Samuel Hanagid

(993-1056)

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View of the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain. Whether a vizier, a military commander, or only a courtier, did Samuel Hanagid spend a lot of time in this castle?

ROUGE IN APPEARANCE

 

Rouge in appearance

and pleasant to drink,

mixed in Spain

and prized in Bombay;

weak in its pitcher but rising to the head it

rules in heads that sway.

Even the mourner whose tears

fall with his heart’s blood,

disperses his grief in retreat with wine,

As though friends—passing the cup from hand to hand—

were rolling dice, for a diamond.

 

Translated by Peter Cole

from Peter Cole, trans., Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Copyright © 1996 by Princeton University Press.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5707.html

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE MARKET

 

I crossed through a souk where the butchers

hung oxen and sheep at their sides,

there were birds and herds of fatlings like squid,

their terror loud

as blood congealed over blood

and slaughterers’ knives opened veins.

 

In booths alongside them the fishmongers,

and fish in heaps, and tackle like sand;

and beside them the Street of the Bakers

—whose ovens are fired through dawn.

 

They bake, they eat, they lead their prey;

they split what’s left to bring home.

And my heart understood how they did it and asked:

Who are you to survive?

What separates you from these beasts,

which were born and knew waking and labor and rest?

If they hadn’t been given by God for your meals,

they’d be free.

If He wanted this instant

He’d easily put you in their place.

 

They’ve breath, like you, and hearts,

which scatter them over the earth;

there was never a time when the living didn’t die,

nor the young that they bear not give birth.

 

Pay attention to this, you pure ones,

and princes so calm in your fame,

know if you’d fathom the worlds of the hidden:

THIS IS THE LAW OF MAN.

 

Translated by Peter Cole

from Peter Cole, trans., Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Copyright © 1996 by Princeton University Press.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5707.html

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE RUINED CITADEL

 

I billeted a strong force overnight in a citadel laid waste in former days by other generals. There we slept upon its back and flanks, while under us its landlords slept. And I said to my heart: Where are the many people who once lived here? Where are the builders and vandals, the rulers and paupers, the slaves and masters? Where are the begetters and the bereaved, the fathers and the sons, the mourners and the bridegrooms? And where are the many people born after the others had died, in days gone by, after other days and years? Once they lodged upon the earth; now they are lodged within it. They passed from their palaces to the grave, from pleasant courts to dust.

 

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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THE MOUNTAIN OF SAND

 

Do you remember the mountain pass of sand which I crossed alone while fleeing from you and afraid?

Even today I am in transit over you,—but behind me are tens of thousands who obey me like their father

And wait for my utterances as for the rain and attend to my wisdom as to prophecy. Because of this bless them for me my God,—may they follow after me willingly today.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THREE LOVE POEMS

 

1

 

I’d sell my soul for that fawn

of a boy      night walker

to sound of the ‘ud & flute playing

who saw the glass in my hand       said

“drink the wine from between my lips”

& the moon was a yod drawn on

the cover of dawn—in gold ink

 

2

 

take the blood of the grape from

her red jeweled glass like fire

in middle of hail

this lady with lips of scarlet

thread       roof of her mouth

like good wine

mouth like her body well perfumed:

from blood of corpses the tips

of her fingers are red       thus

half of her hand is like ruby

half quartz

 

3

 

that’s it—I love that fawn

plucking roses from

your garden—

you can put the blame on me

but if you once looked at my lover

with your eyes

your lovers would be hunting you

& you’d be gone

that boy who told me: pass

some honey from your hive

I answered: give me some back

on your tongue

& he got angry, yelled:

shall we two sin against the living God?

I answered: let your sin,

sweet master, be with me

 

Translated by Jerome Rothenberg and Harris Lenowitz

From Jerome Rothenberg and Harris Lenowitz, eds., Exiled in the Word:

Poems & Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present

(Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 1989).

Copyright © 1978, 1989 by Jerome Rothenberg.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher and of Jerome Rothenberg.

 

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THE MONARCH’S FAVORS

 

A monarch will not favor you unless he hopes to be

At ease while you labor and exert yourself in his service.

You are caught in his tongs: With one hand he brings you into

The flames,—while protecting you from the fire which with both hands he sets against you.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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GAZING THROUGH THE NIGHT

 

Gazing through the

night and its stars,

 

or the grass and its bugs,

 

I know in my heart these swarms

are the craft of surpassing wisdom.

