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IMMANUELLO'S PREFACE

TO THE MACHBEROT

 

 

THE POET'S PROLOGUE

 

The following is a translation of the preface contained at pp. 3-7 of the Machberot in the Dov Yarden edition. Bracketed figures are line references to that edition.

 

Thus spake Immanuel, the son of Rabbi Shlomo, blessed be the memory of that righteous man:

 

After having given thanks to the Prime Cause, with my heart kneeling and my soul inclined, I say that when finally I was coming to the evening of my life, and I had moved from the age of sexual pleasure to old age, I was living the life of a bird, wandering far from its nest.

 

I was living in the city of Fermo, which is in the province of the Marche, and there I was with people of good disposition and honesty who sat high [5] in the kingdoms of knowledge and understanding. I had good relations with them.

 

And it happened one day, after the banquet of Purim, when we had enjoyed a wealth of eating and wine and poultry, we sat together on  broad cushions, and we carried on with the telling of our tales, and we decided that we were going to converse exclusively about poems and melitsot [rhyming prose].

 

And each man who had made up a poem in his own head, he would recite it; and if he had heard a poem by written by someone else he would recite it; and there was a man who collected them and put them together into a book, and showed their beauty and their slendour to the signori. And he who did not go according to the counsel of the signori [10] and the old men, he burned all his collection.

 

And there were among us some people who were wearisome in their foolishness, and they boasted about poems which they had collected but had not written themselves, and some of them were boasting about poems which I myself had written and had lost sight of, as if they were not […]

 

And some of them presented books full of poems which they had toiled to collect [as chaff] among the sheaves, and they had collected very, very many of them, but they were a collection of silver and copper – not for assistance, and not for an offering, but to their own disgrace.

 

And they proclaimed big utterances, and they made big books, [15] and they did not distinguish between the pure and the impure, and some of them were boasting about poems that were in fact mine, and they were reciting the glories of my own melitsot. And one of them had the nerve to say: "I knocked at the doors of your poetry, and every poem except yours I removed, and just as a belt clings to a man's waist, so I attached your poems to myself.

 

And I said: Please, my friends and my redeemers, show me the poems which are attributed to me. And they showed me writings which were a mockery, and I looked, and behold I saw frogs swarming on the earth, and together with my poems – which [20]  were set with jewels of beauty and were set with the gold of intellect – they put poems of stupid people, poems that were torn apart and distorted and patched and poems that were all tangled up and like the drunkenness of drunkards, and they ordered them like flocks of sheep.

 

And out of little they created heaps , and they assigned these poems to me to give me great pain – poems which I had not arranged, and had not written, and had never even occurred to my mind. And they broke down the defensive wall of my scattered poems, and they collected them in piles and piles intil the earth became infected with them.

 

I also saw that some of them had attributed poems of my own to others – our inheritance is turned unto strangers, our house unto aliens! [25] And I said: "You, my poems so full of joy, and you, my stirring melitsot, you were once the glory of all countries, but look at you now! You have become like precious stones that have been smashed, "and the stones of the sanctuary are poured out at the top of every street!" Who could have done this to you – you, my elevated poems, taken from the pearls of sayings and the choicest of phrasings. How are the mighty fallen!"

 

And I said to the company of my friends and acquaintances: "Mercy upon me, mercy upon me, you my friends – we have been plundered! Part of my people has betrayed me! [30] And time has become a burden to me, just as the wagon groans when it is full with a load of grain! And my punishment is written with the engraving of an iron tool, in the diamond-point style of the diamond, because out of the myriads of my poems there remain only two or three berries at the very top of the tree!"

 

And it happened that when I raised my voice and called out, the God of the Jews appeared unto me. There, together with us, was one of the Signori, a forest of protection, and when he saw how time had robbed me of my fine things and locusts had taken possession of my poems and my melitsot, he stood up quickly and lightly and without delay.

 

He said to me: "Son of man, why are you sleeping? Tear your soul in your wrath and your anger! Rise up and go! [35] Why is it that you lie prostrate on your face? Go and collect up the whole troop of your poems and your melitsot and the words of your rejoicings, big and small alike, and put them together in a book which will give words of pleasantness. The kind of book that I saw, of Rabbi Yehuda al-Charizi, a book in which he put together melitsot and powerful poems, and proverbial sayings of every kind which were unknown to our forefathers. And he accompanied the peoms and the melitsot which he had captured with his bow and his sword, with the names of people whom he had invented out of his head, and even though he himself had writen them, he narrated them in the names of Chever the Kenite and Eitan the Ezraite." [40]

 

And I said: "Rabbi Yehuda al-Charizi, in his greatness, decided to write a book which had a subject already fixed at the start, and he wrote poems and engraved melitsot which were designed to fit with the subject matter of the book. And he took in his hand the rod of his intelligence, and with it he created this miracle of literature. The problem is that the poems and the melitsot which I wrote – some of them were written in my youth, and some of them in the days of sexual maturity, and some of them in the days of my old age. I never intended to make a book out of them. And what could possibly be the subject matter which will bind all these separate things together? There is no intellect of man, however high and elevated, which would be able to place together poems which he had not already intended to place together. And what about collecting them – who could hope [45] to collect them from the top of Mount Senir and Mount Hermon and from the dens of lions – for a poet to collect in his scattered poems is harder than gathering in the people of the Diaspora!"

