26 November, 2007

Strength and yearning: translating Hebrew poetry

Filed under: Hebrew,Music,Poetry by Joel @ 12:23 am, 26 November 2007.

I just came back from the first in a series of close friends’ weddings. All in all it was beautiful and a lot of fun. As the bride entered, I and another three (including her grandmother) sang (two verses of) a setting of a 17th century poem, based on the Song of Songs, which I also had the opportunity to translate.

Having never tried to translate poetry before, it was an exciting challenge. Some poems require a literal translation; others need to have the right sense but also the rhythm and rhyme. In this case, I chose the latter.

With the help of others, especially Simon Holloway, this is what we came up with:

Chishki Chizki (חשקי חזקי) by Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605-1693)

My strength, my yearning day by day:
O king, dispel my dark away!
My source, my sun, though still so bright:
Your sun, my king, shall give me light.

Awake; Awake! O ten-stringed lyre:
Sing all your songs in voiced desire.
Your moon, your glow, need not return:
Here comes your light; my light is born.

חִשְׁקִי חִזְקִי מִדֵּי יוֹם יוֹם
מַהֵר הָאֵר מַלכִּי חָשׁכִּי
רִמְשִׁי שִׁמְשִׁי עוֹד לֹא יִכְבֶּה
יָאִיר לִי אוֹר שִׁמְשֵׁךְ מַלְכִּי

עוּרִי עוּרִי נֵבֶל עָשׂוֹר
בְּקוֹל זִמְרָה שִׁירִים שִׁירִי
יַרְחֵךְ זַרְחֵךְ לֹא יָבוֹא עוֹד
כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ קוּמִי אוֹרִי

19 November, 2007

Is there a bigger picture?

Filed under: Tanakh by Joel @ 9:52 pm, 19 November 2007.

In Genesis 31, Jacob decides that he’s had enough of his father-in-law, Laban, and in the end is pushed to escape secretly. His most beloved wife, Rachel, for whatever reason, takes her father’s teraphim idols, and it’s with this pretext of theft that he angrily greets the large family after chasing them seven days.

Jacob, innocent of any knowledge of his wife’s theft, is outraged by the accusation and basically exclaims:

Nu! So search us. If, somehow, you can find one of us has taken your gods, that person shall not live!

This harshness is from personal upset, but is also theological: Jacob could not understand one of his family having the motivation to take possession of forbidden idols.

The question is: was Rachel’s early death a result of this “curse” from Jacob?

15 November, 2007

Buy 239 get one free

Filed under: General by Joel @ 10:55 pm, 15 November 2007.

A couple of weeks ago, amid spewing out essays, I was relieved that I would finally be completing five years of Science/Arts and moving onto honours. Only, when I went to hand in my honours application, I couldn’t be found on the list of students qualifying to graduate. Hmm…

It turns out that while I could pass first and second-year maths without a problem, primary school arithmetic had let me down. My transcript listed 239 credit points. I needed 240 to graduate or go onto honours. Whoops!

12 November, 2007

Best of Ibn Ezra

Filed under: Tanakh by Joel @ 11:07 am, 12 November 2007.

I don’t know whether anyone has compiled a best-of for the comments of Abraham ibn Ezra, but it would probably have to be divided into “insights” and “insults”. He is often critical of prior commentators, but not always as cutting and hilarious as on Genesis 29:17 where Leah is described as having עיניים רכות (weak eyes).

Ibn Ezra first blasts those who try to make the text not as harsh to the Jewish matriarch, saying they project their own ideas onto God. He then brings the commentary of a Karaite that he was not particularly fond of:

ובן אפרים אמר שהוא חסר אל”ף, וטעמו ארוכות. והוא היה חסר אל”ף.

And Ben Ephraim said that it (“weak”, rakot) is missing an Aleph, and should mean “long [eyes]” (arukot). Yet he was [the one] missing an Aleph!

Ibn Ezra here not only implies that Ben Ephraim had a screw loose, but that if he indeed was missing an Aleph, he would be a בן פרים, a “son of cows”!

Definitely up there in the top-ten.

8 November, 2007

Abraham in discourse

Filed under: Hebrew,Tanakh by Joel @ 11:24 pm, 8 November 2007.

Genesis reports Abraham being involved in a few very intense dialogues, and it is interesting to notice some of the phrases he introduces his speech with. In chapter 15, his address to God is “My lord, Hashem”. When bargaining with God over the lives of the people of Sodom (chapter 18), he is more elaborate:

  • Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes… (הנה-נא הואלתי לדבר אל אדני ואנכי עפר ואפר)
  • Let not my Lord be angry if I go on… (אל-נא יחר לאדני ואדברה)
  • And again: Here I venture to speak to my Lord… (הנה-נא הואלתי לדבר אל אדני)
  • Let not my Lord be angry if I speak even this last time… (אל-נא יחר לאדני ואדברה אף-הפעם)

Appropriate language to speak with God? Maybe, but when it comes to negotiations with men, the relationship is more equal. Abraham discusses the purchase of a burial site for his late Sarah in chapter 23, and from both parties involved, the speech introduction is usually “my lord, hear me” (אדני שמעני) or “hear me, my lord” (שמעני אדני) or “no, my lord, hear me” (לא אדני שמעני) or “but if you will hear me” (אך אם אתה לו שמעני). Listening skills are in high demand, but…

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