Abraham Ibn Ezra

(1092-1167)

“I have a garment. . . ./ “Sitting inside, I see the moon and the Pleiades.” Is it possible that 900 years ago Abraham Ibn Ezra saw something the Hubble Space Telescope, which took this picture of the Pleiades, could not see?

“I have a garment. . . ./
“Sitting inside, I see the moon and the Pleiades.”
Is it possible that 900 years ago Abraham Ibn Ezra saw something the Hubble Space Telescope, which took this picture of the Pleiades, could not see?

I HAVE A GARMENT

 

I have a garment which is like a sieve

Through which girls sift barley and wheat.

In the dead of night I spread it out like a tent

And a thousand stars pierce it with their gleams.

Sitting inside, I see the moon and the Pleiades

And on a good night, the great Orion himself.

I get awfully tired of counting all the holes

Which seem to me like the teeth of many saws.

A piece of thread to sew up all the other threads

Would be, to say the least, superfluous.

If a fly landed on it with all his weight,

The little idiot would hang by his foot, cursing.

Dear God, do what you can to mend it.

Make me a mantle of praise from these poor rags.

 

Translated by Robert Mezey

Copyright © Robert Mezey, 1973.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

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MY STARS

 

On the day I was born,

The unalterable stars altered.

If I decided to sell lamps,

It wouldn’t get dark till the day I died.

 

Some stars. Whatever I do,

I’m a failure before I begin.

If I suddenly decided to sell shrouds,

People would suddenly stop dying.

 

after Abraham ibn Ezra

Robert Mezey

Copyright © Robert Mezey, 1973.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

 

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The Patron

 

When I come to the patron’s house early in the morning, they say: ‘He has already ridden away.’ When I come in the evening, they say: ‘He has already gone to sleep.’ He either climbs into his carriage or climbs into bed — woe to the poor man, born to misfortune!*

 

*Lit. ‘without a star.’

 

Translated by T. Carmi

from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi (Allen Lane, 1981).

Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

 

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TO WHOM SHALL I CRY IN MY ANGUISH?

 

To whom shall I cry in my anguish?

And where shall I flee from the flies?

No breathing-space do they allow me;

They treat me as would enemies.

They buzz in my ears all their love-songs,

And creep on my brow and my eyes.

I try to partake of my breakfast—

They swarm on the coveted prize.

They drink of my wine from the goblets,

Considering me in no wise.

 

Translated by Meyer Waxman

from Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature, vo1 1

(New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960). Copyright © Meyer Waxman.

 

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IN GOD’S HANDS

 

God, exalted in grandeur; praised be His glorious name.

 

He fashioned every form,

Both hidden and revealed;

Even reason’s rule

By himself He established! Who is privy to His council?

 

They who see His bounty

In the course He takes,

How can they deny him?

All are His creatures, they are His witness, vouching for Him.

 

Whoever considers His wonders

With his heart and his eyes,

And with the guidance of His prophets,

He will be grateful throughout life that his breath is in God’s hands.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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WHEN I HUNGER TO PRAISE THEE

 

When I hunger to praise Thee, I’m sated;

When to worship I thirst, I am drunk.

Then my heart is secure, when I fear Thee

When in terror and awe I am sunk.

When I bow to Thee low, I am lifted;

When I fall in Thy presence, I rise.

I am free when I serve, for Thy name’s sake,

My oppressors who Thy name despise.

All suffering is sweet to my heart,

When I know that My God Thou art.

 

Translated by Meyer Waxman

from Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature, vo1 1

(New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1960). Copyright © Meyer Waxman.

 

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HYMN OF PRAISE

 

O God of earth and heaven,

Spirit and flesh are Thine!

Thou hast in wisdom given,

Man’s inward light divine;

And unto him Thy grace accords

The gift of spoken words.

The world was fashioned by Thy will,

Nor did’st Thou toil at it, for still

Thy breath did Thy design fulfil.

 

My times are in Thy hand,

Thou knowest what is best,

And where I fear to stand,

Thy strength brings succour bless’d.

Thy loving-kindness, as within

A mantle, hides my sin.

Thy mercies are my sure defence,

And for Thy bounteous providence

Thou dost demand no recompense.

