Forugh Farrokhzad: Captive (From Persian)

Owing to idiosyncrasies of temperament and biography, I don't engage with modern Persian poetry a great deal. I also very rarely translate it, in part because I feel I know too little of modern Iranian cultural, literary and linguistic phenomena to do it as sensibly as I'd like, compared to the classical tradition for which books are a reasonable access point, and the medieval world which nobody can study except from a distance of centuries.
But Forugh Farrokhzad, to use a phrase she might have approved of in this context, is very hard to resist.  This is the third poem of hers that I have translated, mainly due to the depth of my dismay at how badly most of her translators have botched the job (especially with her metered and rhymed works) leaving the English reader with something almost as unreadable as it is unconscionable in its traducement of Forugh.
If there is one thing to be said about Forugh, it is that she had an irrepressible genius for being herself, which isn't as tautological as it might sound. She was true to herself in spite of all attempts by the society around her and by many of the individuals she knew, to make her into something else, more ladylike, less flamboyant, less overtly sexual, and probably a good deal less interesting.  She has been rightly noted as a woman who almost singlehandedly made it possible for a poet to speak as a woman in Persian. While far from being the first woman to write poetry in Persian, she was notable for not being afraid to write poetry as an Iranian woman. Women's experience had almost no precedent in Persian poetry. Those few women of the medieval tradition (such as Mahasti and Jahan Khatun) who did write poetry and did attempt to incorporate women's experience into their work, always seem to be at great pains to remain ladylike and proper while doing so. When Jahan Khatun wishes to express sexual desire, for example, she is forced to speak as a man (to the point of comparing herself to legendary male lovers, and even talking about her beard.) Even Forugh's female contemporaries (to my ear) evince this kind of timidness. Forugh the Modernist, however, comes to express over the course of her five volumes a full range of experience as a woman, including that not only of being desired but of actively desiring. And desire she did. A lot. From the publication of her first book Asīr 'Captive' which takes its title from the poem translated here, Forugh's poetry startled, shocked, scandalized and fascinated her readers.
And Forugh writes as herself. We can almost always be certain that the poetic "I" of her poems is referring to her, or at least some stylized version of her. The poem translated here, for example, was written during an unhappy marriage which she later left (and her husband, as was the norm back there and back then, got sole custody of the child in the divorce.) This autobiographical voice, coupled with her penchant for expressing and treating taboo topics (and not being shy about having a sex life that was not limited to writing) seems to have made her an attractive subject for biographical speculation, condemnation, and outright fantasizing by male readers of her work, much as was the case for Louise Labé in Renaissance France, and Edna St. Vincent Millay in 20th century America.
Forugh would eventually come to abandon the tropes, meters and rhymes of the classical tradition (though the shadow of Persian meter always hovers behind even her freest compositions.) Yet here in a poem from her first book, she exploits them to interesting effect. Though in all but one poem ever published she has forsaken monorhyme, preferring like other early Persian modernists to adopt stanzaic rhymes reminiscent of western verse, her diction, meter and habits of phrase would have more in common with the poetry of centuries past than with the free and colloquially tinged verse she would later prefer. The imagery, too, is not entirely new. The trope of a bird trapped in a cage yearning for the loved one above is a well-worn (perhaps even worn down) classical motif. In the classical tradition, however, this is almost always used as a Sufi metaphor to refer to the soul trapped in this world, yearning for the absent Beloved Almighty. (The opening verse of this poem by Hafiz is a brief typical example.)
Forugh maintains the theme of the absent beloved, so central to Persian lyricism, and recycles much of the caged bird motif in the poem's first half or so, but there is a new tone of despair overlaying it. Moreover, whereas God and Beloved tended to merge in classical poetry (and especially when caged birds are involved,) the absent beloved is here very corporeal. And (gasp!) it's a woman desiring him. Indeed, throughout Forugh's work, alongside a near-total absence of anything recognizably "Islamic," one finds a great many such profanations, when not outright sexualizations, of the sacred, appropriating the imagery (or even meters, such as that of Rumi's Masnawī) traditionally associated with divine union or Sufi yearning. In the most inspired cases, such as her 'āšiqāna "Love Song" this has the effect of elevating the joy of carnal sexual union to the highest level of glory and wonder. But I'm getting ahead of myself, and this introductory note has now gotten far longer than I meant for it to get.
In any case, the poem here translated is a relatively sedate one, all things considered, a timid first peep that would eventually swell to full-throated song. But the signs are unmistakable. Turā mēxwāham "I want you" says she with scant decorum.

Forugh Farrokhzad
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I want you and I know I'll never hold you
To satisfy my heart in an embrace.
You are the clear bright heavens, I a captive
Bird in a cage that keeps me in my place.

My face behind these cold dark bars looks out
At yours, eyes full of wonderment and rue.
I think about a hand outstretched toward me,
That I might rise on instant wings toward you.

I think about one moment of neglect
When from this stifling sullen jail I'd glide,
Laugh in the face of him who jailed me, leaving
This life to seek a new one at your side.

I think such thoughts, but know I'll never be
Able to flee this cage before I die.
For even if my keeper wished me gone,
I've not enough strength left in me to fly.

Across the bars I see each sunlit morning
My child's eyes smile at mine in gentle glee,
And when I lift my voice in joyous song
His lips come offering up a kiss to me.

Sweet heavens, even if one day I rose
And from this smothering prison cell struck free,
What would I say to my boy's tearsoaked eyes?
"I was a bird held captive. Let me be."

I am a candle that illuminates
Cold ruins with the burning in my breast.
If I should choose to go for dark and silence
It would be desolation for my nest.

The Original:

فروغ فرخزاد 

ترا می خواهم و دانم که هرگز
به کام دل در آغوشت نگیرم
توئی آن آسمان صاف و روشن
من این کنج قفس، مرغی اسیرم

ز پشت میله های سرد و تیره
نگاه حسرتم حیران برویت
در این فکرم که دستی پیش آید
و من ناگه گشایم پر بسویت

در این فکرم که در یک لحظه غفلت
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم مرد زندانبان بخندم
کنارت زندگی از سر بگیرم

در این فکرم من و دانم که هرگز
مرا یارای رفتن زین قفس نیست
اگر هم مرد زندانبان بخواهد
دگر از بهر پروازم نفس نیست

ز پشت میله ها، هر صبح روشن
نگاه کودکی خندد برویم
چو من سر می کنم آواز شادی
لبش با بوسه می آید بسویم

اگر ای آسمان خواهم که یکروز
از این زندان خامش پر بگیرم
به چشم کودک گریان چه گویم
ز من بگذر، که من مرغی اسیرم

من آن شمعم که با سوز دل خویش
فروزان می کنم ویرانه ای را
اگر خواهم که خاموشی گزینم
پریشان می کنم کاشانه ای را


Furōɣ Farruxzād

Turā mēxwāham o dānam ki hargiz
Ba kām-i dil dar āɣōšat nagīram
Toī ān āsmān-i sāf o rawšan
Man īn kunj-i qafas, murɣē asīram

Zi pušt-i mīlahā-i sard o tīra
Nigāh-i hasratam hayrān barōyat
Dar īn fikram ki dastē pēš āyad
Ba man nāgah gušāyam par basōyat

Dar īn fikram ki dar yak lahza ɣaflat
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i mard-i zindānbān bixandam.
Kanārat zindagī az sar bigīram

Dar īn fikram man o dānam, ki hargiz
Marā yārā-i raftan zīn qafas nēst.
Agar ham mard-i zindānbān bixwāhad
Digar az bahr-i parwāzam nafas nēst

Zi pušt-i mīlahā har subh-i rawšan
Nigāh-i kōdakē xandad barōyam
Ču man sar mēkunam āwāz-i šādī
Labaš bā bōsa mēāyad basōyam

Agar, ay āsmān, xwāham ki yak rōz
Az īn zindān-i xāmuš par bigīram.
Ba čašm-i kōdak-i giryān či gōyam
Zi man bigzar, ki man murɣē asīram.

