Yehudah Halevi

Yehudah Halevi


Yehudah Halevi
(ca. 1075–1141)


Beautiful heights, city of a great King,
From the western coast my desire burns towards thee.
Pity and tenderness burst in me, remembering
Thy former glories, thy temple now broken stones.
I wish I could fly to thee on the wings of an eagle
And mingle my tears with thy dust.
I have sought thee, love, though the King is not there
And instead of Gilead’s balm, snakes and scorpions.
Let me fall on thy broken stones and tenderly kiss them—
The taste of thy dust will be sweeter than honey to me.

After Halevi
Robert Mezey
from Robert Mezey, Collected Poems
(Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000).
Copyright © Robert Mezey, 2000. Used by permission of the publisher.


I can’t stop crying.
My eyes are like peddler women.
What they buy is: you are gone.
What they sell is: tears,
And business is good:
Enough tears for a jeweled necklace.

I am weeping here in the ruins
Where lovers used to live.
I can’t hear a thing.
I can’t say a word.
Wasn’t it enough for you
To break our home when you left?
Why did you break my heart?

The place doesn’t even look the same.
I don’t even recognize it.
Only my heart tells me if I am in the right place;
My eyes deny it.

Good luck on your journey.
You take with you the tears that I gave you
And my sleep that you stole.

I could forget my lover
Were it not for the stars
Which remind me.

The moon is conspiring against the sun, her king.
She thinks he has gone traveling in the Western Sea
And drowned.
Unsheathing her swords of lightning
She strikes the earth’s back with her staffs of fire.
The lightning bolts dance,
Swirl their golden skirts and sway.
The earth joins battle in its armor of darkness;
The stars hurl their javelins of light.
The moon flees and grows dim,
But now she stands on the face of the sky
Like a golden brooch on a cloak,
Her face red with the dust of battle
Like the face of a queen leading her armies.

I am a shepherd. My flock is the stars;
I herd them, leading them home.
They move as slowly as if they were sick or lame.

I weep for the Twins, who are always apart.
I am jealous of the Pleiades, who are together for eternity.
Does Orion reach out his hand to touch his neighbor?
Or to measure the distance between the spheres?

Where is the sun? Has its chariot broken a wheel?
Has the road it travels been cut off?
The gates of the East—are they locked?

When will ebony turn to pearls?
When will this black veil be lifted and the white cheek revealed?
I hate this night.
The moon looks to me
Like a scab on the skin of an African.

When I see the first tongues of fire, I shall rejoice.

A night like an African.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin?”
A sky like a leopard,
Spotted with stars.
Dark forevermore.
I give up. My eyes will never see the warm sun. Too late.

A breeze is stealing between the trees,
Whispering to the willows a rumor of a secret love.
The birds are twittering.
Far away, a pigeon-dove murmurs a poem. As the night folds her wings,
A light rain of beauty is falling,
Raining down the dew of love like manna.
There is a fragrance like incense or myrrh.
Has Solomon sent me a poem, perfumed, wrapped to a pigeon-dove’s leg?
From the poem’s lines of black letters, greetings break forth like the dawn,
Light amid the grey morning,
Letters ink-black as night, but words bright as the dawn,
Like a girl who hides her cheeks behind her dark hair.
A poem not just perfumed but mined from the hills of perfume!
“Comely am I and black,”
Pitch-black letters like the black tents of Kedar
On paper like the white tents of Solomon.

Marvels never seen: letters carved from fiery rock.
Shall these pages contain the flame of his words
Or will they feed the fire? When did fire not conquer straw?
These words are locked now within my heart,
Engraved there letter for letter
Placed there forever.
His poem is like a tapestry woven by the hands of thought,
Framed with beauty,
Worn like a crown.
His poem is like a song of jeweled fruit,
A song, a poem for the reader to taste.
My tongue shall sing it on a glass of wine.

Here, for you, are the fruits of my poetry
Ripe after months of waiting.
But for my love you need never wait.

A poem from your friend,
Whose fame has waited
Until after his best days.
Now he is so well known
That what he does not write
May be an oral tradition.

He follows generous friends
And seeks out their company.
He is never far away.
If they are a hand, he is their thumb.

Men sleep until the dawn awakes them,
But his soul is awake and his heart wakes the dawn,
To seek the love of his friend,
Pure love, inside and out.

Take from my clumsy lips these golden words of poetry;
Place them around your neck.
Wear them like a bracelet.
For they are daughters of love, mined from the hill of love,
Given to you for your love like a dowry.

The morning breeze warms the face of every lover,
But to me it shall always say: All is well with Solomon. Shalom.

Translated by Joseph Davis
Copyright © 2006 Joseph Davis.
Used by permission of the author.