Heine: Jerusalem! Let me die of thirst if…. December 30, 2011Posted by anagasto in poetry.
(in negrita = the typical Heine expressions, ironical and kind towards all the ill will surrounding him)
Let me die of thirst and let my right hand drop off if ever I forget you, Jerusalem! (a line quoted from Psalm 137)
Today I keep remembering words and their melodies, and it is as if I heard voices.
At times there appear long shadowy beards.—
You who emerge as in a dream – who among you is Jehuda ben Halevy?
But they leave fast; ghosts are shy and afraid of the way the living clumsily address them — and yet I recognized him.
I recognized him by his pale and proud thought-bearing forehead and by the sweet stillness of his eyes that examined me most painfully.
But I recognized him even more surely by the smile on those beautifully rhymed lips that you would only see on a poet.
Years come, and years vanish;
sevenhundred and fifty years have passed since Jehuda ben Halevy was born in Toledo where the Tagus sang his cradle song.
His father was severe and and began his instruction early with the Book of God, the Thora.
Together they read the original text written in the old-Chaldean square-script.
That hieroglyphically picturesque script dates back to our world’s childhood days, which is why it also smiles back so openly at every naive, childlike reader.
The boy recited this truly old text in the age-old sing-song way called trope.
And he gurgled sweetly and trilled and quavered the shalsheleth like a bird.
Early on he also learned the Targum Onkelos. It is written in a kind of Hebrew that we call Aramaic which is to the language of the Prophets what the Swabian dialect is to German. Hence the boy was versed, too, in this wallflower Hebrew, which was highly useful to him later when he studied the Talmud.
Yes, his father led him early to the Talmud and introduced him to the Halacha, that great fencing school where the the best dialecticians of Babylon and Pumpeditha compete. There he learned the art of polemics with all of its ruses. Later, in the book called Cosari he showed that he had indeed become a master.
But Heaven pours down two different kinds of light: the glaring daylight of the sun and the milder moonlight, and so
the Talmud, too, sheds its light partly as Halacha and partly as Hagada. I called the Halacha a fencing school, and I will call the Hagada a garden, a highly imaginative garden to be compared to Semiramis’ garden that also sprouted in Babylon, the eighth wonder of the world.
Queen Semiramis had been brought up by birds and retained many of their idiosyncrasies. Thus she did not want to walk on this flat Earth like the rest of us, and she planted a garden up in the air.
High up on enormous pillars there were palms and cypresses, oranges, flowers, marble statues and fountains, all skilfully and solidly connected by countless hanging bridges that resembled climbing plants.
Birds swang with the branches, large, colourful, serious birds, deep thinkers that do not sing, but are surrounded by small and happy warbling finches.
The Hagada is a garden of the kind imagined by the children of the air and when the young student of the Talmud felt dazed and dusty with the altercations of the Halacha or the dispute concerning the egg that was fatally laid by a hen on a Sabbath or any question of similar purport, the boy resorted to the flowered Halacha where the beautiful old sagas, legends about angels and martyrs, festive hymns and proverbs and cute hyperboles sprouted full of robust, incandescent faith.
The boy’s noble heart was taken captive by the wild adventurous sweetness, the eerie pain and the awe of the secret universe revealed in poetry. – He began to understand its grace and power and its cheerful insight.
And so Jehuda ben Halevy did not simply become a scribe and scholar, but a master of poetry and a famous poet.
He was a light and beacon for his nation, a powerful fiery pillar of sweet song that preceded Israel’s caravan of pain and mourning in the desert of their exile.
True and pure and without blemish was his song, like his soul. When God had created it and saw its perfection, he kissed it, and the lovely reverberation of that kiss throbs in each of the poet’s songs that had been consecrated by that grace.
As in life, so in poetry, grace is all there is to it. Those who have it cannot sin either in prose or in verse. A poet who has received God’s grace is considered a genius: his rule is absolute in the realm of thought. Only God can call him to account. The people can’t.
In art, as in life, people can kill us, but they can never judge us. —
Please notice he says “us” meaning that though he was poor and exiled, he knew he too was a poet who had received God’s grace and is therefore called a genius..
The same text, but beside the German original :
Adobe Acrobat Jehuda ben Halvy part 1 bilingual