Samuel ha-Nagid (“the Prince”), born Samuel ibn Nagrela (993-1056,) was a poet, philologist, legal scholar, philosopher, military leader and statesman in Andalusia during the time of Moorish rule– the so-called “Golden Age” of Jewish culture in Spain; Sepharad, which later generations of Jews looked back on as a cultural homeland, a foothold that they’d been given even in the diaspora. (The name is taken from a brief mention in the first chapter of Obadiah: And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel, that are among the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath, and the captivity of Jerusalem, that is in Sepharad [Sfard], shall possess the cities of the South.)
After the end of this era, there is a sense of being doubly exiled: from Jerusalem after 70 a.d. and from this cultural and political space of beauty and safety, symbolized by Alhambra.
Mountain of Sand
Do you remember the mountain pass of sand which I crossed alone while fleeing from you and afraid?
Even today I am in transit over you,—but behind me are tens of thousands who obey me like their father
And wait for my utterances as for the rain and attend to my wisdom as to prophecy. Because of this bless them for me my God,—may they follow after me willingly today.
Build me up like a tower on the heights of your sanctuary,
And set me like a seal upon your heart.
Make me drunk with the blood of the foe on the day of war
And satisfy me with his flesh on the night of redemption.
Place the cup of salvation upon my right hand
That my tongue may give voice in joy to a song of love.
For nearly a thousand years I have declared my sorrow
With many tears and with fasting,—will You not answer me?
Take this Book
Joseph, take this book that I have selected for you from the choice works in the language of the Arabs.
I have copied it,—while the killing spear was sharpened by our hands and the sword drawn.
And death decrees one army to be exchanged for another, even (life’s) time (for its demise).
But I cease not from teaching you though death’s mouth is opened all about me,
In order that wisdom may come upon you,—for it is dearer to me than discovering my foes defeated.
Take it and reflect upon it and quit the crowds who deride language and speech.
Know that the man of understanding is like a tree of sweet fruit whose leaves are healing remedies,
While the fool is like the tree of the forest whose limbs and branches will be consumed by fire in the end.
Cold Days Have Come
The month of ‘Av has ended even ‘Elul and their heat is gone;
Also Tishri is gathered in and like them has passed.
Cold days have come and the new wine
Is red and its voice is still in the vat.
Therefore my friend, go among our companions
So that each may do as he intends.
Some said: Look at the clouds giving rain
And hear the thunder of the heavens on high,
And see the frost and the bonfire’s flame;
One descends while the other lifts and rises.
Come, drink from the cup and drink again
From the pitcher, night and day.
Translated by Leon J. Weinberger
from Leon J. Weinberger, trans.,
Jewish Prince in Moslem Spain: Selected Poems of Samuel ibn Nagrela.
(Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997).
Copyright © 1973 by The University of Alabama Press.
For more, see here, here, and here.
For the idea of the double diaspora, or double exile, see here.
Meme credit: David A. Wacks
El que me esparsio me recogeria.
He who scattered me will gather me in.