The Andalusi Hebrew poet known to posterity as Samuel Hanagid or Samuel Ibn Nagrela (known in his life as שמואל הלוי בן יוסף הנגיד Shămu'el HalLewi Ben Yosef Hannagid in Hebrew, or ابو اسحاق اسماعيل ابن النغريلة Abū Isħāq Ismāˁīl ibn An-Naghrīlah in Arabic), was born in Cordoba in 993. He was one of the handful of Jews of Al-Andalus who attained high public office. After his appointment as vizier, he commanded the armies of Granada in a series of successful campaigns against Seville. Many of his poems, such as the one included here, were sent to his son Joseph from the battlefield. (His son, who inherited his father's posts as vizier and commander, was to have a much less fortunate career. He was assassinated 1066 as part of the incident that lead to the massacre of several thousand of Granada's Jews at the hands of the city's disgruntled Berber majority.) This poem, included in his collection Ben Qoheleth "Son of Ecclesiastes", employs of Ecclesiastes to original effect.
Midnight on the Campaign
By Samuel HaNagid
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
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 גדוד כבד בבירה
הרסוה ימי קדם קצינים
וישנו עלי גבה וצדה
ותחתינו בעליה ישנים
ודברתי ללבי אי קהלים
ועמים שכנו בזאת לפנים?
ואי בונים ומחריבים ושרים
ודלים ועבדים ואדונים
ומולידים ושכולים ואבות
ובנים ואבלים וחתנים
ועם רב נולדו אחר אחרים
בימים אחרי ימים ושנים
והיו על פני הארץ שכנים
והם היום בלב ארץ שכונים
וקבר חלפו מארמונותם
ועפר מחצרים נעמנים
ואילו העלו ראשם ויצאו
שללונו נפשים ועדנים
אמת נפשי, אמת, כהם למחר
אהי אני ואלה ההמונים!