The Prisoner in Aghmāt Speaks to His Chains

Muhammad Ii Al-mu’tamid
Arab Andalusian
1040 – 1095

 

I say to my chains,
don’t you understand?
I have surrendered to you.
Why, then, have you no pity,
no tenderness?

You drank my blood.
You ate my flesh.
Don’t crush my bones.

My son Abu Hasim sees me
fettered by you and turns away
his heart made sore.

Have pity on an innocent boy
who never knew fear
and must now come begging to you.

Have pity on his sisters
innocent like him
who have had to swallow poison
and eat bitter fruit.

Some of them are old enough
to understand and I fear
they will go blind from weeping.

The others are now too young
to take it in and open theirs mouths
only to nurse.

Tranlsation by Cola Franzen

Al-Sab’iniyya

In honor of Tisha B’Av, we present this work by one of the great Jewish poets of the early Renaissance.

Musa Ibn Tubi
Arab Andalusian
c. 1363

 

He who desires perfect happiness, must devote himself to study, by which means, if he prospers in his labours, he will obtain eternal life.

This is the reward of the good, and there is happiness to be gained, therefore waste not thy time, but strive to advance ere death overtakes thee.

Be thou even the greatest of men, yet keep aloof from those delighting only in vain pursuits.

Man is absorbed in worldly pleasures, his heart full of desires, but the gates of true happiness are closed for him, he stumbles blindly along a straight path.

He whose mind’s eye is opened, sees the contemptibility of this world; the sojourn in it is of short duration, miserable and evil.

Many spend their life in vanities, none of which can be retained either by him possessed of abundance, or by the indolent, or by the foolish.

They exchange their imperishable treasure for a phantom, they lack firmness, because they judge rashly.

It has been shown that intellect and ability are the highest parts of man; would that he appreciated those gifts!

If a man be wise and act judiciously, he perfects himself, and brings himself nearer to the Sublime Intellect.

A powerful combination was formed of two elements, divine and human, to which was given an upright form.

He who turns from wickedness will be inspired by the light of reason; but who is more unworthy, than he in whom evil preponderates?

Base desires pollute the soul; purify and return it to God.

Intoxicated with the poison of your passion, O people, ye are sunk in slumber, but soon ye must depart, either this day or the next.

What thinks the arrogant one? Does he not reflect that this world is but a bridge which all men alike must cross?

Awake from thy slumber and seek seclusion and peace; the exercise of man’s free will is followed by repentance, when his wickedness is of no avail.

Let not perishable things be pleasing to you, either fine raiment or grand dwellings; foolish it is thus to delay eternal prosperity.

Seek the mantle of wisdom through study and upright acts; your endeavours will thus be idealized, and you will attain the desired aim.

This is what is termed the Favour of God, by which you may hope to find Him. He who displeases God, sins greatly.

Leave vain ornaments and earthly matters, which turn you astray from truth, and strive after virtue.

A scholar cares not for worldly pleasures, nor does he find happiness in such desires, the spirit of knowledge is more powerful than earthly lusts.

Nothing is nobler than a lofty soul, and no pleasure is greater than that of learning; its delight is spiritual, all else is transitory.

He who has tasted of knowledge shall not conceal his learning, the ignorant man is of little account in this world, what shall he be in the next?

They who acquire wisdom escape the doom of annihilation; learning is a step on the ladder leading to heavenly realms.

Thou sayest: To understand this study, its essence should be first explained; what subjects dost thou counsel me to pursue?

Learn the science of Religion which is the root of human belief, then the science of Healing which restores a strong constitution to the body.

To understand what relates to the Primary Cause, Physics must be studied, after which Metaphysics form the most important subject and therefore should be studied afterwards.

Before however commencing these you must zealously pursue the science of Logic, the theories of which lead the way to the speculative sciences.

Through Astronomy you will acquire a knowledge of Geometry and the movements of the constellations of the heavenly bodies.

Endeavour to learn all these thoroughly, as through them man attains perfection. The study of other branches here omitted is not compulsory.

These seven classes of sciences are further subdivided, and having acquired them, happiness is in store for thee.

Let thy chief endeavour be to ascertain how to meet thy Creator. Show thyself humble, then will He find pleasure in thee, seeing the purity of thy character.

Think not that knowledge is exhaustible, or that there is any part of it which can give content; yet strive to illuminate by study the darkness of thy mind.

Hast thou reached this limit then isolate thyself, meditate and sharpen thy intellect while thy thoughts are pure.

Learning in combination with a devout life is the truest approach to God and the truest worship of Him. The love of this world shows but an ignoble spirit.

Thou demandest: “How can I master all these subects?” Begin, bestir thyself and withdraw from mankind.

Endeavour gradually to raise thyself, and abandon ignorance and shame, in avoiding these thou reachest the incomparable standard.

Thy good or ill fortune will depend on thy approximation to God. Listen to the advice of thy friend, if thou wilt derive benefit from his friendship.

When thou hast attained this standard, God will open for thee the gate which leads to the Creating Intellect. He will bestow gifts on thee, but the choicest treasure will be thy connection with Him.

This is the opinion of philosophers and theologians of different sects, and none will be found to oppose this view.

Follow the common advice of these and be guided by it, hear and be obedient. Entreat God himself to explain to thee what is hidden,

That He may inspire those who delight in study and devote themselves to it. This well planned order is His work and the result of His All powerful wisdom.

Every wise man is anxious to learn and to gain accomplishments, but when the fool hears them spoken of, he considers them full of deceit.

Children must not partake of rich food, and honey is disliked by the sick. He who has a malady of the eye, shuns the glaring light of the sun.

All this is said allegorically, and I will not speak in plain language; my intention being that it should come to you in a strange guise, not correct in form and as a sort of jest.

