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Medieval Spanish Jewish Poetry


There was much homoerotic poetry in both Arabic and Hebrew writing in Muslim Spain The basic texts of the Hebrew poets are discussed in Norman Roth, `"Deal Gently with the young mna": Love of Boys in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Spain", Speculum 57:1 (1982), 20-51. It is a brilliant article and one from which I can give only a couple of examples.

Yishaq ben Mar-Saul (Lucena, 11th century)

Yishaq ben Mar-Saul was apparently the first Hebrew poet to have written in this genre. It should be noted that in both Hebrew and Arabic poetry of the period, "gazelle" (sevi) is a metaphore for a young male.

Gazelle desired in Spain
wondrously formed,
Given rule and dominion
over every living thing.
Lovely of form like the moon
with beautiful stature
Curls of purple
upon shining temple.
Like Joseph in his form
like Adoniah his hair
Lovely of eyes like David,
he has slain me like Uriah
He has enflamed my passions
and consumed my heart with fire.
Because of him I have been left
without understanding and wisdom.
Weep with me every ostrich
and every hawk and falcon!
The beloved of my soul has slain me --
is this a just sentence
.................
Because of him my soul is sick,
perplexed and yearning.
His speech upon my heart
is like dew upon a parches land.
Draw me from the pit of destruction
that I go down to Hell

Roth, p. 31.

Isaac Ibn Abraham (12th century)

Roth's article only goes up the 12th century, although sevi poetry was written by later poets such as Judah al-Hazari and Todros Abulafia. The last example Roth gives is also one of the best.

The secret of love, how can it be contained
The heart and the tear are talebearers.
The heart is restrained from what it seeks,
Shut up and be passion of him besieged,
Unable to obtain its desire.
If it presumes to attain to the stars,
Its pride is brought down, laid low.
Beloved like a hart, with heart of a panther,
If you desire to slay,
My heart is in your hand as clay.
But do not summon wanderings upon it.
For in its midst your name is sheltered.
Beloved, like a scarlet cord his lips,
Burining like fire for they are his censer,
And in them is the work of his signs.
Live by them, for it waits for them --
A heart long suffering because of them.
How my fate has hardened its spirit.
A while and separation will cause it to be odious
To my friends who knew its thoughts.
If wandering has separated us,
It has increased love.
I will watch for the gazelle
To leave in the garden my pleasures,
Although my rebuker stands to accuse me.


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© Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 15 October 2019 [CV]