Monday, February 10, 2014

Return, My Precious

My translation:
Return, my precious, to your resting place,    
            Return
Eternally seek rest at the throne Divine
            Reject
Thrones of earth as your repose—then you shall       
            Know that
Unto heights you shall ascend to take your
            Captive
Render honor and might in prostration      
            To God  
Nigh, in the abode of the mighty ones,  
            Sing praise.
This is my attempt at translating some of Yehuda HaLevi's poetry.  My goal was to capture the meaning of the poem without forgetting that it is a poem. Of course, there is no way to maintain the original poetic form. In my translation each of the six lines has 12 syllables and forms an acrostic of "return."

This poem by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi is the first in the collection of Shirei Yehuda HaLevi [1].  It is a true gem.  It is beautiful in both form and content.  It is a petition to the yechida, the unique, or precious one—the soul—to return to its natural place: the Divine Throne.  Only the third line reveals why we need petition the soul at all: the temptation of earthly thrones—i.e., human majesty.  Human majesty obscures and blocks man from rapturous ascent to the Divine Throne where he or she can, in the company of angels, offer praises to the almighty. 

The third line of this poem gave me the most difficulty in translation.  Literally, it would read: “Reject earthen thrones, then you will know” leading into the next line (as an enjambment): “Unto the heights ascend to take your captive.”  Shadal interprets this as follows: “Do not seek earthly greatness, then you will know that as a result you will ascend to the heights and you will take your captive.  Then you will be on the level of angels…”[2] 

[1] HaLevi, Yehuda. Shirei Yehuda HaLevi. Ed. Bernstein, S. New York: Ogen Publishing House, 1944.

[2] Luzzato, S. D. Commentary. Beit HaBechira: Kol Shirei Rebbe Yehuda HaLevi. by Yehuda Halevi.  Ed. S. Philip. Lemberg: M. Wolf, 1888. 

3 comments:

Avrohom said...

I would have translated maasi as despise. It is not so much an action but an attitude. I haven't checked where it appears in tanach but I believe that despise is the meaning of the word in modern Hebrew today.

By the way, are the full poems available online?

Yehuda said...

I agree that despise is probably closer to the meaning of maasi--I just thought "reject" sounded better. I thought the alliteration offered by the English return and reject helped emphasize the tension between שוב and מאסי.

Many of his שירים can be found online:
HaLevi, Yehuda. Shirei Yehuda HaLevi. Ed. Bernstein, S. New York: Ogen Publishing House, 1944.
Can be found here:
http://www.hebrewbooks.org/38215

Luzzato, S. D. Commentary. Beit HaBechira: Kol Shirei Rebbe Yehuda HaLevi. by Yehuda Halevi. Ed. S. Philip. Lemberg: M. Wolf, 1888.
Can be found here:
http://www.hebrewbooks.org/44067

Yehuda said...

This is a link to a collection of his poetry with the beautiful translations of Hillel Halkin:
http://nextbookpress.com/books/1589/