Man ān šam'am ki bā sōz-i dil-i xwēš
Furōzān mēkunam wērānaērā
Agar xwāham ki xāmōšī guzīnam
Parēšān mēkunam kāšānaērā

Hafiz: Ghazal 40 "Thanks be to God..." (From Persian)

Ghazal 40: "Thanks be to God..." 
By Hafiz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Thanks be to God that at long last the wine-shop's door
    Is open, since it's what I'm longing, headed for.
The jars are clamoring, bubbling with intoxication.
    The wine they hold is real and not a metaphor.1
It brings me drunkenness and pride and dissipation
    I bring my helplessness, and desperate need for more.
A secret I've not told to others, nor will tell,
    I'll tell my Friend. With him a secret is secure.
It's no short story. It describes each twist and turn
    In my beloved's hair. For lovers have much lore.
Majnún's heart fell for Layla's curls,2 as King Mahmoud's
    Face fell at slave Ayáz's feet forevermore.3
I, like a hawk, have sealed my eyes to all this world,
    To catch sight of your face, the beauty I adore.
Whoever wanders in the Ka'ba of your street,
    Your eyebrow is the Qibla he must pray before. 
        Friends who would know why humbled Hafiz' heart is burning,
        Ask candles why they melt about a burning core.


1 - As Wheeler Thackston writes in A Millennium of Classical Persian Poetry:
One of the major difficulties Persian poetry poses to the novice reader lies in the pervasion of poetry by mysticism. Fairly early in the game the mystics found that they could "express the ineffable" in poetry much better than in prose. Usurping the whole of the poetic vocabulary that had been built up by that time, they imbued every word with mystical signification. What had begun as liquid wine with alcoholic content became the "wine of union with the godhead" on which the mystic is "eternally drunk." Beautiful young cupbearers with whom one might like to dally became shāhids, "bearers of witness" to the dazzling beauty of that-which-truly-exists. After the mystics had wrought their influence on the tradition, every word of the poetic vocabulary had acquired such "clouds" of associated meaning from lyricism and mysticism that the two strains merged into one. Of course some poets wrote poetry that is overtly and unmistakably mystical and "Sufi." It is much more difficult to identify poetry that is not mystical. It is useless to ask, for instance, whether Hāfiz's poetry is "Sufi poetry" or not. The fact is that in the fourteenth century it was impossible to write a ghazal that did not reverberate with mystical overtones forced on it by the poetic vocabulary itself.
It is for this reason that Hafiz might feel he had reason to go so far as to explicitly state that the wine here is not a metaphor. He short-circuits the mystical tradition by acknowledging, and negating it.
It is not easy to pinpoint what, exactly, distinguishes Hafiz from his contemporaries and predecessors. My sense is that Hafiz, somewhat like Pushkin, inherited a tradition that happened to accord with his own temperament and needs, as well as his time and place, so perfectly that all of that tradition's conventions came more naturally to him than to his predecessors, and he was thus able to breathe great freshness and scope into a storehouse of ideas that were in and of themselves neither new nor unique to him. Heterodoxy is praised and vaunted in the ghazal, but Hafiz was heterodox. Likewise wine is praised as a matter of tradition, but Hafiz really did love wine that much. And so forth. Then again, given that there isn't much about Hafiz' life that we can know other than what clues in his own poems tell us, I may be open to the charge of circular reasoning there.
On this point, there are two things worth mentioning here with regard to the poem at hand. First, Hafiz likes wine. Though the theme of wine-drinking, real or metaphorical, was not new to Persian poetry, no poet before Hafiz had made wine (both real and not) and the bacchanalian scene such an integral, constant and almost obsessive part of his verse. Second: Hafiz likes sticking it to The Man when he can get away with it. His poetry is full of verses and even whole poems which blast or mock the religious establishment, which he seems to have viewed as laden with hypocrisy. While antinomianism and anti-clericalism likewise had long been part of the ghazal tradition (and indeed can be shown to have Sufi origins), it is generally agreed that in no other medieval Persian poet of his time or earlier do we find so much verse devoted to unmasking pietism, poking fun at the hypocrisy of religious authorities, and scandalizing orthodox sensibilities by praising what is normally disreputable, and casting aspersions on what is normally revered. Lines that flaunt their deviance or impiety, or indulge in wanton profanation of the sacred in Hafiz' work seem less the usual dutiful and fashionable flirtations with heterodoxy of other poets, and more chosen for their shock-value. Demystifying a normally mystically-tinted beverage would also seem to be quite in keeping with this aspect of Hafiz' temperament.

- Majnūn and Laylā: famous fictional lovers in Islamicate cultures often mentioned as a paradigm of love (rather as Romeo and Juliet are in English-speaking ones.) Majnūn fell in love with Layla when the two were young, and asked to marry her. Majnūn however, was so obsessed with Layla, so ardently in love with her and so ceaseless in professing that love, that Layla's father believed him to be mentally unbalanced and so refused to allow it, choosing another to marry her instead. On hearing that Layla had been married to another and was traveling with him, Majnun left his tribe and started wandering aimlessly in the wilderness in search of her, never to return to his tribe. She took ill and eventually died of longing for him. His dead body was eventually found at the grave where she had been buried.

-Mahmūd and Ayāz: another amorous pair, the most celebrated gay couple in all of medieval Persia. Mahmud of Ghazna (971-1030) was a Ghaznavid king who fell passionately in love with his slave Ayāz, though he also had a wife, Jahān Kawsarī, by whom he had two heirs. So great was Mahmūd's love for the handsome slave that he made him general of the royal army, and eventually installed him as the first Muslim governor of Lahore, which Mahmud had recently conquered. According to an anecdote famous at the time (though which likely hasn't a whit of historical truth to it) King Mahmūd once asked Ayāz "do you know of any king greater or mightier than I?" Ayāz responded "Yes, I am a king greater than you." Mahmūd demanded proof for such an outrageous claim. Ayāz replied thus: "though you are a king, you are a slave to your heart, and I, though a slave, am king of that heart."
Both couples were the inspiration for many poems and songs, and both are commonly referenced in Persian poetry. Yet Laylā and Majnūn are a fictional heterosexual Arab couple who fell in love as children, whose love remained unconsummated, and who never loved anyone except one another.
Mahmūd and Ayāz are a historical homosexual Turkic couple who fell in love in adulthood, whose love was consummated, and whose relationship was not exclusive. Furthermore, the story of Laylā and Majnūn is one which focuses on Majnūn,  the pursuer, as the ideal, or at least paradigmatic, lover. The story of Mahmūd and Ayāz, on the other hand, focuses, as do most literary allusions to the couple, on Ayāz, the pursued, conceived as the ideal beloved. In mentioning these two contrasting couples in parallel fashion, Hafiz is delineating the great range of possible forms love may take, and the possible points of view from which one can conceive and experience it.

The Original:

المنة لله که در میکده باز است   
زان رو که مرا بر در او روی نیاز است
خم‌ها همه در جوش و خروشند ز مستی   
وان می که در آن جاست حقیقت نه مجاز است
از وی همه مستی و غرور است و تکبر   
وز ما همه بیچارگی و عجز و نیاز است
رازی که بر غیر نگفتیم و نگوییم  
 با دوست بگوییم که او محرم راز است
شرح شکن زلف خم اندر خم جانان   
کوته نتوان کرد که این قصه دراز است
بار دل مجنون و خم طرۀ لیلی   
رخسارۀ محمود و کف پای ایاز است
بردوخته‌ام دیده چو باز از همه عالم   
تا دیده من بر رخ زیبای تو باز است
در کعبۀ کوی تو هر آن کس که بیاید   
از قبلۀ ابروی تو در عین نماز است
ای مجلسیان سوز دل حافظ مسکین   
از شمع بپرسید که در سوز و گداز است

Tajik Cyrillic: 

Алминнату лиллаҳ, ки дари майкада боз аст, 
3-он рӯ, ки маро бар дари ӯ рӯи ниёз аст. 
Хумҳо ҳама дар ҷӯшу хурӯшанд зи мастӣ 
В-он май, ки дар он ҷост, ҳақиқат, на маҷоз аст. 
Аз вай ҳама мастиву ғурур асту такаббур 
В-аз мо ҳама бечорагиву аҷзу ниёз аст. 
Розе, ки бари ғайр нагуфтему нагӯем, 
Бо дӯст бигӯем, ки ӯ маҳрами роз аст. 
Шарҳи шикани зулфи хам андар хами ҷонон 
Кӯтаҳ натавон кард, ки ин қисса дароз аст. 
Бори дили Маҷнуну хами турраи Лайлӣ, 
Рухсораи Маҳмуду кафи пои Аёз аст. 
Бардӯхтаам дида, чу боз, аз ҳама олам, 
То дидаи ман бар рухи зебои ту боз аст. 
Дар Каъбаи кӯи ту ҳар он кас, ки биёяд, 
Аз Қиблаи абрӯи ту дар айни намоз аст. 
Эй маҷлисиён, сӯзи дили Ҳофизи мискин 
Аз шамъ бипурсед, ки дар сӯзу гудоз аст.