 

For all the sons of men

Thou hast a book prepared

Where, without hand or pen,

Their deeds are all declared:

Yet for the pure in heart shall be

A pardon found with Thee.

The life and soul Thou did’st create

Thou hast redeemed from evil strait,

Thou hast not left me desolate.

 

The heavens Thou badest be,

Thy bright, celestial throne,

Are witnesses to Thee,

O Thou the Lord alone!

One, indivisible, Thy name

Upholds creation’s frame.

Thou madest all—the depth, the height—

Thou rulest all in power and might,

Supreme, eternal, infinite!

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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PENITENTIAL PRAYER

 

I bow down with my face to the ground, for there is nothing lower than it. I throw myself down before the Supreme One, highest of the high. What but my spirit shall I bring when I approach Him? It comes from Him, He gives it life in the choicest part of my body, and a man has nothing dearer than his soul. There is no end and no beginning to His glory—how then can my tongue glorify Him? He is farther from me than the farthest heaven, and closer than my flesh and bone! I come to You now, my God, because none but You can be of help. The earth and all the heavens are, like me, Your creations; how then could I ask them to save me, when salvation by any creature is a vain hope! A slave can find no refuge but in his master. What more can I hope to know, knowing that You created me for my good? Your acts of love are beyond number, but my sins outnumber the sand of the sea-shore. How shall I lift up my eyes to You? They, too, are sinful. What more can my lips say? They, too, have done wrong. My wanton heart has done to me what no enemy could have done. Gusts of anger seize me as I think of it—woe is me, I have disobeyed. My evil passions led me astray; I had no wish to anger You. My wrongs have wronged no one but me, and none but You will keep faith with me. Show me the right path for it is You who have taught me all I know. I have heard myself speak the words of my heart; may You hear them in heaven!

 

Translated by T. Carmi

from The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, edited by T. Carmi (Allen Lane, 1981).

Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981.

 

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GOD’S PROVIDENCE

 

O God, You have searched me and know my mind;

You discern my thoughts from afar, You are privy to my every move.

You anticipate my plans; my walking and reclining.

You observe and are familiar with my ways.

You see the word forming in my heart before it reaches

My tongue; You know when my days will end;

You hem me in behind and in front and from above;

You guide me with your right hand, while your left supports me.

You fill the high heavens and distant sea;

Where can I go from your presence when You confront me everywhere?

Darkness does not conceal me; nothing obscures your view.

It is You who reveals my secrets.

In the beginning You formed me; You knit me together in the womb;

In its depth You crafted my delicate frame.

Your eyes beheld my bare limbs; they were all recorded

In your book; in due time they took their separate shapes.

How vast are the sum of your thoughts, they are most

Difficult to comprehend; my “knowledge” and “wisdom is foolishness.

I thank You for your wonders; I am grateful for your mercies.

By your power I am sustained; to You belong my breath and my soul.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE LAW

 

My help, my hope, my strength shall be,

Thou perfect law of God, in thee!

 

My faith shall be my rock of might,

Its law my portion and my right,

Its testimonies my delight,

And day by day, my voice I raise

In song and hymn to chant their praise.

 

How did th’ angelic host lament

When from their midst, by God’s intent,

The holy law to earth was sent.

“Woe that the pure and sanctified

Should now on sinful lips abide.”

 

The people trembled when they saw

Approaching them the heavenly law—

Their voices rose in joy and awe:

“Thy covenant, O Lord, fulfil,

Declare it, we will do Thy will.”

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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I HAVE BUT ONE REQUEST

 

Would that my ways were steadfast in keeping your laws!

I have found no rest except in my desire for You.

I am ready to serve You; lead me in your just path.

I have but one request: I want to earn your favor.

I seek nothing from You except your presence.

 

Truth knows that no one is your equal; how then can You be compared?

To what can I liken your labor when all is made by You?

Since I am your creature what can I say [that You know not]?

Even my thoughts and talents belong to You.

All your efforts witness to You, not me.

 

Boundless is your compassion, and who is not in your debt?

There is no truth but You and the work of your hands.

Even those who deny You testify to your presence!

Wherever I turn, I find You;

I am connected to You, for nothing separates us.

 

No sooner than I leave your presence do I hasten after You;

Your beauty is all that my eyes can see;

My ears hear only your command!

