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).

The Gazelle

I’d given everything I own for that gazelle
   who, rising at night to his
              harp and flute,
      saw a cup in my hand
          and said:
“Drink your grape blood against my lips!”   
    And the moon was cut like a D,
        on a dark robe, written in gold.

The Critique

I’d pictured your poem like the king’s daughter,
     a man’s delight, a woman of pleasure;
or a burning fire set by the hearth—
     in its corners calamus, cassia, and myrrh.

And I found it exquisitely copied—
     all the vowels were precisely arrayed.
In the past, I’d seen poems by your friends,
     but they were obscure, while yours amazed.

Your discourse flowed like the purest water
     for ablution—but this new one’s a stain.
You’ve been for me like a precious son,
     whose standards I’m obliged to maintain.

So, hone your poems and their subjects,
     and know that each in its way moves toward
a day of judgment. And fear the critics,
     whose tongues are polished and sharpened like swords.

What’s Familiar is Sometimes Distanced

What’s familiar is sometimes distanced,
     and the distanced sometimes brought near—
and the cavalier rider in fetlock-deep water
         who falls finds it up to his ears.

The Multiple Troubles of Man

The multiple troubles of man,
     my brother, like slander and pain,
amaze you? Consider the heart
     which holds them all
in strangeness, and doesn’t break.

Luxuries Ease

Luxuries ease, but when trouble comes
people are plagued for the wealth they’ve accrued.
     The peacock’s tail is spectacular—
but it weighs him down on the day he’s pursued.