Mar 30 2012
Rise and open the door that is shut
by Solomon ibn Gabirol
English version by Bernard Lewis
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
/ Photo by Martin Pettitit /
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.
|Solomon ibn Gabirol|
Shelomo ibn Gabirol (or Solomon ibn Gabirol) was a Jewish poet and philosopher who lived in Spain when it was under Muslim rule. He was born in Malaga and lived most of his life in Saragossa. He was an impoverished orphan who survived with the support of a Jewish courtier, who encouraged him in his poetry.
His major philosophical work known in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages was entitled Fons Vitae (The Fountain of Life). Ironically, for centuries this was thought to be the work of a Muslim philosopher since it was lost in Europe but eventually translated into European languages from an Arabic source. It was only in the nineteenth century that the true author was clearly identified as ibn Gabirol.
Ibn Gabirol’s great poetical work was A Kingly Crown, a collection of verses that exhibit his talents as mystic poet and philosopher. He was clearly a Kabbalist as several of his poems make reference to the Sefer Yezira (The Book of Creation, an important work in the Kabbalistic tradition). Other elements of his poetry hint at the influence of Sufism, which was widely practiced throughout Spain and much of the Muslim Mediterranean.