Yehuda Halevi: Revelation (From Hebrew)

This poem, which relies quite heavily on the language of the Daniel 7, is an apocalyptic envisioning of the end of Muslim rule and the restoration of Jewish independence. Throughout Muslim-ruled areas in Jewish communities in Halevi's time, there were various interpreters of Daniel's vatic burblings from the beyond who saw it as foretelling the end of Arab and Muslim dominion at the end of days. Needless to say, these prognosticators were as off base, and as off their rockers, as those Christians today who look for predictions of imminent thermonuclear war in the Book of Revelation, or Michele Bachmann insisting that Obama is going to bring about the literal end of the world. I doubt there has been a day on earth in the past 10,000 years when somebody somewhere wasn't sure that the end of days on earth was near.

The last 8 lines, with their incantatory repetition and tone, have been called by some scholars a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. This is not strictly accurate, though the skill with which Halevi interweaves the two makes it seem otherwise, as it produces an effect of fusion in which Prophet and Poet, Past and Present, Hebrew and Aramaic, collapse into one another. The Aramaic component consists mostly of phrases lifted en bloc from the book of Daniel, inserted into the structure of what could otherwise be read as normative Hebrew (normative for verse, anyway.) Though the Hebrew too contains language based on Daniel, and has usages that remind me of the later books of the Bible which, though in Hebrew, are heavily influenced by Aramaic phrase-habits. For example, the phrase qaddišey zăvul "Saints of the Most High" is a Hebraization of the Aramaic phrase qaddišey ˁelyonin which occurs several times in Daniel 7 - and even the Hebraization contains an Aramaic word qaddiš for "saint, holy one" that had been borrowed into normative Hebrew (as indeed it had been borrowed via Syriac into Arabic as qiddīs with the meaning "Christian Saint." But now I digress.)

It all gives a tone and apocalyptic atmosphere that is difficult to convey in English. The famous passages from the King James version of the Book of Revelation may give some idea of what quotes from Daniel 7 sounded like to Halevi's contemporaries, though of course the religion is different. I have switched to a quasi-biblical register in translating these lines.

Revelation
By Yehuda Halevi
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Yaron Zach (Thank you for Your Support)
Click to hear me recite the original Hebrew

Asleep you dozed, then shuddering you rose 
Again. What is this dream that you have dreamed? 
Perhaps you dreamt a vision of your foes 
Laid low and humble, and of you supreme. 
Tell Slave Hagar's boy: draw back the hand you raised 
In pride and anger over Sarah's son1, 
For I have dreamt and seen you laid to shame. 
Perhaps in waking life you'll be undone, 
The crushing year that ends in zero's sign 
Will down your pride and end all your design. 
 Thou that wast called a desert ass of a man
 Now honored for thy powerful domains,
 Thou that didst rise with bombast of thy mouth2
 To war against the heavens' earthly saints,
 Thou creature on feet of iron mixed with clay
 To be raised prideful at the end of days,
 Oh may He smash thee, graven thing, with the stone
 Of havoc, and repay what thou hast done.

Notes:

1- Sarah's son (the Hebrew literally has "your mistress' son") i.e. the people of Israel. Hagar's son Ishmael is traditionally reckoned to be the ancestor of the Arabs. The language quite clearly suggests that Sarah's children are of greater esteem than Hagar's.

2- Bombast of thy mouth, a phrase taken from Daniel 7 - here presumably to be equated with the high-flown rhetoric of the Qur'ān and the (implicitly false) religion associated with it.

The Original:


נַמְתָּ וְנִרְדַּמְתָּ 
יהודה הלוי
يهوذا اللاوي

נַמְתָּ וְנִרְדַּמְתָּ וְחָרֵד קָמְתָּ ­–
מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָ?
אוּלַי חֲלוֹמְךָ הֶרְאֲךָ שׂוֹנַאֲךָ
כִּי דַּל וְכִי שָׁפַל – וְאַתָּה רָמְתָּ?
אִמְרוּ לְבֶן‑הָגָר: אֱסֹף יַד גַּאֲוָה
מִבֶּן‑גְּבִרְתְּךָ אֲשֶׁר זָעָמְתָּ!
שָׁפָל רְאִיתִיךָ וְשׁוֹמֵם בַּחֲלוֹם –
אוּלַי בְּהָקִיץ כֵּן כְּבָר שָׁמָמְתָּ,
וּשְׁנַת תְּתַ"ץ תֻּתַּץ לְךָ כָּל‑גַּאֲוָה,
תֵּבוֹשׁ וְתֶחְפַּר מֵאֲשֶׁר זָמָמְתָּ.
הַאַתְּ אֲשֶׁר נִקְרַא שְׁמֶךְ פֶּרֶא אֱנוֹשׁ!
מַה כָּבְדָה יָדְךָ וּמָה עָצָמְתָּ!
הַאַתְּ מְקֹרָא פֻּם מְמַלִּל רַבְרְבָן
וַאְשֶׁר בְּקַדִּישֵׁי זְבוּל נִלְחָמְתָּ,
הַאַתְּ חֲסַף טִינָא בּרַגְלֵי פַרְזְלָא
בְּאַחֲרִית בָּאתָ וְהִתְרוֹמָמְתָּ,
אוּלַי נְגָפְךָ אֵל בְּאַבְנָא דִי‑מְחָת
צַלְמָא וְשִׁלֵּם לָךְ אֲשֶׁר הִקְדָּמְתָּ!

Romanization

Namta wănirdamta wăħareð qamta
Ma haħălom hazze ǎšer ħalamta?
Ulay ħǎlomxa her'ăxa sona'ăxa
Ki dal wăxi šafal wă'atta ramta?
Imru lăben-haɣar: ĕsof yað ga'ăwa
Mibben-găbiratxa ăšer zaˁamta!
Šafal rĭ'iθixa wăšomem baħălom -
Ulay băhaqiṣ ken kăbar šamamta,
Ušnaθ tăθaṣ tuttaṣ lăxa kol-ga'ăwa,
Teboš wăθeħpar me'ăšer zamamta.
Ha'at ăšer niqra' šămex pere ĕnoš!
Ma kabăða yaðxa ŭma ˁaṣamta!
Ha'at măqora pum mămallil rabrăban
Wa'šer băqaddišey zăbul nilħamta,
Ha'at ħăsaf ṭina' băraɣlay farzăla
Ba'aħăriθ ba'θa wĭhiθromamta,
Ulay năɣafxa el bă'abna ði măħaθ
Ṣalma' wăšillem lax ăšer niqdamta.

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