Alminnatu lillah ki dar-i maykada bāzast,
Zān rō, ki marā bar dar-i ō rōy-i niyāzast.
Xumhā hama dar jōš o xurōšand zi mastī
Wān may, ki dar ānjāst, haqīqat, na majāzast.
Az way hama mastī o ɣurūrast o takabbur
Waz mā hama bēčāragī o 'ajz o niyāzast.
Rāzē ki bar-i ɣayr naguftēm o nagōyēm,
Bā dōst bigōyēm, ki ō mahram-i rāzast.
Šarh-i šikan-i zulf-i xam andar xam-i jānān
Kōtah natawān kard, ki īn qissa darāzast.
Bār-i dil-i Majnūn o xam-i turra-i Laylī
Ruxsāra-i Mahmūd o kaf-i pāy-i Ayāzast.
Bardōxta am dīda, ču bāz, az hama 'ālam,
Tā dīda-i man bar rux-i zēbā-i to bāzast.
Dar Ka'ba-i kūy-i to har ān kas ki biyāyad
Az qibla-i abrū-i to dar 'ayn-i namāzast
Ay majlisiyān, sōz-i dil-i Hāfiz-i miskīn
Az šam' bipursēd, ki dar sōz o gudāzast. 

Goethe: Unbounded (From German)

This poem was originally titled "Hafiz" and is a tribute to the Persian poet whom Goethe, during his oriental phase, loved dearly. Such things are not fashionable to say nowadays, but Goethe actually shows a greater understanding of the character of classical Persian lyric poetry than many western scholars who actually knew Persian. Though perhaps it is simply that Goethe's understanding and appreciation of Hafiz' in all his bacchanalian mysticism and mystical bacchanalianism, is so very like my own. He seems to have perceived in Hafiz many of the same qualities that I do, qualities which so many far more learned in Persian than I have often been deaf to. Goethe even includes a poem in the Divan about the shallowness of those who think it profound to call Hafiz a Sufi Mystic.
In 1813, Goethe had begun to read Hafiz in a recently published German translation by Austrian diplomat and Orientalist Joseph Von Hammer, and felt inspired to imitate him. When he met the beautiful and talented Marianne von Willemer in Wiesenbaden, the two fell in love and found a powerful connection in their shared admiration for Hafiz. In the passionate correspondence that developed between them, Marianne and Goethe would send each other coded messages via numerical reference to Hafiz' lyrics. A great many poems drawing on "the East" for inspiration were born of their fruitful, albeit ephemeral, affair. The end result was Goethe's West-Östlicher Divan "West-Eastern Divan", from which the poem translated here is taken.
The Divan is essentially an imagined and imaginative dialogue between the German poet of Weimar and the Persian poet of Shiraz, a salute to an artist who greatly appealed to Goethe (rather correctly) as an enemy of dogmatism and lover of life's pleasures who prized spiritual experience and disdained religious institution, and in whom he perceived (rather mistakenly) a kind of Persian analogue to Voltaire. 

J.W. Goethe
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

You cannot end, and that's what makes you great.
You've no beginning, and that is your fate. 
So like the vault of stars, your circling song:
The end is the beginning all along,
And what the middle holds for all to see
Preceded all, and after all shall be.

True fount of poets' joy forever new,
Numberless waves on waves flow forth from you!
Lips ever ready for a kiss,
Song of the breast that sweetly wells,
Throat ever parched for drink and bliss,
Good heart that freely pours and tells.

Let this world perish, so I know
I vie with you and only you,
Hafiz! Lets share all joy and woe
As true twin brothers, one from two.
To love and drink as you would do
Shall be my pride and my life too.

Now song with your own fire, ring truer!
For you are older. You are newer.

The Original:

J.W. Goethe

Daß du nicht enden kannst, das macht dich groß,
Und daß du nie beginnst, das ist dein Los.
Dein Lied ist drehend wie das Sterngewölbe,
Anfang und Ende immerfort dasselbe,
Und was die Mitte bringt ist offenbar
Das was zu Ende bleibt und anfangs war.

Du bist der Freuden echte Dichterquelle,
Und ungezählt entfließt dir Well auf Welle.
Zum Küssen stets bereiter Mund,
Ein Brustgesang der lieblich fließet,
Zum Trinken stets gereizter Schlund,
Ein gutes Herz das sich ergießet.

Und mag die ganze Welt versinken!
Hāfis, mit dir, mit dir allein
Will ich wetteifern! Lust und Pein
Sei uns den Zwillingen gemein!
Wie du zu lieben und zu trinken,
Das soll mein Stolz, mein Leben sein.

Nun töne Lied mit eignem Feuer!
Denn du bist älter, du bist neuer.

Sharafaddin Khorāsāni: Death (From Persian)

By Sharafaddin Khorasani
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

This sleep forever drained of consciousness,
this consciousness eternally asleep,
this pit of bones and boulders keeps a silence
even the moons abodes could never keep.

It is a snowfall settled on a roof
covering an abandoned cabin's floor.
The cage there has released an air-bound message
whose ravened beak now pecks against the door.

Through radiance of the noonday's candlelight
sleep, ponderous as a boulder, holds it pent
though you could swear you heard eternity
playing the silence like an instrument.

In the hushed wastes of sand and salt out there
the lightning comes with a mirage's sign.
Is it the mere light of the moon and sea
or slumber's Houris, bright with the divine?

Our house's musk-sweet, wine-bright torch is out,
leaving mere smoke on walls it once possessed;
The sleek and gorgeous leopard is away,
leaving a lost sigh in the forest's breast.

Sprouts sow themselves and germinate in thirst
beneath the parched crust of this brackish ground;
The bosom of this slumberous sphere now lies
around the spent ash of a world of sound.

Arise! For now these regions of the dark
lie in the gyre of the morning breeze.
The reckless ship is scuttled in the narrows,
tired and retired now from the stir of seas.

The Original:

شرف الدين خراسانى

خوابيست كه مانده خالى از هوش
هوشيست كه رفته جاودان خواب
چاهيست پر استخوان و پر سنگ
خاموشتر از ديار مهتاب

برفيست فرونشسته بر بام
وان بام ز كلبه ايست متروك
آنجا ز قفس پريده پيغام
مرغيست كه ميزند بر ان نوك

در پرتو شمع نيمروزى
خوابيش گران گرفته چون سنگ
از كاسۀ ان سكوت جاويد
گوئى شنوى هنوز اهنگ

ان سوى در اين كوير خاموش
برقى و نشانى از سرابست
يا پرتو ماهتاب و درياست
يا جلوۀ حوريان خوابست

زان مشعل مشكبوى ميفام
در خانۀ ما نمانده جز دود
زان ماده پلنگ خوش خط و خال
اهيست درون بيشه مفقود

هر گوشه از اين كوير بى اب
بس ريشۀ تشنه خيز و خودروست
در سينۀ اين سپهر پرخواب
خاكستر يك جهان هياهوست

برخيز! كه باد بامدادى
پيچيده در اين فضاى تاريك
وان زورق خستۀ بى ارام
افتاده در اين خليج باريك

A. N. Onymous: Humpty Dumpty (From Modern to Old English)

As a break from all the Persian lyricism I've been working on of late, because literary translators don't always have to take themselves entirely seriously, and because it's been a while since I paid a visit to the lovely English tongue of auld lang syne, here's my translation of a widely known English nursery rhyme into a version of English somewhat less widely known than that of the original.

Hēafdol Dēafdol
By A. N. Onymous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Hēafdol dēafdol sæt on wāge
Hēafdol dēafdol fēol swā trāge
Ealle cyninges dryhte and wihte
Nā mihton Hēafdol gelīman on rihte.

