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

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

Winter with Its Ink

Winter with its ink of showers and rain,
with its pen of lightning and palm of clouds,
      wrote a letter of purple and blue
          over the beds of the garden.

No artist in his cunning could measure    
     his work beside it—and so,      
          when earth longed for the sky
it embroidered the spread of its furrows like stars.

The Altar of Song

Your answer betrays your transgression,
your words are empty, your verse is weak—
you’ve stolen a few of my rhymes,
     but your spirit failed: you’re meek.

Try taking on wisdom’s discipline,
instead of poetry’s altar and pose:
for as soon as you start your ascent,
     your most private parts are exposed.

I Love You

I love you with the love a man
     has for his only son—
with his heart and his soul and his might.   
And I take great pleasure in your mind    
         as you take the mystery on
     of the Lord’s act in creation—
though the issue is distant and deep,
and who could approach its foundation?

But I’ll tell you something I’ve heard
and let you dwell on its strangeness:
     sages have said that the secret
        of being owes all  
to the all who has all in His hand: 
He longs to give form to the formless
     as a lover longs for his friend.
And this is, maybe, what the prophets
meant when they said He worked
       all for His own exaltation.

I’ve offered you these words—
now show me how you’ll raise them.