Samuel HaNagid: Midnight on the Campaign (From Hebrew)

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 Hannagid
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."

The Original: 

הלינותי גדוד
שמואל הנגיד
اسماعيل ابن النغريلة 

הֲלִינוֹתִי גְּדוּד כָּבֵד בְּבִירָה 
הֲרָסוּהָ יְמֵי קֶדֶם קְצִינִים.
וְיָשַׁנּוּ עֲלֵי גַבָּהּ וְצִדָּהּ–
וְתַחְתֵּינוּ בְעָלֶיהָ יְשֵׁנִים.
וְדִבַּרְתִּי לְלִבִּי: אֵי קְהָלִים
וְעַמִּים שָׁכְנוּ בָזֹאת לְפָנִים?
וְאֵי בוֹנִים וּמַחְרִיבִים וְשָׂרִים
וְדַלִּים וַעֲבָדִים וַאֲדוֹנִים,
וּמוֹלִידִים וְשַׁכּוּלִים, וְאָבוֹת
וּבָנִים, וַאֲבֵלִים וַחֲתָנִים?
וְעַם רַב נוֹלְדוּ אַחַר אֲחֵרִים,
בְּיָמִים אַחֲרֵי יָמִים וְשָׁנִים,
וְהָיוּ עַל פְּנֵי אֶרֶץ שְׁכֵנִים–
וְהֵם הַיּוֹם בְּלֶב אֶרֶץ שְׁכוּנִים,
וְקֶבֶר חָלְפוּ מֵאַרְמְנוֹתָם,
וְעָפָר– מֵחֲצֵרִים נַעֲמָנִים.
וְאִלּוּ הֶעֱלוּ רֹאשָׁם וְיָצְאוּ
שְׁלָלוּנוּ נְפָשִׁים וַעֲדָנִים.
אֱמֶת נַפְשִׁי, אֱמֶת, כָּהֵם לְמָחָר
אֱהִי אָני, וְאֵלֶּה הַהֲמוֹנִים!


  1. I'm sorry, but That's, unlike your former ones, a really bad translation...

  2. Eep, you were right. On re-reading it after a couple days, I had the same conclusion. Massive rewrite was in order. מה את חושבת על השכתוב?