Mar 27 2013

Solomon ibn Gabirol – Ecstasy

Published by at 9:45 am under Poetry

by Solomon ibn Gabirol

English version by Israel Zangwill

My thoughts astounded asked me why
Towards the whirling wheels on high
In ecstasy I rush and fly.

The living God is my desire,
It carries me on wings of fire,
Body and soul to Him aspire.

God is at once my joy and fate,
This yearning me He did create,
At thought of Him I palpitate.

Shall song with all its loveliness
Submerge my soul with happiness
Before the God of Gods it bless?

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Something today in honor of Passover by one of the greatest Medieval Jewish poets and philosophers, Solomon ibn Gabirol…

(I’m still looking for a truly excellent translation of his poetry in English. This poem today, for example– I think with a more elegant translation it could soar in the mind and open the heart. But there is enough left to us in this translation that, with a little attention, we can touch its secret effervescence. So spend a few moments rereading this poem; find the spaces between the words and meanings, and let the magic rush in!)

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

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Solomon ibn Gabirol – Ecstasy”

  1. Michaelaon 27 Mar 2013 at 1:10 pm

    This poem (though I agree, in-eloquent in translation) speaks of the beautiful connection we have to God. I love the line, “This yearning me He did create” — it does bring a soaring of the mind, an opening of the heart, to think on that wonderful and powerful spiritual lineage we have. The sentiment of this poem made me think of a hymn (one of my favorites) we use as “Mormons” in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It contains some of our most important doctrine– truths, I think, people everywhere feel some part of deeply. It is a bit more eloquent.

    O My Father

    31243, Hymns, O My Father, no. 292

    1. O my Father, thou that dwellest
    In the high and glorious place,
    When shall I regain thy presence
    And again behold thy face?
    In thy holy habitation,
    Did my spirit once reside?
    In my first primeval childhood
    Was I nurtured near thy side?

    2. For a wise and glorious purpose
    Thou hast placed me here on earth
    And withheld the recollection
    Of my former friends and birth;
    Yet ofttimes a secret something
    Whispered, “You’re a stranger here,”
    And I felt that I had wandered
    From a more exalted sphere.

    3. I had learned to call thee Father,
    Thru thy Spirit from on high,
    But, until the key of knowledge
    Was restored, I knew not why.
    In the heav’ns are parents single?
    No, the thought makes reason stare!
    Truth is reason; truth eternal
    Tells me I’ve a mother there.

    4. When I leave this frail existence,
    When I lay this mortal by,
    Father, Mother, may I meet you
    In your royal courts on high?
    Then, at length, when I’ve completed
    All you sent me forth to do,
    With your mutual approbation
    Let me come and dwell with you.

    Text: Eliza R. Snow, 1804-1887

  2. Carolon 27 Mar 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you, Ivan

    While I am not familiar with this poet at all, and if the translation was not the
    best, I wouldn’t know. But indeed for me the magic did rush in. Thank you
    for opening doors for us . . .

    While I am Christian, our church celebrated Passover with our Seder meal last
    evening, a thirteen year tradition now.

    So I am very thankful for this poem as it does help me celebrate this Holy Week.

  3. Mike Absalomon 27 Mar 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Solomon ibn Gabirol : Did he write in Arabic or Hebrew, or the Iberian version, and where can I read the original? 🙂

  4. Ivan M. Grangeron 27 Mar 2013 at 2:50 pm

    Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote his poems and philosophical works in Hebrew (though, no doubt, he wrote and spoke Andalusian Arabic in his daily life). Several of his poems are available in the original Hebrew in The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, translated by T. Carmi. I hope that helps! ~Ivan

  5. rosellen little, new nameon 27 Mar 2013 at 3:18 pm

    oy vey i can’t really relate too much except for the line the living god a god that could be real to one in an everyday way. sorry i’m kind of cynical
    to me passover means to help the poor and the stranger. jews were strangers now there are so many who are strangers in the world. may god bless them and look after them and help us have compassion.
    thank-you Ivan for your knowledge

  6. Ann Rundleon 27 Mar 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I love the words of this poem, and was so relieved to see your comments on the translation. Even in the midst of this we find a heart that soars and understands connection. “This yearning me He did create” gives truth to all of life. Thank you.

  7. Pegon 28 Mar 2013 at 9:03 am

    I believe what Ivan is alluding to is the firing of kundalini and the experience of the ecstatic of the first conscious travelings into the cosmos within the soul’s merkaba, or lightbody ship.

    Most of the population feels emotion and deals with emotional hurt at the second chakra, the sexual organs. Emotions were not meant to be processed their and has caused quite severe damage to us humans; mainly through addiction. This is all kinds of addiction, not just sex, drugs, and alcohol–also in relationships, food, and materialism.

    When energy is allowed to move upward from the first chakra (survival), second chakra (materialism), and third chakra (ego) to the heart, there is an experience of love without the addictive attachments, tears, a quickening of the heart, no visions or few and limited, and a difficulty in putting the experience into language with a strong desire to do so. Snow ‘s poem, I believe is speaking to this type of spiritual experience and beautiful in its own right. However, the speaker is asking questions and answering them through her own ego based responses and left brain linear thinking. She proclaims, “truth is reason.” In other words, she is feeling emotions within the heart but has not gone through the death of the ego, or in Catholic terminology the crucifixion. This is an important distinction to note in Snow ‘s poem and for understanding Gabirol’s “Ecstacy”.

    Gabirol’s poem moves the spiritual to the ecstatic level or the rising of the kundalini past the heart to the brow to open third eye and on to the crown at the top of the head. At this level the person is viewing cosmic reality through the third eye, the pineal, ego defers fully to the divine, “living God is my desire.” The ego is not directing or controlling and the linear left brain is not trying to define, or limit through logic. The brain is asking, “My thoughts astounded asked me why,” but only to bring person to conscious awareness, not dictate or direct the ecstatic experience.

    “Whirling wheels” is a direct reference to the merkaba. In the body, the spin feels like a throbbing in the body, a vibration. Sometimes my skin and muscle feel slightly swollen, especially in my shoulders, when there is a lot of energy running through my body.

    “In ecstasy I rush and fly” is telling the reader of his travels to the heavens while he is very much conscious of what is happening. Gabrielle is literally traveling in his merkaba and physically feeling the sensations in the body.

    Reaching this ecstasy state is reached by way of the fires of kundalini, the “wings of fire.” As the fire rushes up the spinal column the heart “palpitates” and flutters with joy.

    As we can see in this translation, Zangwill could have done a better job poetically (and I could have done a better job on the three short paragraphs on Gabirol’s poem but ran out of time…for that I apologize), but I think we can still see where Gabirol wanted to take the reader. We can make some generalizations about the ecstatic but beyond the generalizations, the ecstatic is individualized and sovereign to each person going through the experience. It would be very interesting to see additional translations to compare.

    Thank you Ivan, Michaela, the rest for commenting.

    Much love and light, Peg

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