The Original:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again

Jahan Khatun: Woman Aging (From Persian)

The poem here translated is by a Persian princess who lived in the same time and place as Hafiz. It is of particular interest in its expression of gender. Two of the images, that of the curling locks of the beloved snatching the heart or attention of the lover in verse 3, and the beloved having the gracile sexiness of a cypress tree in verse 4, are typically used to refer to the poet's addressee (who is by convention the beloved) in medieval Persian lyric verse. Here, however, one finds the speaker describing themself in these terms, which has a mildly disorienting effect, inverting the typical point of view, switching the voice to that of the pursued rather than the pursuer. The speaker is not passive, however, as other verses of the poem indicate. But the overall experience conveyed is that of being the object of attention, rather than its agent. The significance of this should be obvious, given that medieval Persian lyric poetry is a male-dominated tradition in which Princess Jahan is a happy anomaly.  
Anyway, some of the artistic liberties I've taken in my English rendering reflect this gendered reading of the poem, and indeed amplify it somewhat, partly compensate for the fact that the atypical image use is not as jarring in English as it seems to be in Persian. (For example, and in the interest of full disclosure, the words "the game was never fair" are my addition and do not correspond to anything in the Persian.)

"Woman Aging"
By Jahan Khatun
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I had no sense of my own worth
When I was young and fair.
     Now that my years have run their course, 
     I know. What point is there? 
I know the good and bad of life,
Now that they've passed me by,
     Sped in my prime swift as a breeze
     In bright brief morning’s air.
There were so many nightingales
Of passion that I lured
     And captured in the curling locks
     That were my beauty’s snare.
Then in the orchard I could raise 
My face as gracefully
     As any thin young cypress tree
     Over the greensward there.
What handsome challengers I played
Against in lovers’ chess,
     And lost so many of love’s pieces.
     The game was never fair.
How often in the world’s arena
Of beauty I would spur
     The racing steed of my heart's hopes
     Through every bleak affair.
Now there is not one leaf or shoot
Left of my sweet green youth.
     Cold with old age I turn to face
     A dark night of white hair.

The Original:

در جوانى قدر خود نشناختيم
اين زمان حاصل چه چون درباختيم
چون گذشت از ما چو باد صبحدم
نيك و بد را اين زمان بشناختيم
اي بسا مرغ هوس را كز هوا
در سر دام دو زلف انداختيم
سر برعنائي ميان بوستان
بر سهى سرو چمن افراختيم
با بتان در عرصۀ شطرنج عشق
اى بسا نرد هوس كان باختيم
بس بميدان ملاحت در چهان
بارۀ اميد دلرا تاختيم
از جوانى شاخ و برگى چون نماند
با شب ديجور پيرى ساختيم


Dar jawānī qadr-i xwad našnāxtēm
Īn zamān hāsil či čūn dar bāxtēm
Čūn guzašt az mā ču bād-i subhdam
Nēk o badrā īn zamān bišnāxtēm
Ay basā murɣ-i hawasrā kaz hawā
Dar sar-i dām-i do zulf andāxtēm
Sar bara'nāī miyān-i bōstān
Bar sahy-i sarw-i čaman afrāxtēm
Bā butān dar 'arsa-i šatranj-i 'išq
Ay basā nard-i hawas kān bāxtēm
Bas bamaydān-i malāhat dar jahān
Bāra-i ummēd-i dilrā tāxtēm
Az jawānī šāx o bargē čūn namānd
Bā šab-i dayjūr-i pīrī sāxtēm

Hafiz: Ghazal 48 "Lament for Drinks Past" (From Persian)

Ghazal 48: Lament for Drinks Past
By Hafiz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Though wine be pleasing and the breeze 
Be rife with roses, we must cease
      Drinking to harp-music, for here 
      Come the morality police.1
If you've found wine and a fine friend 
To drink with, drink, but drink with reason. 
      The times we're living in are dire 
      Days of oppression and caprice. 
Gather no more in public. Hide 
The wineglass up your ragged sleeve.
      Just as your jug, this age itself 
      Sheds crimson tears at all it sees. 
With salt tears, wash the sweet red stain 
Of wine out of your Sufi cloak,
      For 'tis the season to be sober,
      Time to abstain and bend your knees. 
Oh, turn not to the gyring heavens
For any kindness or relief.
      The curving brim of that cruel bowl
      Is dirtied with the wretched lees.
The heavens have become a sieve
Spattering blood on mortal heads
      From the slit throats of Persian kings,
      From the felled crown of great Parviz.2  
You've held Iraq and Fars in sway
With strains of your sweet verse, Hafiz!
      So come. It's time to go and sing for
      The courts of Baghdad and Tabriz.3


1 - This verse is one of many references in Hafiz' poetry to the Muzaffarid king Mubāriz al-Dīn Muhammad, a cruel and anhedonic royal pain in the ass whom Hafiz detested, as did pretty much every other non-masochist in the city. Mubāriz al-Dīn had conquered Shiraz from the last of the Injuids, Hafiz' beloved former patron Abū Ishāq, and executed him. Ever the orthodox pietist, he had ordered the closing of all wineshops and prohibited many religiously illicit pleasures, including song and dance.

2 - "Persian kings" is my addition, replacing Kisrā (Arabic for "Khusraw") in the original. Khusraw is a more or less general term for pre-Islamic Persian rulers, whereas Parviz refers to the last great king of the Sassanid empire. These terms are used here to evoke the kings whom Mubāriz al-Dīn fought, such as Abū Ishāq. There may also be an implication that Mubāriz al-Dīn's Persianness is suspect, that no True Persian king would be so draconian and cruel in forcing compliance with Islamic law upon his subjects. This is all the more poignant given that Abū Ishāq styled himself a Shahanshah in the Sassanid tradition.

3- Fars, with its capital of Shiraz, was Hafiz' stomping ground. The term "Iraq" in Hafiz' time referred to what is today western Iran. Baghdad and Tabriz were the winter and summer courts of King Uways Jalāyir, an enemy of Mubāriz al-Dīn and avid patron of the arts, who took a more tolerant position toward wine, boys and song. Hafiz is giving the reigning potentate a verbal nudge, warning him that he can take his services elsewhere. 

The Original:

اگر چه باده فرح بخش و باد گل‌بیز است
به بانگ چنگ مخور می که محتسب تیز است
صراحی ای و حریفی گرت به چنگ افتد
به عقل نوش که ایام فتنه انگیز است
در آستین مرقع پیاله پنهان کن
که همچو چشم صراحی زمانه خون‌ریز است
به آب دیده بشوییم خرقه‌ها از می
که موسم ورع و روزگار پرهیز است
مجوی عیش خوش از دور واژگون سپهر
که صاف این سر خم جمله دردی آمیز است
سپهر برشده پرویزنیست خون افشان
که ریزه‌اش سر کسری و تاج پرویز است
عراق و فارس گرفتی به شعر خوش حافظ
بیا که نوبت بغداد و وقت تبریز است


Agar či bāda farahbaxš o bād gulbēzast
Ba bāng-i čang maxwar may, ki muhtasib tēzast
Surāhiyē o harīfē garat ba čang aftad
Ba 'aql nōš ki ayyām fitnaangēzast
Dar āstīn-i muraqqa' piyāla pinhān kun,
Ki hamču čašm-i surāhī zamāna xūnrēzast.
Ba āb-i dīda bišōyēm xirqahā az may,
Ki mawsim-i wara' o rōzgār-i parhēzast.
Majōy 'ayš-i xwaš az dawr-i wāžgūn-i sipihr,
Ki sāf-i īn sar-i xum jumla durdē āmēzast.
Sipihr-i baršuda parwēzanēst xūnafšān,
Ki rēzaaš sar-i Kisrā o tāj-i Parwēzast.
'Irāq o Fārs giriftī ba ši'r-i xwaš, Hāfiz,
Biyā, ki nawbat-i Baɣdād o waqt-i Tabrēzast

Hafiz: Ghazal 246 "The Night of Power" (From Persian)

The Night of Power, or šab-i qadr (laylatu l-qadr in Arabic) is the night on which, according to Islamic mythology, the first revelations of the Qur'an were made to the prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel. Hafez toys with the the term by putting it in an amatory context, while also reinforcing its religious aspect (three of the lines are actually written in Arabic, one of which is an almost exact quotation from the Qur'ān.) The Sufi overtones which had been forced on the Persian lyric vocabulary by the mystical tradition allow both the religious and amatory implications to coexist in quite harmonious yet paradoxical, and surely intentional, balance and tension. The age-old question of whether Hafiz is being amatory or spiritual is badly framed and worse than useless when it comes to poems of his like this one, and the reader would be well-advised to keep in mind that a key feature of Hafez' aesthetic is to undermine notions of consistency. You don't know what the meaning of the poem really is, because there really isn't any one meaning.  Hafiz would be the first to remind us that trying to make too much sense of something, like why I seem to have spelled his name two different ways in this paragraph, might just ruin the fun, and that the meaning of a poem, like the meaning of life itself, does not need to be completely understood for you to enjoy it.

