Moses Ibn Ezra

Moses Ibn Ezra
(ca. 1055 – after 1135)

SONG

Circumstance has estranged my friend.
He has bolted the door
but I will enter the portal
and knock
despite my enemies.
I will shatter locks with words.
I will break bolts with my songs
and will persuade myself
that nettles are sprigs of balsam.
I will dance and shout to their bitter juice
as if I were drunk on wine
and humble myself
and pretend that hell stream is icy
if it will get me through the darkness
into his light.

Go now, my song,
take this message to my beloved,
for song is a faithful messenger.

Carl Rakosi
After Moses ibn Ezra

From “Eight Songs and Meditations (1971-1975),”
in The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi
(Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1986).
Copyright © 1986 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted with permission
of Marilyn Kane, for the estate of Carl Rakosi, AKA Callman Rawley.

Moses Ibn Ezra
(ca. 1055 – after 1135)

Moses Ibn Ezra’s poem “Kevarim min zeman kedem”—“I Behold Ancient Graves” (a Spanish translation follows the English)—engraved on a wall in the courtyard of the Jewish museum in Toledo, Spain.
Moses Ibn Ezra’s poem “Kevarim min zeman kedem”—“I Behold Ancient Graves” (a Spanish translation follows the English)—engraved on a wall in the courtyard of the Jewish museum in Toledo, Spain.
A Selection of His Poems in English Translation
Song
The Rose
O Brook
From the “Divan”
The Journey
I Behold Ancient Graves
A Night of Grief
Graves
Meditation
Drinking Song
Dawn
Why Is My Loved One Wroth
Come Let Us Seek the Spots
Thou That Graciously Attendest
In the Night
SONG

Circumstance has estranged my friend.
He has bolted the door
but I will enter the portal
and knock
despite my enemies.
I will shatter locks with words.
I will break bolts with my songs
and will persuade myself
that nettles are sprigs of balsam.
I will dance and shout to their bitter juice
as if I were drunk on wine
and humble myself
and pretend that hell stream is icy
if it will get me through the darkness
into his light.

Go now, my song,
take this message to my beloved,
for song is a faithful messenger.

Carl Rakosi
After Moses ibn Ezra

From “Eight Songs and Meditations (1971-1975),”
in The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi
(Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1986).
Copyright © 1986 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted with permission
of Marilyn Kane, for the estate of Carl Rakosi, AKA Callman Rawley.

۞

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THE ROSE*

The garden put on a coat of many colours, and its grass garments were 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!

*Or ‘The Lily’.

Translated by T. Carmi
from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi
(Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

FROM THE “DIVAN”

My thoughts impelled me to the resting-place
Where sleep my parents, many a friend and brother.
I asked them (no one heard and none replied):
“Do ye forsake me, too, oh father, mother?”
Then from the grave, without a tongue, these cried,
And showed my own place waiting by their side.

Translated by Emma Lazarus
from Emma Lazarus, The Poems of Emma Lazarus, vol. 2
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888).
Copyright © Emma Lazarus, 1888.

Moses Ibn Ezra
(ca. 1055 – after 1135)

Moses Ibn Ezra’s poem “Kevarim min zeman kedem”—“I Behold Ancient Graves” (a Spanish translation follows the English)—engraved on a wall in the courtyard of the Jewish museum in Toledo, Spain.
Moses Ibn Ezra’s poem “Kevarim min zeman kedem”—“I Behold Ancient Graves” (a Spanish translation follows the English)—engraved on a wall in the courtyard of the Jewish museum in Toledo, Spain.
A Selection of His Poems in English Translation
Song
The Rose
O Brook
From the “Divan”
The Journey
I Behold Ancient Graves
A Night of Grief
Graves
Meditation
Drinking Song
Dawn
Why Is My Loved One Wroth
Come Let Us Seek the Spots
Thou That Graciously Attendest
In the Night
SONG

Circumstance has estranged my friend.
He has bolted the door
but I will enter the portal
and knock
despite my enemies.
I will shatter locks with words.
I will break bolts with my songs
and will persuade myself
that nettles are sprigs of balsam.
I will dance and shout to their bitter juice
as if I were drunk on wine
and humble myself
and pretend that hell stream is icy
if it will get me through the darkness
into his light.

Go now, my song,
take this message to my beloved,
for song is a faithful messenger.

Carl Rakosi
After Moses ibn Ezra

From “Eight Songs and Meditations (1971-1975),”
in The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi
(Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1986).
Copyright © 1986 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted with permission
of Marilyn Kane, for the estate of Carl Rakosi, AKA Callman Rawley.

۞

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THE ROSE*

The garden put on a coat of many colours, and its grass garments were 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!

*Or ‘The Lily’.

Translated by T. Carmi
from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi
(Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

۞

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O BROOK

O brook, whose hurrying waters go
To the far land that holds my friend,
By thee, my greeting let me send;
And if thy waves seem red as blood,
Tell him my tears have stained thy flood;
The mingled drops of eye and heart,
For exile, and for love, they flow—
Exile and love, that rend the frame
Of them who dwell from friends apart.

