Friday, June 24, 2005

It's too darned hot!

It's 96 and rising, here in Chicago, and dry as the day is long. Feels like Spain, maybe? Certainly I'm thinking Andalusian thoughts this afternoon, thinking of the days when (to quote Jay Ladin in Parnassus a few years back), “the cream of the Jewish community…started writing poems about brimming crystal goblets, the luscious girls and boys who filled them, and a host of other distinctly non-spiritual subjects that hadn't been hymned in Hebrew since before the fall of Rome. [...] The tongue is the tongue of the Torah, but the images are pure pleasure-palace.”

Here are a couple of Andalusian poems, then, for your Shabbat enjoyment. The first is by Ibn Ezra, from Raymond Scheindlin's anthology Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems of the Good Life:
Caress a lovely woman’s breast by night,
And kiss some beauty’s lips by morning light.

Silence those who criticize you, those
Officious talkers. Take advice from me:
With beauty’s children only can we live.
Kidnapped were they from Paradise to gall
The living: living men are lovers all.

Immerse your heart in pleasure and in joy,
And by the bank a bottle drink of wine,
Enjoy the swallow’s chirp and viol’s whine.
Laugh, dance, and stamp your feet upon the floor!
Get drunk, and knock at dawn on some girl’s door.

This is the joy of life, so take your due.
You too deserve a portion of the Ram
Of Consecration, like your people’s priests.
To suck the juice of life do not be shy,
But take what’s rightly yours—the breast and thigh!
Ahem! That would be the “breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering,” of course--the ones used in the ceremony in which Aaron and his sons are consecrated as priests. Anyone who says otherwise is itchin' for a fight.

Another from the same book, this by Shmuel HaNagid:
If you’re like me, and want to pour the wine of joy,
Hear what I have to say.
I’ll teach you pleasure’s way, though you don’t want to hear,
You friend of sighs and pain.
Five things there are that fill the hearts of men with joy,
And put my grief to flight:
A pretty girl, a garden, wine, the water’s rush
In a canal, and a song.
Scheindlin makes sure that you hear how polished, aristocratic, and courtly the originals were. As he says in the introduction, " The culture was one in which style mattered greatly.... Like the original poets, who had no compunction whatsoever about this preference, I have favored rhythm and rhetoric over natural diction and word order."

As poetry in English, to read at length, I prefer the sound of Peter Cole's translations. The first is by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, from Cole's invaluable Selected Poems:
The Apple: II

Take a bite from that
Shimmering figure
Like emerald here,
And there like beryl,
Or ruby-like now,
And now like crystal,
Its aspect changing—
As though it were ill
At first with a flush
And then with a pallor,
As though it were really
A scroll of silver
Encased in gold,
A virgin who’d never
Known a lover,
And yet whose breasts
Were ready to suckle.
When men arrive
With their swords and desire
To strike at its cord,
It falls to the grass
And lands at their feet:
They bend the knee
And take it in hand,
Then raise it
To their lips and eat.

Yum. Cole has such an ear--let's hear another, to close, this one from Cole's selected Shmuel HaNagid:

Sad Friend:

Water to the grape vine’s fruit
And gather the two
In a cup . . . your mouth
Like a bridegroom’s
Chamber holds them
Soon they’ll swell in your
Head and
In your heart give birth to joy.

Which reminds me, I should talk about Peter's own collections, Hymns and Qualms and Rift, here, soon! Off to chop melon, mix labne and spices, and chill for a very necessary Friday night salad. And maybe sangria, to start.

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