Mar 30 2012

Solomon ibn Gabirol – Rise and open the door that is shut

Published by at 7:54 am under Poetry

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, Solomon ibn Gabirol poetry, Jewish poetry Solomon ibn Gabirol

Spain (1021? – 1058) Timeline

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.

More poetry by Solomon ibn Gabirol

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Solomon ibn Gabirol – Rise and open the door that is shut”

  1. franon 30 Mar 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you as always for your time, energy and knowledge in regatds to the poets and the insight into their poems:) I comment on the Thought for today…I always felt freedom required responsibility, but I will use your Being deeply present in my life and practice as a more accurate, descriptive way. Being deply present, free….conjurs a lot of personal power, and I like that…. namaste…..good weekend to you and all.

  2. rena navonon 30 Mar 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Ivan, you embarrass me; me, here in Israel where your poem is so appropriate. And I, studying your poem like a beginner.

    The deer is my favorite animal. I bought my daughter a miniature pincher when she was a girl because of the close resemblance: it reproduced and we ended up with three dogs and kept them until they died, so hard was it to part from them, not being dog-less for almost ten years. But now I am already far from your subject.

    So the deer has even further implications, and I realize how I got so involved with dogs; and would do it all over again, if I were back then now. This poem-so-fresh brings an unexpected nostalgia that will go into the holiday and well beyond.

    Rena Navon

  3. Pushpaon 30 Mar 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Beautiful!! I believe and totally agree with Solomon Ibn Gabirol that we all have divinity in us, however, to what extent we unfold it, nurture it and let it rise, depends purely on us. There is a need to ‘open the door that is shut’. It is synonymous to a box of treasures sitting with a lock that has no key. It is each one of us that discovers our unique key. Considering the last line I am inclined to think that Solomon is urging God to perform that sanctified ceremony of sending him the messiah.

    Thank you Chaikhana for your efforts in bringing such great thoughts to us readers. So glad to have the background and explanation on the lines.

  4. Prabhjot Kauron 30 Mar 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Absolutely love your quote…Krishnamuti said freedom is not down the road or in future but at the very begining .I love the way you put it…does’nt it make you in love with nothing but the present.
    The poem is great too..but all the philosophies of the world and the fine words descriptions and yearnings to get to that truth and union within and yet we pursue it endlessely through the written word and throgh our minds or what…

  5. Harvey Gillmanon 31 Mar 2012 at 1:38 am

    Yes, each of us is a messiah. We each have our anointing. It may take a lifetime to discover what this is for (anointing in the Jewish bible is for priesthood, monarchy, or prophecy)- and even more for others to recognise this. And our role is also to recognise this in others.

  6. Bob Corbinon 01 Apr 2012 at 12:33 pm

    The writing of Jew cannot be distinguished from that of Muslim? How odd.

    The writing of a Kabbalist cannot be distinguished from that of a Sufi? Of course not!
    “Lovers have a religion of their own.”

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