Rise and open the door that is shut

by Solomon ibn Gabirol

English version by Bernard Lewis
Original Language Hebrew

Rise and open the door that is shut,
and send to me the roe that is fled.
The day of his coming he shall lie all night between my breasts
there his good smell shall rest upon me.

How looks thy beloved, O lovely bride,
that thou sayest to me 'Take him and send him!'
Is he beautiful, ruddy, and goodly to look on?

That is my beloved and my friend! Rise and anoint him!

-- from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

It is springtime (here in the Northern Hemisphere), the time of birth and renewal. And we are entering the season Passover and Easter. I thought this poem by the great Jewish poet ibn Gabirol might be a nice meditation for today...

This poem draws on themes from the Song of Songs, the foundational Biblical love poem between the soul (the "bride") and God or the Messiah (the "beloved").

The roe deer mentioned here is understood to be the Messiah. With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the deer is often used as a symbol for the Divine. The line "there his good smell shall rest upon me" evokes the peaceful, sometimes sensual sweetness in the awareness that lingers following the mystic's union with the Divine -- thus sacred poetry often gives us language of perfumes, the scent of flowers, and the musk of deer.

Ibn Gabirol is awaiting "the day of his [the Messiah's] coming," but he also understands this in mystical terms. This is not a sweeping poem of nations and kings and battles; it is the soul's quiet song of a lover's secret touch upon the heart ("he shall lie all night between my breasts"). He knows also that before this divine union can take place, first the soul must "open the door that is shut."

I am especially interested in the last sentence, the exhortation to "Rise and anoint him!" The term Messiah means, of course, the anointed one. In this final line the soul calls upon God to rise and anoint the Messiah... But here's the question: What does it mean to rise? What does it mean to anoint? How would the Kabbalist Ibn Gabirol understand this? Something to meditate on.



Recommended Books: Solomon ibn Gabirol

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse The Heart and the Fountain: An Anthology of Jewish Mystical Experiences The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492
More Books >>





Rise and open the