Think: the skies

resemble a tent,

stretched taut by loops

and hooks;

 

and the moon with its stars,

a shepherdess,

on a meadow

grazing her flock;

 

and the crescent hull in the looser clouds

 

looks like a ship being tossed;

 

a whiter cloud, a girl

in her garden

tending her shrubs;

 

and the dew coming down is her sister

shaking water

from her hair onto the path;

 

as we

settle in our lives,

 

like beasts in their ample stalls—

 

fleeing our terror of death,

like a dove

its hawk in flight—

 

though we’ll lie in the end like a plate,

hammered into dust and shards.

 

Translated by Peter Cole

from Peter Cole, trans., Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Copyright © 1996 by Princeton University Press.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5707.html

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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PLUCK THE ROSES

 

Behold the cold days have already passed

And the season of winter’s rains is buried.

The young turtle-doves are seen in our land;

They call to one another from the tips of branches.

Therefore, my companions, keep the covenant

Of friendship make haste and do not defy me.

 

Come to my garden and pluck

The roses whose perfume is like pure myrrh.

And by the blossoms and gathering of swallows

Who sing of the good times, drink ye

Wine in measures like the tears I shed over parting

With friends and as red as the faces of blushing lovers.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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COLD DAYS HAVE COME

 

The month of ‘Av has ended even ‘Elul and their heat is gone;

Also Tishri is gathered in and like them has passed.

Cold days have come and the new wine

Is red and its voice is still in the vat.

Therefore my friend, go among our companions

So that each may do as he intends.

 

Some said: Look at the clouds giving rain

And hear the thunder of the heavens on high,

And see the frost and the bonfire’s flame;

One descends while the other lifts and rises.

Come, drink from the cup and drink again

From the pitcher, night and day.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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“DOES ISAAC LIVE?”

 

On the way to see my brother, when they said that in his illness he is crushed and low

A messenger of evil tidings stood in my path and was silent.

Whereupon I spoke to him: “Tell me, why are you still.

Does Isaac live?” He answered: “He is already dead.”

I replied: “Silence, may dust fill your mouth!

May you be notified of every distress and affliction and may your father and mother be bereaved over you!

Did I not bring a physician who healed many others like him and sustained them from sickness?

How can he die, the great one of his age, accepted of the multitude of his brethren and seeking the welfare of your people,

Perhaps he sleeps?” He replied: “Will he awake be he prince or pauper who has fallen ill and died?”

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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A DAY AGO I BURIED YOU

 

Lo, I return with my spirit in torment

May God have mercy upon you, my brother!

A day ago I buried you

But even now my complaint is bitter.

Greetings I bring you! Do you not hear

When I call to you with all my might?

Answer me: Do you not recognize

The response of my crying lament?

Are your bones starting to wither

And your teeth loosening in the jaw?

Has your moistness fled in the night

Even as mine is running in my tears?

O first born of my father, I have left you

As security in the hand of my Creator

Whose assurance I trust

That you will go in peace.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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LAMENT FOR HIS BROTHER

 

On one of his journeys, he passed by his brother’s burial-place. There he paused and addressed him as follows:

 

Is there a sea between me and you, that I should not turn aside to be with you, that I should not run with a troubled heart to sit at your grave-side? Truly, if I did not do so, I would be a traitor to our brotherly love. O my brother, here I am, facing you, sitting by your grave, and the grief in my heart is as great as on the day you died. If I greeted you, I would hear no reply. You do not come out to meet me when I visit your grounds. You will not laugh in my company, nor I in yours. You cannot see my face, nor I yours, for the pit is your home, the grave your dwelling-place! First-born of my father, son of my mother, may you have peace in your final rest, and may the spirit of God rest upon your spirit and your soul! I am returning to my own soil, for you have been locked under the soil. Sometimes I shall sleep, sometimes wake—while you lie in your sleep forever. But until my last day, the fire of your loss will remain in my heart!

 

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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ANSWER ME

 

Build me up like a tower on the heights of your sanctuary,

And set me like a seal upon your heart.

Make me drunk with the blood of the foe on the day of war

And satisfy me with his flesh on the night of redemption.

Place the cup of salvation upon my right hand

That my tongue may give voice in joy to a song of love.

For nearly a thousand years I have declared my sorrow

With many tears and with fasting,—will You not answer me?

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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THE HOUR

 

She said: “Be happy that God has helped you reach

The age of fifty in this world,” not knowing

That to me there is no difference between my life’s

Past and that of Noah about whom I heard.

For me there is only the hour in which I am present in this world:

It stays for a moment and then like a cloud moves on.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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ON FLEEING HIS CITY

 

And this in his youth on leaving Cordoba:

 

 

Spirit splits in its asking,

 

and soul in its wanting is balked;

 

and the body, fattened, is vital

and full—

 

its precious being uneasy . . .

