On Fleeing His City

by Samuel ha Nagid

English version by Peter Cole
Original Language Hebrew

And this in his youth on leaving Cordoba:


Spirit splits in its asking,

and soul in its wanting is balked;

and the body, fattened, is vital
and full --

its precious being uneasy...

But the modest man
walks on the earth with his
thought drawn toward sky.

What good is the pulse of man's flesh
and its favors
when the mind is in pain?

And the friends who fray me,
their fine physiques
and slender thinking,
     thinking it's ease or gain
          that drives me,
     pitching from place to place,
          my hair wild, my eyes
charcoaled with night --
     and not a one speaks wisely,
their souls blunted, or blurred,
goat-footed thinkers.

Should someone unguilty
                    hold back from
longing toward heights like the moon?
          Should he wait,
     weaving its light across him
like a man stretching taut his tent skin,
until he acts and they hear of his action,
     as he adds and then adds like the sea
to his fame?

By God and God's faithful --
and I keep my oaths --
     I'll climb cliffs
and descend to the innermost pit,
     and sew the edge of desert to desert,
and split the sea
                    and every gorge,
          and sail in mountainous ascent,

until the word “forever” makes sense to me,

and my enemies fear me,
     and my friends in that fear
find solace;

then free men will turn
their faces toward mine,
as I face theirs,

and soul will save us,
     as it trips our obstructors.

The beds of our friendship are rich with it,
     planted by the river of affection,
          and fixed like a seal in wax,
               like graven gold
     in the windowed dome of the temple.

May YAH be with you as you love,
     and your soul which He loves be delivered,

          and the God of sentence
send aegis,

beyond both the sun and the moon.

-- from Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid, Translated by Peter Cole

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Recommended Books: Samuel ha Nagid

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel Ibn Nagrela The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain





On Fleeing His City