Spirit splits in its asking,

soul in its wanting is balked—

and the body, fattened, is vital
      and full,

   its previous being uneasy. …

So the modest man
      walks on earth,
   his thoughts drawn toward sky.

What good is the pulse of man’s flesh
      and its favors
   when the mind is in pain?

And the friends who fray me,
   their fine physiques
      and slender thinking,
   thinking it’s ease or gain
      that drives me,
   pitching from place to place,
      my hair wild, my eyes,
         charcoaled with night—
   and not a one speaks wisely,
      their souls blunted, or blurred,
         goat-footed thinkers.

Should someone unguilty
                   hold back from
longing toward heights like the moon?
      Should he wait,
   binding its wings to his waist—
like a man winding his sash about him—
till he acts and they hear of his action,
   as he adds and then adds like the sea
                   to his fame?

By God and God’s faithful—
          and I keep my oaths—
   I’ll climb cliffs
and descend to the innermost pit,
   and sew the edge of desert to desert,
      and split the sea,
            and every gorge,
         and sail in mountainous ascent,

until the word “forever” makes sense to me,

and my enemies fear me,
   and my friends in that fear
         find solace;

then free men will turn
   their faces toward mine,
      as I face theirs,

and soul will save us,
   as it trips our obstructors.

The beds of our friendship are rich with it,
   planted by the river of affection,
      and fixed like a seal in wax,
         like graven gold
   in the windowed dome of the Temple.

May YAH be with you as you love,
   and your soul which He loves be delivered,

   and the God who sends salvation shield you

      till the sun and the moon are no more.

– Shmu’el HaNagid

translated by Peter Cole *

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