O brook, bespeak him tenderly;
Fill thou his heart with thought of me,
So that usurper may not claim
My place therein.
Make him to know
That for his ransom I would give
What years I yet may have to live—
Or if my life be all too little worth,
That which I hold most precious upon earth.

Translated by Solomon Solis-Cohen
from Heinrich Brody, ed., and Solomon Solis-Cohen, trans.,
Selected Poems of Moses ibn Ezra
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945).
Copyright © 1934, 1945 by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

۞

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FROM THE “DIVAN”

My thoughts impelled me to the resting-place
Where sleep my parents, many a friend and brother.
I asked them (no one heard and none replied):
“Do ye forsake me, too, oh father, mother?”
Then from the grave, without a tongue, these cried,
And showed my own place waiting by their side.

Translated by Emma Lazarus
from Emma Lazarus, The Poems of Emma Lazarus, vol. 2
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888).
Copyright © Emma Lazarus, 1888.

۞

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THE JOURNEY

Let man remember all the days of his life that he is being led to death. Stealthily he journeys on, day after day; he thinks he is at rest, like a man who is motionless on board ship, while the ship is flying on the wings of the wind.

Translated by T. Carmi
from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi
(Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

۞

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I BEHOLD ANCIENT GRAVES

I behold graves of ancient time, of days long past,
Wherein a people sleeps the eternal sleep.
There is no enmity among these folk—no envy;
No loving of neighbor and no hating;
And my thought, envisioning them, cannot discern
Master from slave!

Translated by Solomon Solis-Cohen
from Heinrich Brody, ed., and Solomon Solis-Cohen, trans.,
Selected Poems of Moses ibn Ezra
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945).
Copyright © 1934, 1945 by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

image004
Spanish translation of the
previous poem (the Hebrew is
on page 63 of the Solis-Cohen
book cited above) on a plaque
in the courtyard of the Jewish
museum in Toledo, Spain.
David Ramirez has translated
(with a couple of minor
editorial changes) the Spanish
into English in prose as follows:

“These are old tombs, from ancient times, where men sleep the eternal dream. Inside them, there is no hate or envy, nor love or enmity between neighbors. When one sees them, my mind is not capable of distinguishing slaves from lords.”

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A NIGHT OF GRIEF

Who will take revenge upon the lions* for my blood? Who will demand my sleep from the gazelles? Is there vengeance for a lover’s blood? Can he ever savour sleep? His pain will not allow it! It is as if his eyes were painted with burning embers and his pupils filled with painful briars. His eyelids cannot come together; it is as if they were tied to their brows. My night is plunged into a silent sea of darkness, where no waves rise—a sea that is to me far wider than the sea; for it has no coast, no shore for those who voyage. The moon, in his glory, moves like a shepherd, slowly grazing his lambs in broad pastures; or like a general, commissioned by the sun, to be the rearguard of his armies. And I do not know if this night is long or short how can a man who is oppressed with grief know such a thing?

*Lit. ‘the mouth of the lions’; the ‘lions’ and ‘gazelles’ are the cruel friends who deserted the poet.

Translated by T. Carmi
from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi
(Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

۞

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GRAVES

And where are the graves, so many graves
Of all who have died on the earth since the beginning?
Grave tunnelling into grave,
Headstone and obelisk crumbled into one dust,
Bodies heaped upon bodies, in motionless orgy—
All sleeping together in deep holes,
Fragments of chalk,
Stained rubies.

Translated by Robert Mezey
Copyright © Robert Mezey, 1973.
Used by permission of the author.

۞

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MEDITATION

Men are children of this world
yet God has set eternity in my heart.

All my life I have been in the desert
but the world is a fresh stream.

I drink from it. How potent this water is!
How deeply I crave it!

An ocean rushes into my throat
but my thirst remains unquenched.

Carl Rakosi
After Moses ibn Ezra

From “Eight Songs and Meditations (1971-1975),”
in The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi
(Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1986).
Copyright © 1986 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted with permission
of Marilyn Kane, for the estate of Carl Rakosi, AKA Callman Rawley.

۞

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DRINKING SONG

Bring me that sickly looking wine glass.
See, when I fill it
it becomes as ardent as a lover’s face
and chases off my beelzebubs.

Drink, my friend, and pass the beaker
so I may unburden myself
and if you see me going under
revive me with your minstrelsy.

Carl Rakosi
After Moses ibn Ezra

From “Eight Songs and Meditations (1971-1975),”
in The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi
(Orono, ME: The National Poetry Foundation/University of Maine, 1986).
Copyright © 1986 by Callman Rawley. Reprinted with permission
of Marilyn Kane, for the estate of Carl Rakosi, AKA Callman Rawley.

۞

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DAWN

I rose at dawn to praise Thy name,
My sins o’erwhelmed my soul with shame,
But comfort after penance came,
For all my hopes are set in Thee.

