How I Helped The Wise

Have you heard how I helped the wise,
and the elders on their paths to perfection?
And the God-fearing boys so fine to behold
and so young
and their brothers?
I ordered a court prepared for a party
and said: “Let’s spend the day sweetly,
we’Il drink in honour of the parting-to-come;
grief awaits each in his halting;

friendship and energy are sisters.
death and departure — twins.”
So they came to the cushions threaded with scarlet
and splendid embroidery
and flasks and bowls full of nuts
in reach of philanthropists like us;
under the cedars where doves
flirted, fluttering in pairs,
and the furrows filled with the wine of clouds

and drank and sent forth their secrets.
And we were at ease, hearts
unstubborn and free.
Then I sent for Jubal’s son,
who rushed with his harp and perfect lute,
and I cradled my flask,
cut like an almond and studded with jewels.
I called for my family, which came
for the vine’s son, the vineyard’s heir-

in its pitchers deprived of light,
like Tamar,
her widowhood wronged by the law.

And the brimming womb they emptied was boneless.
The vintage prisoner of two
years in the dark
heart of the pitcher was free.
it had aged, and time worn away at its skin,
though its eye was bright as a boy’s blush;

it was fragrant, though not with frankincense,
and seasoned, although without herbs;
it looked like fire
though it poured like water,
and was folly’s embodiment, though it gathered the wise;
it was lighting—with showers to follow:
not the flash of the false alarm.
They poured it across their bodies by night
and went out wise from the cloak of their darkness.

While its glow was imposed
on the brightness of day,
they’d winced looking up to the heaven.
And they held it, though it moved their lips-
though not by threats
or strength of arm.
it spoke within them—although it was still,
and had the guest-list skipping like
fawns, or gazelles.

At once the, felt their wisdom flee,
and their knowledge taken captive entirely.
And their eyes went dim—
as it addressed the ambassador;
and frivolity swayed the sages
with its richness, bouquet, and savour,
and they hid behind their glasses of onyx,
went redder than rubies in a poor man’s hand,
the pitcher’s prisoner— like faces gone flush,

as though it were light
which had brushed their temples and stuck.
They tilted it back, into their throats,
and it rose to the heads of the haughty in power,
and by dusk they were stretching
out on their sides,
as though hit with a hammer in Yael’s hand.
At dawn when they woke not a one could rise,
or raise his head,

as though their feet no longer had toes,
nor their backs
the spines to prop them.
And they said: Who are you and What is this?
and stirred as though sloughing a dream.
And I answered:
listen to words
which friends and enemies alike will attest to;
and they were heard

in every court and up to the gate
and heights of the city,
and no one denies them: I am the heir of Kehat, the remnant of Merari,
men of renown, and excellent craft-
and from my father to
Samuel, Elkanah’s son,
the blood lines cross.
Likewise with Moses, the prophet of God,

who is kin to me.
When the peoples are gathered I’ll
call him my father
and he’ll call me my son.
When the peoples are gathered.
And they who question my lineage will find
their own much flawed.
I have glory and wealth,
though God alone has strength and power;

my songs surpass even those of the Levites,
even those of the close-cropped priests.
Coffers of gold are within my dominion,
and chests of the finest clothes.
In my presence the experts go dumb,
and scholars as though they were guilty.
And they leave with their
lips pressed together
when I pass, their eyes are squinted.

They stand there in silence before me-
even the movers and shakers;
I reveal to them marvellous things, of hidden interests,
“obscure”— and fashion my difficult rhymes,
which know no peer in creation.
But beyond all this, and better.
in as much as I’m able
none of my actions are rooted in anger.
If l’m forced to sin, or sin in secret—

may the Lord forgive me my compulsion and lapse.

Samuel ibn Naghrillah
11th century