 

And the prince said: "Let not the father of understanding speak like that! I know that you are capable of everything and no intelligent action is beyond you. Wisdom does not fail the wise man, nor cunningness the cunning man. Whip your mind into action, and find out the subject matter that will bind them together, so that you will have poems and melitsot fit for the heights of the heavens!"

 

"And seeing that in a dearth of poems your intellect gave birth to them, and in a dearth of melitsot the power of your wisdom created them, and only you were associated with them and nobody else with you, write your composition [50] as if there was another person in company with you. And he asks you questions and you answer him, and he answers you when you ask him questions, and give him an entirely new name when you invent him out of your mind. And verily I have never written a poem, and I have never composed a melitsah with the sharp tool of my wit… Place my name in company with you in your book, and ascribe to me part of your proverbs and your poems, and even though mine is not the glory of  the poems and the deeds which will be attached to my name, I would like to be a friend and a fellow for you, so that my name might be inscribed on the boards of your book for all eternity" [55]

 

"And now rise up, tongue of gold and splendour, and make for yourself a name of glory, and collect the hosts of your poems into machberot so that anyone who tries to steal any of them will be caught like a thief caught red-handed in a burglary."

 

And I listened to the advice of the friend. And I asked God to give us a sign of what I should say, and this was the beginning of my creative work. And I stretched out my hands to the heavens asking Him to be with my mouth in my murmuring, so that I do not stumble in my speech.

 

"Arise my poetry, my beautiful one / and go and rule over all poems. [60]

Do battle against everything that is ephemeral or over-angered /

            or overweening in its judgement.

And breathe on the dead so that they may live / and make your way along

the heights of life.

Go to shoot your hunting arrows. / Take and pull back your bow.

Let your learning drip down like the dew / Pour your spirit onto every body.

Say to everyone: 'I am of Immanuel / the servant of God.'

Return, my soul, to your resting place / because God has requited you." [65]

 

And thus spoke Immanuel the son of the esteemed Rabbi Shlomo, may the memory of that honest man be blessed:

 

After the light of truth had failed, and the sun of knowledge had grown dark, and intelligence stood like a man terrified, and the stars of insight had withdrawn their splendour, and the melitsah had come to be a burden, and poetry lost its way, and the the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and Korach, and God raised up the prince – the beauty of fair branches and the sheltering forest – and he delivered the spirit of understanding to him…. [70] He put the mountain on a level with the land, and placed intelligence and wisdom in his heart, and he girded him with it, until the poets of the time of his generosity said: "Rule, and against the princes of [other] nations prepare wars, and every poet and reciter of prose will say 'I am the servant of the prince; theyfixed time to put it in a firm place. And he called the house of Israel 'manna', and he was wiser than Heyman and Kalkol, and the Lord blessed the prince in everything. And there was the noise of the stamping of hoofs of his sayings, and the spectacle of his raiments, and the oil of humility which descends from his clothing. The earth was full of his circumstances [majesty], and men of [75] wisdom went in his light. And the poets of the time they go in darkness, fearing his enlightenment. And from the pearls of his sayings they make necklaces for their necks, to restore the crown of poetry to be again what it was, and to raise up the guards [sceptre] of the melitsot.

 

And I, the despised and shattered pot, for my fear lest all this be lost to me and to the people of the melitsah, I did not hesitate to wrestle in the dust of his footsteps, to collect the pearls of his sayings, and his gems [bdellium] and his opals, and to pluck the fruit in his fragrance, and to place his riddles and his proverbs into a book. This provided a couch for his words, so that his plasant sayings might be written on the board of the heart of time, [80] so that they might survive for many years.

 

And when he saw that I was striving to attain the same level as him, and to reach the high branches of his palm tree and the treasures of his fine clothes, and he opened to me th window of his heaven and he poured his perfumes about. And I saw visions, elevated and revealed. In my eyes they were words of prophecy, which the eye could not get enough of seeing, and I ws introduced to subject matters which the ancients did not know, subject matters of repeated subject matters. And he said to me: "Son of man! Let your belly eat, and let your bowels be full! I shall reveal to you subject matters and sayings, and out of them you must make a book [85] of gold [of Ophir] which has not been weighed. I have many like them, from the outer limit to completion. There is enough to give in inheritance to my friends, and I shall fill up their stores. Rise up, and draw from my springs, and eat the fruit of my Eden, eating and putting aside as spake the Lord."

 

And when I saw the rains of plenty which his hands were pouring, I gathered in his cypress flowers and his nards, and I ate the best of the choice fruits until I was filled with the spirit of wisdom and counsel. And I sang [as a prophet] that which I was commanded. And I took his pearls and his gems [bdelliums] and his flowers and his blossoms, from the preciousness [fruit] of the fruits of his sun, and from the preciousness [fruit] of the fruit of his moon, and I made from them crowns to be on the heads [90] of the nobles like the brightness of the enlightened sky.

 

And I made poems and melitsot to open the eyes of the blind, and to be shining examples in the heavens of the melitsah. And what more can I gather in to speak of his circumstances and his subject matter and his riddles, and my questions to him, and his answers to me and his entreaties [….?….]. And this was the beginning of my creative process, after I had placed my trust in the Lord of my faith and my hands were extended to heaven so that He might be with our mouths in that which we were about to compose, and so as to give us a sign of that which we should say.

 

[End of Prologue]

 

translated Ed Emery

31.viii.02

 

 

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