Ghazal 246: The Night of Power
By Hafiz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Persian

It is the Night of Power, the scroll 
Of loss is rolled away.
     Peace be unto this sacred night.
     Peace till the break of day.
My heart in travel on the path 
Of love, be strong and true.
     You are to be requited for
     Each step along that way.
And even though you wound me with
Disdain and banishment,
     I'll not repent of what I am:
     A wanton debauché. 
My heart is gone. I caught not one
Sight of its sweet thief's face.
     Such tyranny! Such heartlessness!
     What else is there to say? 
Dear Lord, O Lord! Restore the light
Of morning to my heart.
     The dark of separation's night
     Has wiped my sight away. 
Hafiz, endure this faithless torment
If you seek faithful love.
     Before a merchant turns a profit,
     There's first a cost to pay.

The Original: 

شب قدر است و طی شد نامۀ هجر
 سلامٌ فيه حتی مطلع الفجر
دلا در عاشقی ثابت قدم باش  
که در اين ره نباشد کار بی اجر
من از رندی نخواهم کرد توبه  
ولو آذيتنی بالهجر والحجر
برآی ای صبح روشن دل خدارا  
که بس تاريک می‌بينم شب هجر
دلم رفت و نديدم روی دلدار
 فغان از اين تطاول آه از اين زجر
وفا خواهی جفاکش باش حافظ
فإنّ الربح و الخسران فی التجر

Tajik Cyrillic:

Шаби қадрасту тай шуд номаи ҳаҷр,
Саломун фиҳи ҳатто матлаъ-ил фаҷр.
Дило, дар ошиқӣ собитқадам бош,
Ки дар ин раҳ набошад кори бе аҷр.
Ман аз риндӣ нахоҳам кард тавба,
Валав озайтанӣ билҳачри валҳаҷр,
Барой, ай субҳи рӯшандил, Худоро,
Ки бас торик мебинам шаби хаҷр.
Дилам рафту надидам рӯи дилдор,
Фиғон аз ин татовул, оҳ аз ин заҷр.
Вафо хоҳӣ, ҷафокаш бош, Ҳофиз
Фаиннал рабҳа вал ҳисрона филтаҷр.


Šab-i qadr ast o tay šud nāma-i hajr.
Salāmun fīhi ħattā maṭlaˁi l-fajr.
Dilā, dar 'āšiqī sābitqadam bāš,
Ki dar īn rah nabāšad kār-i bē'ajr.
Man az rindī naxwāham kard tawba,
Wa-law āðaytanī bi-l-hijri wa-l-ħajr.
Barāy, ay subh-i rōšandil, xudārā,
Ki bas tārīk mēbīnam, šab-i hajr.
Dilam raft o nadīdam rōy-i dildār.
Fiɣān az īn tatāwul, āh az īn zajr.
Wafā xwāhī, jafākaš bāš, Hāfiz,
Fa'inna l-ribħa wa-l-xusrāna fī l-tajr.

Nazeeh Abu Afash: God The Infidel (From Arabic)

Nazeeh Abu Afash is a self-identified Arab Christian Atheist (yes, they exist) profoundly concerned with God as an idea, and deeply influenced by the book of Job. The poem here translated may be read as updating the voice of Job for the modern condition, and also taking God down a notch. 

God the Infidel
By Nazeeh Abu Afash
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Arabic 

O god! Tell me the truth!
My enemies say:
    "Everyone wants to..." et cetera
And the enemies of my enemies say:
    "Everyone wants to...." et cetera.
As for me, since you created every one and everyone,
I still - resting assured of your immaculacy and justice -
Raise my hand
Like a schoolchild threatened with expulsion
But as ever
Get nobody's permission to say anything

My god, O my god!
You, god of worms and vegetation, of cattle and all weeping creatures...
Could you have been messing with me?*
What everybody says means there's an everybody that knows the truth
       and another everybody that knows another truth.
What everybody says means that I do not exist
What everybody says means that nobody but everybody exists
What they say means
      That you were messing with me.  

*Full disclosure: The expression ḍaħika ˁalā normally means "deride, make fun of" but it can, depending on, context also mean "to kid (someone), to pull (someone's) leg" as in the phrase ˁalā man taḑħak? "Who do you think you're kidding? What're you trying to pull?" In this context "mess with" rather than, say,  "make fun of" seemed called for, both to bring the Jobian implications out fully, and because one of Abu Afash's favorite tactics (one especially on display here) involves subverting the lofty by casting it in un-lofty and often flippant terms. "Mess with" seemed the most appropriate, connotatively more than denotatively, for what Abu Afash seems to have been trying to accomplish (I decided against the option of "screw with" since, while Abu Afash often inclines toward approximations of colloquial language, this seemed like overkill in a number of ways.)      

The Original:

الله الكافر
نزيه ابو عفش

الهي! قل لي الحقيقة!
اعدائي يقولون: 
    "الناس كلهم يريدون ان..." الى آخره
وأعداء اعدائي يقولون: 
"الناس كلهم يريدون ان...." الى آخره.
أما أنا، منذ أن خلقت كلهم وكلم،
فلا أزال - مطمئنّاً إلى نزاهتك وعدلك- 
أرفع اصبعي الى فوق
كما يفعل تلميذ مهدد بالطرد
لكن، على الدوام، 
لا احد يأذن لي أن اقول شيئاً

الهي! يا الهي!
إله الديدان والنباتات والبهائم والكائنات الباكية
أتكون قد ضحكت عليّ؟
ما يقوله الجميع يعني أن ثمّةَ "جميعا" على حق
و"جميعا" آخر على حق آخر.
ما يقوله الجميع يعني أنني لست موجودا.
ما يقوله الجميع يعني ألّا وجودَ لأحدٍ غير الجميع.
ما يقولونه يعني

أنك ضحكت عليّ


Allāhu l-Kāfir

Ilāhī! Qul lī l-ħāqīqa
Aˁdā'ī yaqūlūn: 
"Al-nāsu kulluhum yurīdūna an..." ilā āxirih
Wa-'aˁdā'u aˁdā'ī yaqūlūn:
"Al-nāsu kulluhum yurīdūna an..." ilā āxirih.
Ammā anā, munðu an xalaqta kullahum wa-kullahum,
Fa-lā azālu - muṭma'innan ilā nazāhatika wa-ˁadlik
Arfaˁu iṣbaˁī ilā fawq
Kamā yafˁalu tilmīðun muhaddadun bi-l-ṭard
Lākin, ˁalā l-dawām
Lā aħada ya'ðinu lī an aqūla šay'an. 

Ilāhī! Yā ilāhī!
Ilāha l-dīdāni wa-l-nabātāti wa-l-bahā'imi wa-l-kā'ināti l-bākiya
A-takūnu qad ḍaħikta ˁalayya?
Mā yaqūluhū l-jamīˁu yaˁnī anna θammata "jamīˁan" ˁalā ħaqqi
Wa-"jamīˁan" āxara ˁalā ħaqqin āxar.
Mā yaqūluhū l-jamīˁu yaˁnī annanī lastu mawjūdan.
Mā yaqūluhū l-jamīˁu yaˁnī allā wujūda li-'aħadin ɣayra l-jamīˁ
Mā yaqūlūnahū yaˁnī

Annaka ḍaħikta ˁalayya

Samuel HaNagid: The Approach of Death (From Medieval Hebrew)

Usually when I set out to translate a lengthy text, unless it's a donor's request, I find myself bailing out halfway through, leaving the partially translated poem to gather digital dust amid my drafts till I come back to it months or sometimes even years later. I feared that would be the case here, when in a flurry of ambition I decided I'd attempt to render the 86 lines of this Hebrew meditation on old age and death by Samuel Hanagid. Surprisingly I managed to do the whole thing. Again, in keeping with the formal aesthetic I have been developing for Islamicate poetry, I have rendered the monorhyme of the original with assonance in English. The lines of my English are in accentual tetrameter.  