My style is enigmatic, and my words are but hints to students. He who understands them must be distinguished by philosophical learning.

Thou shouldst know how to reply to him who questions thee concerning the author of the Principles the simple substance and the other elements.

The sky is a simple body, Substance is likewise a unity; the natural consequence is that God is also a unity.

He who would acknowledge this, must understand what is meant by Unity, but he who misinterprets it, denies the existence of God.

The abstraction from a multitude is one; and what cannot be otherwise described; what can be divided cannot be a unity but is a quantity.

One is what cannot be counted, but is absolute simplicity; this is the Primary Cause in the chain of evolutions.

He represents the limit of all forms, and is the finality of all that is final. His power is infinite and eternal over all things.

All that moves has a moving power which is again set in motion by another; this continues till an immovable motor is encountered.

He is the author of all origin, all that exists commences with him and progresses with unbroken continuity.

There are two general principles for all existing things which are to be found not only in the essence, but also in the matter.

The local movements are three on account of three starting points; three is the most perfect number and the first complete one.

The trinity must be denied to him who is above the three. A triplet of judges was instituted lest an error should arise in judgment.

The Beginning further comprises four, from the division and addition of which all things are formed. All that exists partakes of them, and the dissolution of them means death.

Upon careful consideration I find five beginnings, my fulcrum is proved by logical demonstration.

Every thing that moves can turn in six directions, every side has an opposite one, but the best movement is that above.

Every living thing can move itself in six different manners, but inanimate objects cannot move themselves. A plant has two movements and heavenly beings have six.

When thou hast reached seven, then thou findest seven planets in their seven spheres with forward and backward movements.

Also seven climates and seven metals; the limits of the principles with respect to physical matters are thus seven.

The influence of the moon on every seventh day is universally known, through natural and astronomical researches.

The crisis of illnesses takes place on the seventh day, and no physician can prevent it; in short seven has the upper hand in all things.

I must here also mention the observance of the seventh day, the importance of the seventh month and the release of the slave in the seventh year.

The days of the feast are seven, between them are seven times seven days; the lambs of the feast offerings are seven, how greatly is this number distinguished!

Aristotle says: He who gives the advice to obey nature, gives the best law and regulations.

He made this observation reflecting that the chief law in its practical and philosophical sense is divine.

I do not say that these lines are devoid of proofs, they come from the gate of wisdom.

These are metaphysical problems which I have treated in a number of books; only a few highly cultured ones will understand them, they concern God’s first creating command.

Take seven, and seven times seven, and seven, then add again seven, then thou hast Seventy.

Finished is the Sab’iniyya and praise be to God.

Translation by Hartwig Hirschfeld

The Palace and the Garden

We present this work in honor of Shavuot.

06-05 Ibn Gabirol
Solomon Ibn Gabirol
Arab Andalusian
1021 – 1070

Come, spend a night in the country with me,
my friend (you whom the stars above would gladly call their friend),
for winter’s finally over. Listen
to the chatter of the doves and swallows!
We’ll lounge beneath the pomegranates, palm trees, apple trees,
under every lovely, leafy thing,
and walk among the vines,
enjoy the splendid faces we will see,
in a lofty palace built of noble stones.
Resting solidly on thick foundations,
its walls like towers fortified,
set upon a flat place, plains all around it
splendid to look at from within its courts.
Chambers constructed, adorned with carvings,
open-work and closed-work,
paving of alabaster, paving of marble,
gates so many that I can’t even count them!
Chamber doors paneled with ivory like palace doors,
reddened with panels of cedar, like the Temple.
Wide windows over them,
and within those windows, the sun and moon and stars!
It has a dome, too, like Solomon’s palanquin,
suspended like a jewel-room,
turning, changing,
pearl-colored; crystal and marble
in day-time; but in the evening seeming
just like the night sky, all set with stars.
It cheers the heart of the poor and the weary;
perishing, bitter men forget their want.
I saw it once and I forgot my troubles,
my heart took comfort from distress,
my body seemed to fly for joy,
as if on wings of eagles.
There was a basin brimming, like Solomon’s basin,
but not on the backs of bulls like his –
lions stood around its edge
with wells in their innards, and mouths gushing water;
they made you think of whelps that roar for prey;
for they had wells inside them, wells that emitted
water in streams through their mouths like rivers.
Then there were canals with does planted by them,
does that were hollow, pouring water,
sprinkling the plants planted in the garden-beds,
casting pure water upon them,
watering the myrtle-garden,
treetops fresh and sprinkling,
and everything was fragrant as spices,
everything as if it were perfumed with myrrh.
Birds were singing in the boughs,
peering through the palm-fronds,
and there were fresh and lovely blossoms –
rose, narcissus, saffron –
each one boasting that he was the best,
(though we thought every one was beautiful).
The narcissuses said, “We are so white
we rule the sun and moon and stars!”
The doves complained at such talk and said,
“No, we are the princesses here! Just see our neck-rings,
with which we charm the hearts of men,
dearer far than pearls.”
The bucks rose up against the girls
and darkened their splendor with their own,
boasting that they were the best of all,
because they are like young rams.
But when the sun rose over them,
I cried out, “Halt! Do not cross the boundaries!”

To as-Samar

03-23 Al Kiram
Umm Al-Kiram
Arab Andalusian
c. 1070

 

Marvelously, friends,
of what has harvested a burning passion
therefore not for that, there would be lowered,
accompanied by the moon, the night,
from the highest heaven to Earth.
My passion is that I love in such a way
that if I broke up, my heart would follow him.

Oh, I wish I knew.

If there is a way to be alone together
which do not reach the ears of the spy.
How wonderful
I want to be alone with my beloved
living, even when it is in my gut and in my chest.