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This poem is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

In Praise of Shlomo Ibn Ghiyyat (translated by Gabriel Levin) Yehuda Halevi

Born in northern Spain some time before 1075, Yehuda Halevi is considered one of the great Hebrew poets of the golden age of Andalusian arts and letters. Following the Arabo-Andalusian literary tradition, he wrote courtly love poems, bridal songs, encomiums, wine poems, elegies, invectives, gnomic poetry, poems of friendship, and a large corpus of liturgical poems. Known among his Arab compatriots as Abul-l-Hassan Ibn Hallewi, Halevi wrote as well, in Judeo-Arabic, The Kuzari, a highly influential religious-philosophical treatise. In 1140, as tensions mounted between the Muslims in the south and the Christians in the north of Spain, the poet decided to leave his home in Cordoba and sail for the Holy Land. Halevi arrived in Alexandria to a hero's welcome in September 1140, and recorded the perilous sea voyage in a magnificent sequence of poems. The aging poet remained in Egypt for nine months before sailing for Acre on the northern coast of Palestine. In October and November (1141), in two separate letters written by friends of the poet's in Egypt, mention is made of his demise in July. Although it is reasonable to assume that he reached the shores of Palestine and perhaps even made a short pilgrimage to Jerusalem (under Christian rule since 1099) as he had so desired the exact location and the circumstances surrounding his death have remained open to conjecture.


A generous eye roams as a merchant,
taking sleeplessness and giving pearls and onyx -
crystal drops whose beads, if not for their scalding grief,
would string together like a necklace -
it wanders softly weeping over the ruins of the lover's dwelling
neither hearing nor speaking a word.
The hand of parting that scattered their encampment
now razes the walls of my heart.
How strange, as if I'd never set eyes on the place,
though heart intuits what my eyes estrange.
Before the Lord is the wanderer's path bearing sleep
of a bountiful eye that squanders its riches.
I might find comfort in the departure of troop upon troop -
if the constellations but sparked a reminder:
now the moon binds the queen, believing
it has shifted and sunk like lead into the western sea,
...

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