My heart’s secrets are revealed to You;

Whatever I say is within your hearing.

 

Send help to the tempter’s captive;

Put your Name upon his lips and make your home in his heart;

Pity him when he lifts his eyes to your place in heaven.

Reach out your hand and let it rest upon the faithful.

Let your face shed light upon us in our darkness.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

۞


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RESIGNATION

 

I hope for the salvation of the Lord,

In Him I trust, when fears my being thrill,

Come life, come death, according to His word,

He is my portion still.

 

Hence doubting heart! I will the Lord extol

With gladness, for in Him is my desire,

Who, as with fatness, satisfies my soul,

That doth to heaven aspire.

 

All that is hidden, shall mine eyes behold,

And the great Lord of all be known to me,

Him will I serve, His am I as of old;

I ask not to be free.

 

Sweet is ev’n sorrow coming in His name,

Nor will I seek its purpose to explore,

His praise will I continually proclaim,

And bless Him evermore.

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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PRAYER FOR HELP

 

Lord, I pray with hands uplifted

And my tears flow fast,

For my manifold transgressions

And my sinful past.

Heal mine inward wound and straighten

All my ways at last.

Merciful, O Father, be,

Even when Thou judgest me,

Answer when I call on Thee,

God of my salvation!

 

Glad yet fearful, I am seeking

Pardon, ‘midst the throng

Of Thy chosen congregation

With sweet sound of song,

Hymns and praise and patient striving

To amend the wrong.

Lord, Thy power I will proclaim,

And exalt Thy glorious name,

Yea, my love for Thee like flame

Burns, Thou my salvation!

 

Thou o’er heavenly heights who ridest

Know’st the inmost parts,

And Thy love accepts repentance

When it sorest smarts,

Counting it as off’rings ever,

Strengthening feeble hearts.

Thou wilt lead Thy flock aright

To the land of my delight,

Thou my refuge, rock, and might,

Heritage and portion.

 

Well-spring Thou of strength and gladness,

Lord, I hope in Thee,

And declare the power eternal

Of Thy sovereignty.

O! command Thou Thy salvation

To abide with me.

Let it guide me on my way,

Evermore my help and stay,

Bringing me from day to day

Still my daily portion.

 

Thou wilt save me, Thou wilt guard me,

Mine exalted King.

Have regard to my entreaty

And good tidings bring.

Unto us Thy needy people

Let Thine answer ring:

Fear thou not, for I behold thee,

I will strengthen and enfold thee,

Yea, my right hand shall uphold thee!

I am thy salvation!

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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O LORD, I CALL ON THEE

 

O Lord, I call on Thee when sore dismayed,

And Thou wilt hear my voice and lend me aid,

Nor shall I be of myriads afraid,

For Thou wilt ever be

The portion of my lot—Thou savest me.

 

In troubled times Thy mercy’s plenteous store

Is full to overflowing evermore,

And when in straitness I my plaint outpour,

With words entreating Thee,

Then with enlargement Thou dost answer me.

 

Make known Thy love to those, who trust and pray,

To those, who hold Thy name their help and stay,

Waiting for Thy salvation day by day.

Yea, who, O Lord, but Thee,

Shall make me glad, who else deliver me?

 

Do Thou from heavenly heights my pain behold,

And lead me back unto Thy sheltering fold,

That I may answer scorners as of old:

Yea, though my dwelling be

In darkest night, God is a light to me.

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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GRACE AND CHARM ARE YOUR WEAPONS

 

[God:]

 

O awesome beauty, still desolate, prepare yourself for God’s mercy;

How fair and pleasant you are!

 

O daughter who played on my lap, your face breathes life and your kisses are sweet;

 

Charm and grace are your weapons, from the earrings in your ears

To your painted eyes.

 

O my bride, at night, free yourself from your maidens

And come dance with me, your breasts like clusters of the vine;

If you sin, say you have been enchanted!

 

O fairest one, you are wasted among the women,

You who shines through like the dawn; when they put you to scorn

And you fall, I will lift you up!

 

My daughter, why complain? Take courage and come with me!

I will bring you into my sumptuous home; I will betroth you and you will be my wife;

I will adorn you and you will be consoled.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE LIVING GOD

 

Athirst for God, to Him my soul aspires,

The living God it is my heart desires.