The Approach of Death
By Samuel HaNagid
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
"And he found - God treasure him - that his strength and body were declining with age in the battle which took place in the summer of 1054, whereupon he composed this lament."
Is there among my friends a heart
   As bitten, bitter as mine today?1
Is there among my neighbors a woman
   Whose grieving is greater than my wail?
Will the deer lend me legs to run to the jackals
   Who'd teach me to mourn my better days?  
After sixty one years, is a hair's breadth left
   In my soul for delight at a songgirl's strains?
Now that heaven's withdrawn the rainclouds of youth,
   Will Time spread its youthful dew on my plain?
Now my manhood's light has dimmed, is there 
   Yet oil to pour in my lamp for flame?

My friends' graves say I'm to join them tomorrow
   To pitch my tent deep in their domain: 
If I cannot regain the vigor I seek,
   Best take up a shovel and start my grave. 
The grief of age has set in my heart
   A fire whose tongues burn my hair bright gray.
Weakness has strengthened the pain in my knees.
   I strain even at court, on level terrain.
I grieve for my soul which is dear to me,
   And it's right to mourn what is dear always.
As my beard goes white, I see in my heart

   A spot like soot on a pot: dark age.
Had I power over Time, I'd bind his hands
   From brushing the black of my beard with gray.
Were it mere sorrow's fire now searing my skull,
   Juice squeezed from my winepress would quench the blaze.
But age has squeezed all young manhood out 
   From my face. Young women avert their gaze.

Would I could have the knowledge of God:
    How near, how distant is that dread day?
How long shall I rest as spiritless dust
   And when will my spirit rise again? 
The heart says: Live on. Whatever rends 
   The body, may God heal my wounds away.
May He grant me strength in my weakness, empower
   My limbs like wings on a bird of prey
In His goodness and grace. For in Him I rest
   The hope and trust of all my days. 

They say: in the grave is rest and peace.
   But I fear it is where I will face my failures.
They call death "Going unto the Fathers."2
   They are right. There my fathers and mothers await.
But why when I die must you drive my body
   From my shady roof to the netherworld's shades?
Why clothe my corpse in a shroud when both
   That cloth and I in the grave will degrade?
Why cleanse me in water, when come the morrow
   I'll be foul with the stench of my rotting waist?

Many ages passed on this earth, O Lord,
   And I was nothing among the ages.
Then You called me to mind, and sent me to be
   Alive, though I never asked to be made,3
Then gave me in birth to dearth and destruction,
   A source of sorrows, stone flung by Fate.
And though at my birth You beautified me,
   Come the end You will deform my frame.
But Your word is true and Your works are righteous.
  My spirit and mouth were crooked and snaked.

Bring me a scroll. Get me ink and a quill
   And today I'll darken it with my tale. 
My eyes as I read will flow like fountains
  Because there can be no tears in the grave. 
I'll mourn this lovely form that my friends
  Will rush to the bonehouse that is man's fate, 
This splendid form garbed in no greater splendor
  Than dust, eyes shuttered, mouth plugged agape. 
Like a stone in the heart of the sea, my tongue
  That once told of my feats will be stilled in the crate. 
The eyes that witnessed much wonder will rot 
  In their sockets, consumed in a pit of decay,
My limbs lie idle, my ears go deaf,
  My palate bereft of speech and taste.
This bitterer still: I'll be called to rise
  From dust and the grave on my judgment day
To be held in the balance of all my deeds
  As my merits and sins on the scales are laid. 

Yet perhaps an angel will speak for me,4
  Lighten my wrongs, give my virtues weight,
And, at judgment, remind my Lord how I labored
   In study of Scripture and Law for His sake.
I'll hear: "Long has the Lord in thy work found favor"5
   As the weight of virtue tilts the scales
And in death I'll rejoice, gathered unto His Glory,
  As He gathers the moon and stars of my gaze. 


1 - c.f. Proverbs 14:10 "The heart knoweth its own bitterness..."
2 - c.f. Genesis 15:15,  1 Chronicles 17:11 "And it shall come to pass, when thy days are fulfilled that thou must go to be with thy fathers..."
3 - c.f. Avoth 4:22 "Let not thy nature make thee believe that the grave is a place of refuge. For not of thy will wast thou formed, and not of thy will dost thou live, and not of thy will dost thou die, and not of thy will art thou to give just account and reckoning before the King of the kings of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."
4 - c.f. Job 33:23-24 "If there be for him an angel, an intercessor, one among a thousand, to vouch for a man's uprightness, then He is gracious unto him ..."
5 - c.f. Ecclesiastes 9:7 "...for God hath already accepted thy works"

The Original:

הנמצא ברעי
שמואל הנגיד
וּמְצָאָהוּ, יוֹקִירֵהוּ הָאֵל, חֲלִישׁוּת הַכֹּחַ וְהַגּוּף מִדֶּרֶך הַזִּקְנָה בַּמִּלְחָמָה אֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בַּקַּיִץ שֶׁל שְׁנַת תתי"ד וְאָמַר בָּזֶה שִׁיר כְּמִתְאוֹנֵן:
הֲנִמְצָא בְּרֵעַי מַר לְבָבוֹ לְמָרוֹתַי     
וְאִם אֶמְצְאָה בַעְלַת נְהִי רַב בְּגָרוֹתַי
וְאִם יַחֲלִיף רַגְלָיו צְבִי לִי וְאָרוּץ בָּם     
לְתַנִּים וְיוֹרוּנִי  סְפֹד עַל בְּחוּרוֹתָי?
הֲיֵשׁ, אַחֲרֵי אַחַת וְשִׁשִּׁים עֲבַרְתִּימוֹ,     
בְּנַפְשִׁי מְקוֹם חֵפֶץ כְּשַׂעְרָה בְּשָׁרוֹתַי,
וְאַחַר עֲצֹר שַׁחַק עֲנַן אוֹר עֲלוּמַיטַל-     
עֲלוּמִים זְמַן יוֹרִיד וְיַשְׁכִּיב בְּאוֹרוֹתָי?
ואַחַר כְּהוֹת נֵרוֹת־בְּחוּרַיהֲיֵשׁ לִיצֹק  
כְּמֵאָז, מְאוֹר שֶׁמֶן־בְּחוּרִים בְּנֵרוֹתָי?
קְבוּרוֹת חֲבֵרַי דִּבְּרוּ כִּי אֲנִי בָהֶם     
לְמָחָר, וְעִמָּם אָהֳלִי אַט בְּגֵרוּתַי
וְאִם אֵין אֲנִי שָׁב אֶל נְעוּרַי אֲחוֹרַנִּית –     
קְחוּ אֵת וְהָחֵלּוּ לְהָכִין קְבוּרוֹתָי!
יְגוֹנֵי זְקוּנִים הֶעֱלוּ עַל לְבָבִי אֵש־     
יְקוֹדִים, לְשׁוֹנוֹתָם מְאִירוֹת בְּשַׂעְרוֹתַי,
וְצִירֵי חֲלוּשָׁה עוֹרְרוּ מַחֲלֵי בִרְכַּי,     
וְהִנֵּה אֲנִי כוֹשֵׁל בְּמִישׁוֹר בְּחַצְרוֹתַי!
אֲנִי אֵבְךְּ נַפְשִׁי, כִּי יְקָרָה מְאֹד נַפְשִׁי,     
וְלִי נָאֲוָה לִסְפֹּד וְלִבְכּוֹת יְקָרוֹתַי,
וְאֶרְאֶה, בְּהִתְלַבֵּן זְקָנִי, בְּמוֹרָשַׁי     
מְקוֹם שַׁחֲרוּת זֹקֶן כְּפִיחַ בְּסִירוֹתַי
וְלוּ אֵרְדְּ בּוֹ כִּמְעַט אֲסַרְתִּיו בְּמֵיתָר עַד     
אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְנוֹפֵף יָד לְהַלְבִּין שְׁחֹרוֹתָי.
וְלוּ אֵשׁ יְגוֹנִים לִהֲטָה קָדְקֳדִי, הָיוּ     
צְרִי אֵשׁ יְגוֹנִיםמֵי עֲנָבִים בְּפוּרוֹתַי,
וְאוּלָם בְּזִקְנָה נִנְעֲרוּ מֵי־נְעוּרַי מִן     
זְקָנִי, וְזִקְנָה נִאֲצַתְנִי לְנַעְרוֹתָי!
וּמִי יִתְּנֵנִי כָאֱלֹהִים וְאֶתְבּוֹנֵן     
הֲקָרוֹב וְאִם רָחוֹק יְהִי יוֹם מְגוּרוֹתַי
וְכַמָּה אֱהִי עָפָר בְּקִבְרִי בְּלִי רוּחַ,     
וּמָתַי תְּחִי רוּחִי וְתֻפַּח בְּעַפְרוֹתַי
וְיֹאמַר לְבָבִי כִּי אֱחִי עוֹד, וְאִם יִכְאַב     
בְּשָׂרִייְרַפֵּא אֵל אֱלֹהִים חֲבוּרוֹתַי,
וְיִתֶּן אֱיָל חֵלֶף לְחָלְשִׁי, וְיִתֶּן לִי     
כְּכֹחַ בְּאֶבְרוֹת הַנְשָׁרִים בְּאֶבְרוֹתַי,
וְכֵן יַעֲשֶׂה לִי אֵל בְּטוּבוֹ וְחַסְדּוֹ, כִּי     
בְּאֵל מַחֲסִי שַׂמְתִּי בְּעוֹדִי, וְשִׂבְרוֹתַי.
וְיֹאמְרוּ אֲנָשִׁים כִּי מְנוּחָה בְּקֶבֶר יֵשׁ –     
וְאֶדְאַג אֲנִי פֶּן אֶפְגְּעָה בּוֹ בְּסָרוֹתָי.
וְהֵם יִקְרְאוּ מָוֶת 'הֲלִיכָה אֱלֵי אָבוֹת'     
וְצָדְקוּ, לְמַעַן שָׁם אֲבוֹתַי וְהוֹרוֹתָי.
עֲלֵי מָה בְּיוֹם מוֹתִי תְּחִישׁוּן בְּגוּפָתִי     
אֱלֵי צֵל שְׁאוֹל, מִצֵּל מְעוֹנִי וְקוֹרוֹתַי
וְלָמָה תְּצוּרוּן עַל בְּשָׂרִי בְּתַכְרִיכֵי     
קְבוּרָה וְשָׁם אֶבְלֶה אֲנִי עִם צְרוֹרוֹתָי!
וְלָמָּה בְּמַיִם תִּטְבְּלוּנִי לְהִטַּהֵר –     
וּמָחָר תְּטַנֵּף צַחֲנָתִי חֲגוֹרוֹתָי!
אֱלֹהִים, כְּבָר עָבְרוּ זְמַנִּים וְדוֹרוֹת עַל     
אֲדָמָה וְהָיִיתִי כְּאַיִן בְּדוֹרוֹתַי,
וְאַחַר, פְּקַדְתַּנִי לְרָצוֹן וְיָצָאתִי,     
לְבַל אֶשְׁאֲלָה צֵאת מִמְּךָ, אֶל מְכוֹרוֹתַי
וְאַחַר יְצִיאָתִילְהַוּוֹת נְתַתַּנִי     
וּמָקוֹר לְמִקְרוֹתַי וְכִצְרוֹר לְצָרוֹתָי.
וְאַתָּה יְצַרְתַּנִי בְּעוֹלָם, יְפֵה מַרְאֶה –     
וְאַתָּה בְּאַחְרִיתִי תְּשַׁנֶּה יְצִירוֹתָי.
וְאוּלָם צְדָקָה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, וְאִמְרָתָךְ     
אֱמוּנָהוְרוּחַ פִּי מְעֻקָּל, וְאִמְרוֹתָי.
קְחוּ לִי מְגִלָּה וַעֲשׂוּ לִי דְיוֹ וָעֵט     
לְיָדִי וְאַשְׁחִירָהּ כְּהַיּוֹם בְּקוֹרוֹתַי,
וְאֶקְרָא וְתִזַּלְנָה כְּעֵינַי מְאוֹרוֹתַי
לְמַעַן בְּקֶבֶר לֹא אֲדַמַּע מְאוֹרוֹתַי,
וְאֶבְכֶּה עֲלֵי צוּרָה יְפֵיפָה יְאִיצוּן בָּהּ,     
לְמוֹעֵד בְּנֵי אָדָם, חֲבֵרַי וְחַבְרוֹתַי,
וְיִפְעָה כְּבוּדָה, כָּל כְּבוֹדָהּ בְּכַסּוֹתָהּ     
בְּעָפָר, וּבִסְתֹם פִּי, וְעַצֵּם שְׁמוּרוֹתַי,
וְכִי אָז יְהִי דוֹמֵם בְּאָרוֹן, כְּמוֹ אֶבֶן     
בְּלֶב יָם, לְשׁוֹנִי הַמְסַפֵּר גְּבוּרוֹתַי,
וְעֵינִי, אֲשֶׁר חָזְתָה פְּלָאִים, אֲזַי תֵּעַשׁ     
בְּחוֹרָהּ בְּרִקָּבוֹן, וְתִמַּק בְּנִקְרוֹתַי
וְכִי אֵין בְּחֵךְ טַעַם וְשִׂיחַ, וְאֵין שֵׁמַע     
לְאָזְנַי, וּבָטְלָה יָד, וּבָטְלוּ מְמַהְרוֹתָי.
וְרָעָה אֲשֵׁר רָעָה וּמָרָה עֲלֵי כָל זֹאת     
עֲלוֹתִי לְמִשְׁפָּט מִן רְגָבַי וְקִבְרוֹתַי,
וְכִי כָל פְּעֻלּוֹתַי שְׁקוּלוֹת בְּמֹאזְנַיִם,     
בְּכַף זֹאת זְכֻיּוֹתַי וּבָזֹאת מְרוֹרוֹתַי.
וְאוּלַי יְהִי מַלְאָךְ וּמֵלִיץ בְּדָבָר טוֹב     
לְהָרִים עֲווֹנוֹתַי וְהַשְׁפֵּל יְשָׁרוֹתַי,
וְיַזְכִּיר, בְּהִשָּׁפְטִי, לְצוּרִי, חֲקִירוֹתַי     
בְּדָתֵי תְעוּדוֹתַי וְדָרְשִׁי בְּתוֹרוֹתַי,
וְאֶשְׁמַע: כְּבָר רָצָה אֱלֹהִים פְּעָלֶיךָ!     
וְתֵרֵד בְּכָזֹאת מֵעֲבֵרַי כְּשׁוּרוֹתַי
וְאֶשְׂמַח בְּצֵאתִי אֶל כְּבוֹד אֵל לְאָסְפֵנִי     
וְאֶשְׂמַח בְּהֵאָסֵף יְרֵחִי וְאוֹרוֹתָי.

Yehuda HaLevi: Supplication for Yom Kippur (From Medieval Hebrew)

Supplication for Yom Kippur
By Yehuda HaLevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Michael Leibowitz (Thank You For Your Support)
Click to hear me recite the original in medieval Andalusi Hebrew

O Lord, here before You is all my desire,1
    Whether or not it escapes my lips.    
I would seek Your favor, a moment, then die
    If only You would grant my wish.
I’d commit my spirit into Your hands,2
    And sleep. Such a sleep would delight.
Afar from You - in life I am dead,
    But when I cleave close - in death I'm alive.3
In faith I know not how I might draw near You,
    What worship to give, what words to try.
Instruct me, Lord, in Your ways. With guidance
    Deliver me from the dungeon of lies.
While yet I have strength to bear affliction
    Teach me and do not despise my plight,
Before I become to myself but a burden,
    And what little I am weighs me down with time,
Before I must yield against my own will
    And collapse as my cankered bones expire,
And come to the place my forefathers came to
    And there by their place of rest find mine.
For across the face of this earth I am foreign,
    While deep in her womb my true home lies.
My youth till now has done what it wanted.
    When shall I provide for me and mine? 
The world of pleasures He placed in my heart
    Has kept me from keeping my end in mind.
How can I serve my Creator, while captive
    To nature’s lust, and servant to desire?
When I know the rank worm will soon be my sister,4
    How can I aspire to a rank on high? 
And how can my heart rise merry today
    Knowing not if a merry morrow will rise?
Night upon night, and day upon day
    Have pledged to consume this flesh of mine.
They will scatter me half to spiriting wind
    And return me half to dust for all time.
What more can I say? I’ve been hunted from boyhood
    Through withering age by my enemy desire. 
What is Time to me but Your will and favor?
    And if not with You, then what am I?
Here I stand stripped naked of any virtue,
    My only covering Your justice and kindness.
So what use this speaking? Why plead or aspire? 
    O Lord, here before You is all my desire.


