The Dog and the Sheep

Marie de France
French
c. 1160 – c. 1215

 

This tale is of a dog, who was
A liar, cheat and treacherous,
Who sued a sheep. He had her led
Before the judge; as plaintiff, said
That he must have the loaf of bread
He’d lent to her, that she still had.
The sheep denied the whole affair;
He had not lent a loaf to her!
The judge said: “Dog, can you produce
Witnesses that the Court can use?”
The dog said that he could, all right,
Two; one the wolf and one the kite.
These witnesses were led forth, both,
And both affirmed by solemn oath
That all the dog had said was true.
You know why they agreed, don’t you?
They hoped to get some portion, if
The sheep, found guilty, lost her life.
The judge, proceeding in the trial,
Summoned the sheep; why the denial
He asked her, that she had the bread
The dog had lent her, as he said.
Why lie? This item was so small!
Return it; or worse would befall!
The wretched sheep, who had no bread,
Was forced to sell her wool instead.
Winter and cold soon had her dead.
The dog came; took some wool she’d shed,
The kite came flying for his share,
And then the wolf. They took from her
All of her flesh; the seized on it,
For they had long been starved for meat.
No vestive of her life was left;
And, too, her master was bereft.

With this example we can state
What many false folk demonstrate.
With lies and tricks of every sort
They drag the poor folk into court;
They get false witnesses to lie,
They bribe with poor folks’ prosperity.
They don’t care how the wretched die;
They only want their slice of pie.

The Mirror

In honor of Tu B’Shavat, we present this work by one of Arab Andalusia’s greatest Jewish poets.

Judah Halevi
Arab Andalusian
1075 – 1141

 

Into my eyes he lovingly looked,
My arms about his neck were twined,
And in the mirror of my eyes,
What but his image did he find?

Upon my dark-hued eyes he pressed
His lips with breath of passion rare.
The rogue! ‘Twas not my eyes he kissed;
He kissed his picture mirrored there.

If One Can Save One’s Soul by Lying

In honor of the German holiday, Three Kings Day, we present this work by one of Medeival Germany’s most significant poets.

Hartmann von Aue
German
1165 – 1210

 

If one can save one’s soul by lying,
Then I know someone who is holy.
He has often sworn false oaths to me.
His shrewd cunning overwhelmed me
And I chose him as a friend.
I thought I had found in him constancy.
But my own good sense deserted me,
As I now announce to the world:
He is as free of duplicity
As the sea is free of waves.

Why should I seek help from others
Since it was my own heart that deceived me?
It led me to the one
Who is worthless to me or to any good woman.
It hardly honors men
How this man conducts himself with regard to women.
He is so well versed in uttering sweet phrases
That one could not write them down.
I followed them even onto slippery ice.
Now I am suffering the harm they caused.

If I were now to begin to detest all men,
I would do so out of hatred of him alone.
But how are they all at fault for this?
Many men show better gratitude to their ladies.
One lady, by using her good sense,
Chose a friend who makes her happy.
She is laughing while I am sad.
Our lives play themselves out quite differently.
I have begun with suffering.
May God, the mighty One, ease my pain.

Would I Thy Lofty Spirit Melt

Wolfram Von Eschenbach
German
1170 – 1220

 

Would I the lofty spirit melt
Of that proud dame who dwells so high,
Kind heaven must aid me, or unfelt
By her will be its agony.
Joy in my soul no place can find:
As well might I a suitor be
To thunderbolts, as hope her mind
Will turn in softer mood to me.

Those cheeks are beautiful, are bright
As the red rose with dewdrops grac’d;
And faultless is the lovely light
Of those dear eyes, that, on me plac’d,
Pierce to my very heart, and fill
My soul with love’s consuming fires,
While passion burns and reigns at will;
So deep the love that fair inspires!

But joy upon her beauteous form
Attends, her hues so bright to shed
O’er those red lips, before whose warm
And beaming smile all care is fled.
She is to me all light and joy,
I faint, I die, before her frown;
Even Venus, liv’d she yet on earth,
A fairer goddess here must own…

While many mourn the vanish’d light
Of summer, and the sweet sun’s face
I mourn that these, however bright,
No anguish from the soul can chase
By love inflicted: all around,
Nor song of birds, nor ladies’ bloom,
Nor flowers upspringing from the ground,
Can chase or cheer the spirits’ gloom…

Yet still thine aid, belov’d! impart,
Of all thy power, thy love, make trial;
Bid joy revive in thise sad heart,
Joy that expires at thy denial:
Well may I pour my prayer to thee,
Beloved lady, since ‘tis thine
Alone to send such care on me;
Alone for thee I ceaseless pine.

All Pervading Consciousness

In honor of the Prophet’s Birthday, we present this work by one of Persia’s greatest Muslim poets.

Attar of Nishapur
Persian
1145 – 1220

 

And as His Essence all the world pervades
Naught in Creation is, save this alone.
Upon the waters has He fixed His Throne,
This earth suspended in the starry space,
Yet what are seas and what is air? For all
Is God, and but a talisman are heaven and earth
To veil Divinity. For heaven and earth,
Did He not permeate them, were but names;
Know then, that both this visible world and that
Which unseen is, alike are God Himself,
Naught is, save God: and all that is, is God.

And yet, alas! by how few is He seen,
Blind are men’s eyes, though all resplendent shines
The world by Deity’s own light illumined,
O Thou whom man perceiveth not, although
To him Thou deignest to make known Thyself;
Thou all Creation art, all we behold, but Thou,
The soul within the body lies concealed,
And Thou dost hide Thyself within the soul,
O soul in soul! Myst’ry in myst’ry hid!
Before all wert Thou, and are more than all!

When Night Comes

Li Ching Chao
Chinese
1084 – 1155

 

When night comes,
I am so flushed with wine,
I undo my hair slowly:
a plum calyx is
stuck on a damaged branch.
I wake dazed when smoke
breaks my spring sleep.
The dream distant,
so very distant;
and it is quiet, so very quiet.
The moon spins and spins.
The kingfisher blinds are drawn;
and yet I rub the injured bud,
and yet I twist in my fingers this fragrance,
and yet I possess these moments of time!