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: The Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain (Princeton University Press).

I’ve Labored in Love

I’ve labored in love and brought nothing forth,
     and I’m trapped in the trap of that fawn
          of an Arab girl.
    My soul
      so craves a kiss from her mouth,
that I long to turn myself into a woman:
          for women she’ll kiss—
      but I’m lost as long as I’m male.

She Said She Wanted

She said she wanted to run when she saw
      the gray scattered with white in my hair:
 “Dawn’s already come up on your head
      and I’m the moon—you’ll drive me away.”
 “It isn’t true,” I said, “you’re the sun—
      and can’t, by nature, hide by day.”
 “You’ve lost your power to run after love,”
      she replied.  “What good would it do to stay?”
 “Nothing’s changed,” I told her, “except
      for the gray.  I’ve got the heart of a lion
 to do your will.” And she offered: “OK,
      you’re a lion. . . . Then I’m a gazelle.
 Would I lie down in the lion’s den,
      bright gazelle that I am?”

The Day You Left

The day you left was bitter and dark,
     you finest thing, you—and when I think of it,
it feels like there’s nothing left of my skin.
     Your feet, by far, were more beautiful,
             the day they mounted
          and wrapped my neck in a ring . . .

Strong Poet, Weak Poet

Your song, friend, is born of a woman, 
and the heart of a girl is what it has.
My poems take it daily to bed,  
     and drive their standards up its ass.

The Sea Casts Up Mire and Mud

The sea casts up mire and mud,
     but sinks its pearls to the ocean’s floor,    
and Time’s way is to raise the vile—  
     demeaning the precious, exalting the boor.     
Good and evil it turns on their heads,   
     while fools think their state will endure,   
but the wise toy with Time in their way,   
     finding in maybe and if some pleasure.    
In the end, there’s a balance in heaven whose pans 
     the pure will lower, as the empty ascend.