1- c.f. Psalms 38:10 Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my sighing is not hid from Thee.
2- c.f. Psalms 31:6 Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, Thou God of truth.
3- c.f. Berakhoth 18a-b, where the wicked are called dead while living, and the virtuous called living while dead.
4. c.f. Job 17:14 If I have said to corruption: 'Thou art my father', to the worm: 'Thou art my mother, and my sister'

The Original:

אֲדֹנָי! נֶגְדְּךָ כָל‑ תַּאֲוָתִי,   וְאִם לֹא אַעֲלֶנָּה עַל שְׂפָתִי.
רְצוֹנְךָ אֶשְׁאֲלָה רֶגַע ‑ וְאֶגְוָע,   וּמִי יִתֵּן וְתָבוֹא שֱׁאֶלָתִי,
וְאַפְקִיד אֶת‑ שְׁאָר רוּחִי בְּיָדְךָ   וְיָשַׁנְתִּי וְעָרְבָה לי שְׁנָתִי!
בְּרָחְקִי מִמְּךָ – מוֹתִי בְחַיָּי,   וְאִם אֶדְבַּק בְּךָ – חַיַּי בְּמוֹתִי,
אֲבָל לֹא אֵדְעָה בַּמֶה אֲקַדֵּם,   וּמַה תִּהְיֶה עֲבֹדתִי וְדָתִי.
דְּרָכֶיךָ, אֲדֹנָי, לַמְּדֵנִי,   וְשׁוּב מִמַּאֲסַר סִכְלוּת שְׁבוּתִי,
וְהוֹרֵנִי בְעוֹד יֶשׁ‑ בִּי יְכֹלֶת   לְהִתְעַנּוֹת, וְאַל תִּבְזֶה עֱנוּתִי,
בְּטֶרֶם יוֹם אֱהִי עָלַי לְמַשָּׂא,   וְיוֹם יִכְבַּד קְצָתִי עַל קְצָתִי,
וְאִכָּנַע בְּעַל כָּרְחִי, וְיֹאכַל   עֲצָמַי עָשׁ וְנִלְאוֹ מִשְּׂאֵתִי,
וְאֶסַּע אֶל מְקוֹם נָסְעוּ אֲבוֹתָי,   וּבִמְקוֹם תַּחֲנוֹתָם תַּחֲנוֹתִי.
כְּגֵר תּוֹשָׁב אֲנִי עַל גַּב אֲדָמָה,   וְאוּלָם כִּי בְּבִטְנָהּ נַחֲלָתִי.
נְעוּרַי עַד הֲלֹם עָשׂוּ לְנַפְשָׁם,   וּמָתַי גַּם אֲנִי אֶעֱשֶׂה לְבֵיתִי?
וְהָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בְּלִבִּי   מְנָעַנִי לְבַקֵּשׁ אַחֲרִיתִי!
וְאֵיכָה אֶעֱבֹד יוֹצְרִי – בְּעוֹדִי   אֲסִיר יִצְרִי וְעֶבֶד תַּאֲוָתִי?
וְאֵיכָה מַעֲלָה רָמָה אֲבַקֵּשׁ –   וּמָחָר תִּהְיֶה רִמָּה אֲחוֹתִי!
וְאֵיךְ יִיטַב בְּיוֹם טוֹבָה לְבָבִי,   וְלֹא אֵדַע – הֲיִיטַב מָחֳרָתִי?
וְהַיָּמִים וְהַלֵּילוֹת עֲרֵבִים   לְכַלּוֹת אֶת­‑ שְׁאֵרִי עַד כְּלוֹתִי.
וְלָרוּחַ יְזָרוּן מַחֲצִיתִי,   וּלֶעָפָר יְשִׁיבוּן מַחֲצִיתִי.
וּמַה אֹמַר – וְיִצְרִי יִרְדְּפֵנִי   כְּאוֹיֵב מִנְּעוּרַי עַד בְּלוֹתִי?
וּמַה לִּי בַּזְמָן – אִם לֹא רְצוֹנְךָ?   וְאִם אֵינְךָ מְנָתִי ‑ מַה מְנָתִי?
אֲנִי מִמַּעֲשִׂים שׁוֹלָל וְעָרוֹם   וְצִדְקָתְךָ לְבַדָּהּ הִיא כְסוּתִי –
וְעוֹד מָה אַאֲרִיךְ לָשׁוֹן וְאֶשְׁאַל!   אֲדֹנָי, נֶגְדְּךָ כָל‑ תַּאֲוָתִי!


ǎðonai neɣdǎxa kol ta’ǎwaθi
wǐ’im lo aʕǎlenna ʕal sǎfaθi
rǎṣonxa eš’ǎla reɣaʕ wě’eɣwaʕ
umi yitten wǎθavo’ še’ělaθi
wǎ’afqið eθ šǎ’ar ruħi bǐyaðxa
wǐyašanti wǎʕarva li šǎnaθi!
bǎraħqi mimmǎxa moθi bǎħayyay,
  wǐ’im aðbaq bǎxa ħayyay bǎmoθi,
ǎval lo eðǎʕa bamma ǎqaddem,
uma tihye ʕǎvoðaθi wǎðaθi.
Dǎraxéxa, ǎðonay, lamměðeni,
wǎšuv mimma’ǎsar sixluθ šǎvuθi,
wǔhoréni bǔʕoð yeš bi yǎxoleθ
lǐhiθʕannoθ wǎ’al tivze ʕěnuθi
bǎṭerem yom ěhi ʕale lǎmassa’
wǐyom yixbað qǎṣaθi ʕal qǎṣaθi,
wě’ekkanaʕ bǎʕal karħi, wǐyoxal
ʕǎṣamay ʕaš wǎnil’u missě’eθi,
wě’essaʕ el mǎqom nasʕu ǎvoθay
ǔvimqom taħǎnoθam taħǎnoθi.
kǎɣer tošav ǎni ʕal gav ǎðama
wǔ’ulam ki bǎviṭna naħǎlaθi
nǔʕuray ʕað hǎlom ʕasu lǎnafšam,
umaθái gam ǎni ěʕse lǎveθi?
wǎhaʕolam ǎšer naθan bǎlibbi
mǎnaʕani lǎvaqqeš aħǎriθi
wě’exa eʕěvoð yoṣri bǔʕoði
ǎsir yiṣri wěʕeveð ta’ǎwaθi?
wě’exa maʕǎla rama ǎvaqqeš
umaħar tihye rimma ǎħoθi?
wě’ex yiyṭav bǐyom ṭova lǎvavi,
wǎlo eðaʕ - hǎyiyṭav maħǎraθi?
wǎhayyamim wǎhalleloθ ʕǎrevim
lǎxalloθ eθ šě’eri ʕað kǎloθi,
wǎlaruaħ yǎzerun maħǎṣiθi,
wǎleʕafar yǎšivun maħǎṣiθi.
uma omer wǐyiṣri yirdǎfeni
kǔ’oyev minnǔʕuray ʕað bǎloθi?
uma li bazǎman - im lo rǎṣonxa?
wǐ’im enxa mǎnaθi ma mǎnaθi?
ani mummaʕǎsim šolal wǎʕarom
wǎṣiðqaθxa lǎvadda hi xǎsuθi.
wǔʕoð ma a’ǎrix lašon wě’eš’al?
aðonay, neɣdǎxa kol ta’ǎwaθi.

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