gathered so I'd know
And love them, seeing them as he saw, instead 

Of dying, as they died, in gore and terror.
He filled his eyes with them. He was in error.
Onward like them to all my wars I go. 

The Original: 


אבי היה ארבע שנים במלחמתם
ולא שנא אויביו ולא אהב.
אבל אני יודע, כי כבר שם
בנה אותי יום-יום משלוותיו

המעטות כל-כך, אשר לקט
אותן בין פצצות ובין עשן,
ושם אותן בתרמילו הממורטט
עם שארית עוגת-אימו המתקשה.

ובעיניו אסף מתים בלי שם
מתים רבים אסף למעני
שאכירם במבטיו ואוהבם.

ולא אמות כמוהם בזוועה…
הוא מילא עיניו בהם והוא טעה:
אל כל מלחמותיי יוצא אני.

Catullus: Poem 46 (From Latin)

Poem 46: Springrise
By Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Now spring retrieves the warm heart of the year,
as equinoctial blusters of the heavens
are hushed at last in Zephyr's tender breezes.
Catullus, time to leave the plains of Troy
and the rich lands of sweltering Nicaea:
Off now, to the famed cities of the Agaean!
The mind is fluttering with wanderlust, 
These eager feet cannot stay still, and dance.
So now it is farewell to dear companions
who from a faraway home set out together,
whom several roads now separately return. 

The Original:

Carmen 46

Iam ver egelidos refert tepores,
iam caeli furor aequinoctialis
iucundis Zephyri silescit aureis.
Linquantur Phrygii, Catulle, campi
nicaeaeque ager uber aestuosae:
ad claras asiae volemus urbes.
Iam mens praetrepidans avet vagari,
iam laeti studio pedes vigescunt.
O dulces comitum valete coetus,
longe quos simul a domo profectos
diversae varie viae reportant.

Garcilaso de la Vega: "While there is yet the color of the rose" (From Spanish)

The donor who requested this poem also requested that I make my audio recording of the original Spanish using a reconstruction of the pronunciation Garcilaso himself would have used (similar to my reading of this sonnet by Ronsard in Renaissance French.) This I have done. More information about this pronunciation follows the text.

Sonnet XXIII
By Garcilaso de la Vega
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Enrique Flores

While there is yet the color of the rose
And of the lily in your countenance,
And while the burning candor of your glance 
Can fire the heart and yet constrain its throes;

And while yet that soft hair of yours which flows
From a gold vein, in a disheveled dance
Is tangled by wind's sudden dalliance
As round that lovely proud white neck it blows,     

Gather the harvest from your joyous spring
Of sweetest fruit before Time comes in rage
Of snow to cover that fair peak at last.

The rose will wither in the wind's chill blast.
So changing everything comes flighty Age    
Never to change its way for anything.
Soneto XXIII
Garcilaso de la Vega
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

En tanto que de rosa y de açucena
se muestra la color en vuestro gesto
y que vuestro mirar ardiente honesto
enciende el coraçon y lo refrena,

Y en tanto que el cabello que en la vena
del oro se escogio con buelo presto
por el hermoso cuello blanco enhiesto
el viento mueue esparze y desordena

Coged de vuestra alegre primauera
el dulce fruto antes que el tiempo ayrado
cubra de nieue la hermosa cumbre

Marchitara la rosa el viento elado
todo lo mudara la edad ligera
por no hazer mudança en su costumbre

The pronunciation I use in my recording is a very conservative one, differing in only one respect from the phonology reconstructed for Medieval Spanish. Though such a pronunciation underlies Antonio de Nebrija's Gramática de la Lengua Castellana (published in 1492, having incidentally the distinction of being the first grammatical description of a Romance language), it would probably not have been typical for the majority of Spanish speakers in Garcilaso's time. It is, however, the type of speech the old Toledo upper class of Garcilaso's time would have favored, as can be deduced from e.g. Juan de Valdés' Diálogo de la Lengua (1535) in which the author gives much information about the cultured Toledan accent which he praises, and about other accents whose deviations from the former he disparages.
It follows that Garcilaso, a privilege-born upper crust Toledan courtier who was on speaking terms with the king himself, would have spoken in this fashion, at the very least for elevated linguistic performance such as the reading of poetry. This is all the more likely since his poetic project involved the elevation of the Castillian language in imitation of Italian and classical Greco-Roman models, at some remove from the popular lyric tradition. Of course it is anyone's guess whether he also used this pronunciation to cuss when he stubbed his toe.
This pronunciation was to fall out of fashion among the cultured elite in less than a century, owing in no small part to the fact that Philip II was to move the court, and therefore the center of linguistic prestige, from Toledo to the more phonologically innovative Madrid.

Borges: Texas (From Spanish)

By Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

And so it is here too. Here too, as at
the Americas' other edge: the measureless
plain where a cry dies unattended. Yes,
here too, the Indian, mustang, lariat.

Here too the secret bird that ever yet
over the clamorings of history
sings for an evening and its memory;
here too the stars with mystic alphabet

that dictate to my writing hand below
such names, today, as the unceasing maze 
of days and turning days does not displace,

as San Jacinto and the Alamo,
and such Thermopylaes. Here, too, is rife
with that brief unknown anxious thing called life.    
Jorge Luis Borges

Aquí también. Aquí, como en el otro
confín del continente, el infinito
campo en que muere solitario el grito;
aquí también el indio, el lazo, el potro.

Aquí también el pájaro secreto
que sobre los fragores de la historia
canta para una tarde y su memoria;
aquí también el místico alfabeto

de los astros, que hoy dictan a mi cálamo
nombres que el incesante laberinto
de los días no arrastra: San Jacinto

y esas otras Termópilas, el Álamo.
Aquí también esa desconocida
y ansiosa y breve cosa que es la vida.

Borges: Ewigkeit (From Spanish)

Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Let Spanish verse turn on my tongue, affirm
Once more in me what it has always said
Since Seneca in Latin: that true dread
Sentence that all is fodder for the worm.
Let it turn back with song to hail pale ash,
The calends of death, and the victory
Of that word-ruler queen whose footfalls smash       
The banners of our empty vanity.

Not that. I'll cravenly deny not one

Thing that has blessed my clay. I know of all
Things, one does not exist: oblivion.
That in eternity beyond recall 
The precious things I've lost stay burning on:
That forge, that risen moon, that evening-fall.

Jorge Luis Borges
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

Torne en mi boca el verso castellano
a decir lo que siempre está diciendo
desde el latín de Séneca: el horrendo
dictamen de que todo es del gusano.
Torne a cantar la pálida ceniza,
los fastos de la muerte y la victoria
de esa reina retórica que pisa
los estandartes de la vanagloria.

No así. Lo que mi barro ha bendecido
no lo voy a negar como un cobarde.
Sé que una cosa no hay. Es el olvido;
sé que en la eternidad perdura y arde
lo mucho y lo precioso que he perdido:
esa fragua, esa luna y esa tarde.
*"Ewigkeit" is German for "Eternity."

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