The Power of the Pen
Man's wisdom is at the tip of his pen,
His intelligence is in his writing.
His pen can raise a man to the rank
That the scepter accords to a king.
Go, tell all the Sanhaja,1
the full moons of our time, the lions in their lair
The words of one who bears them love, and is concerned
and counts it a religious duty to give advice.
Your chief has made a mistake
which delights malicious gloaters
He has chosen an infidel as his secretary
when he could, had he wished, have chosen a Believer.
Through him, the Jews have become great and proud
and arrogant --- they, who were among the most abject
And have gained their desired and attained the utmost
and this happened so suddenly, before they even realized it,
And how many a worthy Muslim humbly obeys
the vilest ape2 among these miscreants.
And this did not happen through their own efforts
but through one of our own people who rose as their accomplice.
O, why did he not deal with them, following
the example set by worthy and pious leaders?
Put them back where they belong
and reduce them to the lowest of the low,
Roaming among us, with their little bags,
with contempt, degradation and scorn as their lot,
Scrabbling in the dunghills for colored rags
to shroud their dead for burial.
They did not make light of our great ones
or presume against the righteous,
These low-born people would not be seated in society
or paraded 3 along with the intimates of the ruler
Badis!4 You are a clever man
and your judgment is sure and accurate
How can their misdeeds be hidden from you
when they are trumpeted all over the land?
How can you love this bastard brood
when they have made you hateful to all the world?
How can you complete your ascent to greatness
when they destroy what you build?
How have you been lulled to trust a villain
and made him your companion - though he is evil company?
God has vouchsafed in His revelations
a warning against the society of the wicked
Do not choose a servant from among hem
but leave them to the curse of the accurst!
For the earth cries out against their wickedness
and is about to heave and swallow all.
Turn your eyes to other countries
and you will find the Jews are outcast dogs.
Why should you be different and bring them near
when in al the land they are kept afar?
--You, who are a well-beloved king,
scion of glorious kings,
An are the first among men
as your forebears were first in their time.
I came to live in Granada
and I saw them frolicking there.
They divided up the city and the provinces
with one of their accursed men everywhere.
They collect all the revenues,
they munch and they crunch.
They dress in the finest clothes
while you wear the meanest.
They are the trustees of your secrets
--yet how can traitors be trusted?
Others eat a dirham's worth, afar,
while they are near, and dine well.
They challenge you to your God
and they are neither stopped nor reproved.
They envelop you with their prayers
and you neither see nor hear.
They slaughter beasts in our markets
and you eat their trefa.
Their chief ape has marbled his house
and led the finest spring water to it.
Our affairs are now in his hands
and we stand at his door.
He laughs at us and at our religion
and we return to our God.
If I said that his wealth is as great
as yours, I would speak the truth.
Hasten to slaughter him as an offering,
sacrifice him, for he is a fat ram
And do not spare his people
for they have amassed every precious thing.
Break loose their grip and take their money
for you have a better right to what they collect.
Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them
--- the breach of faith would be to let them carry on.
They have violated our covenant with them
so how can you be held guilty against violators?
How can they have any pact
when we are obscure and they are prominent?
Now we are the humble, beside them,
as if we had done wrong, and they right!
Do not tolerate their misdeeds against us
for you are surety for what they do.
God watches His own people
and the people of God will prevail.
Midnight on the Front Line
By Samuel Ibn Naghrela
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in a reconstruction of medieval Andalusi Hebrew pronunciation
That night, I quartered my troops in a citadel
Laid waste by commanders of yesteryear
They fell asleep at its walls and foundations
While its former masters slept beneath.
Then I said in my heart: "O what has come
Of the people that dwelt here before we came?
Where are the builders, and where the destroyers,
The rich and the poor, the lords and their slaves,
The mourners and grooms, the fathers and sons,
The bereaved, the begetters, the meek, the courageous?
Great peoples one by one have all come
And died in the passage of years and ages.
They lodged on the face of the earth long ago
Who are lodged in the gut of the ground today.
Their proud palaces turned into humbling tombs.
Their pleasant courts to dust again..
And if they could raise their heads and rise
they'd take our lives and pleasures! Believe it,
My living soul! In truth and tomorrow,
I'll be like them- and this troop of sleepers."
הלינותי גדודשמואל הנגיד
הלינותי גדוד כבד בבירה הרסוה ימי קדם קציניםוישנו עלי גבה וצדהותחתינו בעליה ישניםודברתי ללבי אי קהליםועמים שכנו בזאת לפנים?ואי בונים ומחריבים ושריםודלים ועבדים ואדוניםומולידים ושכולים ואבותובנים ואבלים וחתניםועם רב נולדו אחר אחריםבימים אחרי ימים ושניםוהיו על פני הארץ שכניםוהם היום בלב ארץ שכוניםוקבר חלפו מארמונותםועפר מחצרים נעמניםואילו העלו ראשם ויצאושללונו נפשים ועדניםאמת נפשי, אמת, כהם למחראהי אני ואלה ההמונים!