Thou, O Almighty, knowest all
The passions that my heart enthrall,
Thy many mercies I recall,
And to Thy throne for refuge flee.

No profit unto Thee it were
That I Thy chastening rod should bear,
Turn then, O Lord, and hear my prayer
And pardon mine iniquity.

To Thee my hopes, my longings, rise,
To Thee my soul for succour flies,
And I bewail my sins with sighs,
Like to the moaning of the sea.

Thy name puts all my cares to flight,
And radiates through my darkest night.
The thought of Thee is my delight,
And sweet as honey-comb to me.

Translated by Alice Lucas
from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year
(New York: Bloch, 1926).
Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

۞

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WHY IS MY LOVED ONE WROTH

(Ahabah)

Why is my loved One wroth—
That He should be disdainful of me,
While my heart, in its yearning for Him,
Is shaken like a reed?
He hath forgotten the time
When, joyously, I followed Him into the wilderness;
Else, how should I cry this day,
And He answer not?

Yet verily, though He slay me
Still will I trust in Him;
And if He hide His face,
I will bethink me of His tenderness, and turn thereto.
The loving-kindness of the Lord will not fail His servant
For pure gold changes not, nor dims.

Translated by Solomon Solis-Cohen
from Heinrich Brody, ed., and Solomon Solis-Cohen, trans.,
Selected Poems of Moses ibn Ezra
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945).
Copyright © 1934, 1945 by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

۞

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COME LET US SEEK THE SPOTS

(Ahabah)

Come, let us seek the spots where dwelled of old
The folk belovèd.
Fate bath scattered them,
And only ruins of their homes remain.
Where stood the shelter of the roes, behold
The lair of lions and the wolves’ terrain.

I hear afar, the cry of the gazelle
That wails in Edom’s keep, or Ismael’s chain;
She weeps for her beloved One, estranged,
The bridegroom of her youth.
Oh, may she sing
For joy, instead of grief! Oh, may her words
Find favor as aforetime:
“Me sustain
With Thy endearments, as with flagons. Bring
With sweets of love, my soul to life again!”

Translated by Solomon Solis-Cohen
from Heinrich Brody, ed., and Solomon Solis-Cohen, trans.,
Selected Poems of Moses ibn Ezra
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945).
Copyright © 1934, 1945 by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

۞

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THOU THAT GRACIOUSLY ATTENDEST

O Thou, that graciously attendest
To the voice of suppliants,
And So the sweet words of psalmody,
Bethink Thee of the trustful one
Who knocks at the gates of prayer,
And in the darkness at the dead of night
Whilst the world sleeps,
Cries: “I stand upon my ward
All the night.”

Them that were drawn with the bands of man,
With the leading strings of love,
Thou hast forgotten in the prison of their woe,
Where they dwell, like the dead, among the shadows.
Where is their Redeemer and Deliverer,
Whose loving-kindness never ceases?
Where are the signs and the wonders,
And the mighty proofs?

Of old, Thou madest Israel like a vineyard—
Wherein Thou didst plant tender vines.
Alas! Thou hast broken down his fences,
All they that pass by, hiss at him.
Thou hast strengthened the hand of his enemies,
He is shaken out and emptied.
They have stript off his branches
And heaped them up in the road.
Oh, hear the cry of Thy people
And incline unto their plea—
In their misery,
Hide not Thine eyes from their grief!
Oh, hasten their deliverance—
For Thou art their Redeemer—
And cast all their sins
Like a stone, into the depths.

Translated by Solomon Solis-Cohen
from Heinrich Brody, ed., and Solomon Solis-Cohen, trans.,
Selected Poems of Moses ibn Ezra
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945).
Copyright © 1934, 1945 by The Jewish Publication Society of America.

۞

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IN THE NIGHT

Unto the house of prayer my spirit yearns,
Unto the sources of her being turns,
To where the sacred light of heaven burns,
She struggles thitherward by day and night.

The splendor of God’s glory blinds her eyes,
Up without wings she soareth to the skies,
With silent aspiration seeks to rise,
In dusky evening and in darksome night.

To her the’ wonders of God’s works appear,
She longs with fervor Him to draw anear,
The tidings of His glory reach her ear,
From morn to even, and from night to night.

The banner of thy grace did o’er me rest,
Yet was thy worship banished from my breast.
Almighty, thou didst seek me out and test
To try and to instruct me in the night.

I dare not idly on my pillow lie,
With winged feet to the shrine I fain would fly,
When chained by leaden slumbers heavily,
Men rest in imaged shadows, dreams of night.

Infatuate I trifled youth away,
In nothingness dreamed through my manhood’s day.
Therefore my streaming tears I may not stay,
They are my meat and drink by day and night.

In flesh imprisoned is the son of light,
This life is but a bridge when seen aright.
Rise in the silent hour and pray with might,
Awake and call upon thy God by night!

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