The poems below are from Vulture in a Cage: Poems by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, translated from the Hebrew by Raymond P. Scheindlin. A beautiful and challenging poet, Ibn Gabirol seems strikingly modern in his methods, at least as brought over into English by Scheindlin. For more information, see Mitchell Abidor‘s fine review of Vulture in a Cage here.
Behold the rose:
Her body’s like her garment.
When you look at her, she blushes
like a bride before her husband,
or like a girl who runs out screaming,
her hands upon her head in horror.
Bring me to the vineyard, friend.
Give me a drink, and pour me full of joy.
Keep your cups of friendship close to me—
maybe they will drive away my sorrow.
Hoist the cup eight times to me,
and I’ll drink eighty times to you.
If you see me dying there,
dig my grave among the vines.
Wash my corpse with must of grapes.
Embalm me with the pips and skins.
Do not weep and do not mourn,
but work the lute, the harp, the lyre.
Don’t fill in my grave with dirt—
only wine-jugs, old and new.
The mind is flawed, the way to wisdom blocked.
The flesh alone is seen, the soul is hidden.
Men who seek the world find only evil.
A man can get no pleasure here on earth.
The servant rises up and kills his lord.
Serving girls attack their mistresses.
Sons rise up to strike their parents, even girls
lift hands in violence against their elders.
My friend, from what I’ve seen of life, I’d say
the best that you can hope is to go mad.
However long you live, you suffer toil,
and in the end, you suffer worms and rot,
until the day when clay goes back to clay;
until the soul ascends to join the Soul.
These are just three of Ibn Gabirol’s several key modes, all united by a distinctive, remarkably modern-sounding voice. Abidor, in his review (linked above), suggests a parallel with Rimbaud, and it makes sense. Gabirol’s ferocity, wit, taste for things mystical, and pleasure in being an arch outsider repeatedly brings the French genius to mind. If only Rimbaud had chosen poetry over the slave trade…!