Poems from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, (Princeton University Press).
Translated from the Arabic by Peter Cole.

Fortune’s Stars

The heavenly spheres and fortune’s stars             
veered off course the day I was born;
if I were a seller of candles,                    
     the sun would never go down.

I struggle to manage and even succeed,
but I’m thwarted by the stars in the sky;
if I were a dealer in shrouds,
     no one so long as I lived would die.                    

If I had a scheme to profit
from arms and going to war,
all the foes in the world
    would be friends and fight no more. 

The Flies

Who could I turn to in my distress?
     The flies have plundered my home;   
they will not leave me a minute of peace,    
     attacking me fiercely like foes.     
Across my eyelids and eyes they race;
     in my ears they recite their poems;
like a pack of hungry wolves they devour
     my bread when I’m eating alone,
and as though I’d asked them over like friends,
     they take what they want on their own. 
It seems they’re only seeking their share    
     when I offer them lamb and wine—
but that, it turns out, isn’t enough:  
     they also covet what’s mine.
If I summon guests to come and dine,  
     at the head of the table they swarm,    
and so I long for winter lest 
     I starve because of them. 
Its cold and rain will wipe them out—   
     thank God, who dwells with the cherubim.

World Poetry

The Arabs write of love in boasts,   
and the Romans of vengeance and battles— 
the Greeks of wisdom and cunning,  
and the Persians of fables and riddles;

but Israel sings—in psalms and hymns—
of God, the Lord of hosts.

Sent Out from the Glory

Sent out from the glory of God, your Creator,      
     over the four creatures who bear you;    
within and about you are all of His wonders. 
     How could you hide when He also fills you?

What would you do? He searches your chambers,
     and always hears you and knows where you are.        
Before His works don’t ask how—
     with Him whose discernment is pure be pure. 

All you have is your word and prayer.
     Who were you till His mercy came?
Know that the heavens and earth endure     
     to bless your Creator and Maker’s name.

Peter Cole is the recipient of a 2004 PEN Translation Fund Award for The Dream of the Poem: The Hebrew Poetry of Muslim and Christian Spain (Princeton University Press).