 

But the modest man

walks on the earth with his

thought drawn toward sky.

 

What good is the pulse of man’s flesh

and its favors

when the mind is in pain?

 

And the friends who fray me,

their fine physiques

and slender thinking,

thinking it’s ease or gain

that drives me,

pitching from place to place,

my hair wild, my eyes

charcoaled with night—

and not a one speaks wisely,

their souls blunted, or blurred,

goat-footed thinkers.

 

Should someone unguilty

hold back from

longing toward heights like the moon?

Should he wait,

weaving its light across him

like a man stretching taut his tent skin,

until he acts and they hear of his action,

as he adds and then adds like the sea

to his fame?

 

By God and God’s faithful—

and I keep my oaths—

I’ll climb cliffs

and descend to the innermost pit,

and sew the edge of desert to desert,

and split the sea

and every gorge,

and sail in mountainous ascent,

 

until the word “forever” makes sense to me,

 

and my enemies fear me,

and my friends in that fear

find solace;

 

then free men will turn

their faces toward mine,

as I face theirs,

 

and soul will save us,

as it trips our obstructors.

 

The beds of our friendship are rich with it,

planted by the river of affection,

and fixed like a seal in wax,

like graven gold

in the windowed dome of the temple.

 

May YAH be with you as you love,

and your soul which He loves be delivered,

 

and the God of sentence

send aegis,

 

beyond both the sun and the moon.

 

Translated by Peter Cole

from Peter Cole, trans., Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Copyright © 1996 by Princeton University Press.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/5707.html

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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TAKE THIS BOOK

 

Joseph, take this book that I have selected for you from the choice works in the language of the Arabs.

I have copied it,—while the killing spear was sharpened by our hands and the sword drawn.

And death decrees one army to be exchanged for another, even (life’s) time (for its demise).

But I cease not from teaching you though death’s mouth is opened all about me,

In order that wisdom may come upon you,—for it is dearer to me than discovering my foes defeated.

Take it and reflect upon it and quit the crowds who deride language and speech.

Know that the man of understanding is like a tree of sweet fruit whose leaves are healing remedies,

While the fool is like the tree of the forest whose limbs and branches will be consumed by fire in the end.

 

Translated by Leon J. Weinberger

from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,

Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.

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

Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

 

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Further Reading

Essay

Samuel Hanagid and the “Law of Man”

Hebrew Sources

Abrahamson, S.R. Shmuel Hanagid: Ben Kohelet. Tel Aviv. 1953,

______________. Shmuel Hanagid: Ben Mishlei. Tel Aviv. 1949,

Habermann, A.M. Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid: Divan. Tel Aviv, 1947.

Yarden, Dov, ed. Divan Shmuel Hanagid [The Collected Poetry of Samuel the Prince, 993-1056]: Ben Tehillim [The Son of Psalms]. 2nd ed. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1985.

__________. Divan Shmuel Hanagid [The Collected Poetry of Samuel the Prince, 993-1056]: Vol. 2. Ben Mishlei [The Son of Proverbs]. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1982.

__________. Divan Shmuel Hanagid [The Collected Poetry of Samuel the Prince, 993-1056]: Vol. 3. Ben Qohelet [The Son of Ecclesiastes]. 1st ed. Jerusalem: Dov Yarden, 1992.

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.

Halkin, Hillel. Grand Things to Write a Poem on: A Verse Autobiography of Shmuel Hanagid. Jerusalem: Gefen, 2000.

HaNagid, Shmuel. Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid. Translated by Peter Cole.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.

Ibn Nagrela, Samuel. Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel Ibn Nagrela. Translated by Leon J. Weinberger. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1973.

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).

Scholarship and Biography

Ashtor, Eliayhu. The Jews of Moslem Spain. Two vols. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973. See vol 2/3, ch 2, “Samuel the Nagid and His Son,” pp. 41-189.

Levin, Israel. Samuel Hanagid: His Life and Poetry [Hebrew]. Tel Aviv, 1963.

Schirmann, Jefim. “Samuel HaNagid, the Man, the Soldier, the Politician.” Jewish Social Studies XIII:1 (January 1951), 99-126. (Available in online periodical databases accessible from many libraries.)

Zemazch, Eddy M. “Hanagid on God and Men.” Prooftexts 24 (2004), 87-98. The author argues that much of Hanagid’s work expresses not “theological hedonism,” as argued elsewhere by Dan Pagis, but “brave existential pessimism”: “Hanagid tells us to live it up, not because he knows that God wants it, but because he knows that we want it.”

Links to Other Web Sites with Information on Samuel Hanagid