 

The living God created me

To life. Yea, as I live, spake He,

No living man my face shall see,

Shall see my face and live.

 

He fashioned all with counsel wise,

And purpose wonderful that lies

For ever hidden from our eyes,

The eyes of all who live.

 

Supreme o’er all His glory reigns,

Extolled on earth in holy strains,

Blessed is he whose hand maintains

The soul of all who live.

 

He separated Israel’s seed,

To teach them statutes, which indeed

If that a man do hear and heed,

His soul by them shall live.

 

Can pure and just themselves declare

They who of dust created were?

Lo, in Thy sight, O Lord, we dare

Call no man just who lives.

 

Like serpent’s poison venomous,

The sinful passion dwells in us,

Can then from evil cankerous,

Be any free that live?

 

But they the cords of sin who break

May yet the evil path forsake,

Ere in that house their rest they take,

That waits for all who live.

 

Call us in mercy unto Thee

Again Thy witnesses to be,

O Thou, who openest graciously

Thy hand to all that live.

 

Low to the earth my head I bow,

With hands outspread, repeating now,

“Blessed, O Lord our God, be Thou

By every soul that lives!”

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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THE SOUL’S PASSION

 

Can my soul ever cool its passion

To adhere to the life—giving Rock?

With Him Wisdom’s fountain abides

Watering her grain and displaying her fruit.

The stately shape of the soul in her glory

Resembles a bride bedecked with jewels.

Every age retells God’s praises,

And the reborn nation will thank Him.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE SOUL

 

Lord, my soul, athirst for Thee,

Liveth but Thy light to see,

Though consumed with longing, lives,

For new life that longing gives.

Made in God’s similitude,

And with heavenly powers endued.

In His steps she followeth,

Seeking Him with every breath,

Passing free through boundless space,

All untouched by time, or place,

Executing her intent

Without tool or instrument.

When the body’s frame decay’d

In the gloomy grave is laid,

Then the soul with joyful might

Heavenward takes her radiant flight,

Serving God her sole delight.

Earthly treasures she forsakes,

And a bond of union makes

With the angels of the Lord,

One with them in sweet accord.

Endless is the good she sees,

All celestial harmonies,

Joy and everlasting pleasure,

More and more beyond all measure.

 

Translated by Alice Lucas

from Alice Lucas, The Jewish Year

(New York: Bloch, 1926).

Copyright © Alice Lucas, 1926.

 

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PUT AWAY TIME’S DELICACIES

 

O soul, emanated from the luminous fount of life,

You are hewn from the pure and holy place,

A unique creation without form,

Your worth surpasses wisdom and honor.

Do you not know why you were sent down to earth,

And why you are confined in the body’s dark recess?

Why do you persist in childish play

And chase the folly of the accursed earth?

Your sleep may be sweet at the outset,

Awakened, you will be bitter with regret.

Put away Time’s delicacies. Why

Would you be a vagabond and outcast when you leave the body?

Consider well the honor that is yours; it is the source of your [pride];

You are blessed to be a fearful servant of the living God.

Be well-advised in this World, so that

In the World—To—Come you may be bound up with the Lord.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra

(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).

Copyright © 1997 The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

۞


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Further Reading

Essay  

Abraham Ibn Ezra and the Metaphors of Imagination

Hebrew Sources

Levin, Israel, ed. Abraham Ibn Ezra: Religious Poems. Tel Aviv, 1976-1980.

Translations (all of these books also contain commentary and biography)

Carmi, T. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse. New York: Penguin, 1981.

Goldstein, David. The Jewish Poets of Spain, 900-1250. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971.

Scheindlin, Raymond P. The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991 (paperback: New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Scheindlin, Raymond P. Wine, Women, and Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1986 (paperback: New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Weinberger, Leon J. Twilight of a Golden Age: Selected Poems of Abraham Ibn Ezra. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1997.

Scholarship and Biography

Levin, Israel. Abraham Ibn Ezra: His Life and Poetry [Hebrew]. Tel Aviv, 1970.

Zinberg, Israel. A History of Jewish Literature. Vol 1, The Arabic-Spanish Period. Translated and edited by Bernard Martin. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University, 1972. See pp 153-162.

Links to Other Web Sites with Information on Abraham Ibn Ezra