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Judíos y musulmanes en al-Andalus y el Magreb

Maribel Fierro

Old Age in Hebrew and Arabic Zuhd Poetry

Raymond P. Scheindlin


La poésie juive d’al-Andalus, bien qu’elle ait largement fait appel aux modèles poétiques arabes, a cependant développé des caractéristiques originales. Cet article étudie les différents traitements accordés du thème de la vieillesse par la poésie zuhd juive et arabe, sur la base d’une comparaison entre les œuvres de deux poètes grenadins du Moyen Âge : les poèmes arabes d’Abū Isḥāq al-Ilbīrī et les poèmes hébraïques de Moses ibn Ezra. L’article montre que les différences de ton et de contenu que l’on observe proviennent du fait que les deux poètes proviennent d’horizons culturels différents : la poésie arabe est solidement fondée sur le piétisme islamique, cependant que la poésie hébraïque, bien qu’utilisant le même langage et le même répertoire d’images, reflète une perspective néoplatonicienne tout à fait étrangère à la poésie zuhd islamique

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  • 1 As in the case of Arie Schippers, Spanish Hebrew Poetry & the Arabic Literary Tradition. Arabic The (...)

1In the past few years, I have been trying to understand the ways in which the Hebrew and Arabic poetry of al-Andalus are different, for that they are similar is so well established that it does not need further proof. The Jews of al-Andalus began in the tenth century to write Hebrew poetry along the same lines as Arabic poetry with respect to genre, form, style, and prosody, and continued doing so until long after the reconquista, really until the expulsion in 1492. What the Jews learned from the Arabs about poetry has been thoroughly researched with valuable results, but in this research lurks the danger that once we begin seeking out similarities, we find them everywhere; eventually that is all we find and then we lose the ability to see what is distinctive about Hebrew poetry1. And yet, Hebrew poetry could not be a simple calque of Arabic poetry for many reasons. To name only two: 1°. It was composed by and for a community thoroughly steeped in and very proud of its own literary traditions; it cannot be expected to have abandoned these completely, nor did it do so. 2°. It was composed by and for a community that, though Arabized in many ways, had a different history, a somewhat different cultural physiognomy, and different needs from the Arab literati who created the body of Andalusian Arabic poetry.

  • 2 Raymond P. Scheindlin, «Ibn Gabirol’s Religious Poetry and Sufi Poetry», Sefarad, 54, 1994, pp. 109 (...)

2I began my study of the differences between Andalusian Hebrew and Arabic poetry by studying some aspects of the religious poetry of the two languages. The first result was a paper dealing with the relationship of zuhd poetry to the meditative religious verse of Ibn Gabirol2. In that paper, I tried to demonstrate that, contrary to opinion then current —I hope it has changed— Ibn Gabirol’s meditative religious verse, far from being inspired by zuhd poetry, is actually quite distinct from it and must have arisen independently of it (though of course, Ibn Gabirol also wrote Hebrew zuhd poetry that is quite within the Arabic zuhd traditions and is certainly derived from it). In a subsequent paper, as yet unpublished, I surveyed a number of themes common to both Hebrew and Arabic religious verse and pointed to differences in treatment between them.

  • 3 Poems by Moses ibn Ezra are cited from Moses ιβν Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Ḥayim Brody (2vols.), Berlin-Jeru (...)

3Today I want to deal with one particular theme in zuhd poetry, the theme of old age. The research is far from complete, for I have so far limited my sources severely. On the I Hebrew side, I am drawing on the works of several different poets, but mainly on Moses ibn Ezra (ca. 1055 -ca. 1135), one of the major figures of the Hebrew literary tradition. Ibn Ezra left a huge dīwān of poems on secular and religious themes and hundreds of other poems designed for the synagogue and not incorporated in the dīwān. His synagogue poetry includes so much penitential verse that he is sometimes referred to as «the Sallaḥ», the penential-poetry writer3.

  • 4 E. García Gómez’s disparaging remark is found in his article «Abū Isḥāḳ al-Ilbīrī» in the Encyclopa (...)
  • 5 The dīwān was published by Emilio García Gómez, Un alfaquí español: Abū Isḥāq de Elvira, Madrid-Gra (...)

4On the Arabic side, I have confined my research to a poet who was not one of al-Andalus’s major literary figures, but who had a lasting reputation in certain circles, and who achieved permanent notoriety through one of his poems. He is Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm b. Mas‘ūd al-Ilbīrī (d. 1067). The choice of al-Ilbīrī for comparison with a Hebrew poet like Moses ibn Ezra may seem as a kind of provocation, since al-Ilbīrī was the author of the anti-Jewish poem that is said to have precipitated the riot in Granada in 1066, when Ibn Ezra was probably about eleven, the riot in which Joseph ibn Naghrella was killed along with (according to Jewish sources) several thousand other Jews. To Moses ibn Ezra, a member of a distinguished Jewish family of Granada, al-Ilbīrī’s very name must have been anathema, and al-Ilbīrī would probably have been the last Arab poet with whom he would have wanted to be compared. As for the violently anti-Jewish al-Ilbīrī, being compared with any Jewish writer would probably have infuriated him. My choice of al-Ilbīrī was dictated by the facts that he was close in time and place to Moses ibn Ezra, that he was famous above all for his zuhd poetry —his dīwān contains little else— and by the easy availability of his dīwān, for he is, as far as I know, the only Andalusian poet specializing in zuhd whose dīwān has been published. García Gómez calls him «a faqīh of medium culture, who rises to eloquence only when expressing his intolerant fanaticism»4. But I found myself enjoying his zuhd poetry in spite of myself, and I cannot deny that I enjoy the slight revenge against this terrible man of using his work as background for the study of Hebrew poetry5.

5The convention of zuhd poetry, as established by Abū l-‘Atāhiya, is that the poet is a preacher addressing an audience. It did not have to be that way, for other styles were available for this kind of poetry. The poems could have been formulated as inward meditations; they could ha0ve been couched as advice to a child (as are some works of ancient Middle Eastern wisdom literature); they could have taken the form of strings of impersonal maxims. All these types do occur occasionally, but at least in Abū l-‘Atāhiya they are dominated by the preaching type of poem in which the poet addresses a group, admonishing them to consider the folly of worldly concerns and to concentrate their thoughts on death and the final reckoning. Within this general framework, one of the favorite themes of the preaching poet is: You are too old for the childish pursuit of pleasure; repent now before it is too late, for death may overtake you unprepared at any time.

6In my paper on Ibn Gabirol and ṣūfī poetry, I showed that when the Arabic poet addresses himself in zuhd poetry, it is usually in the same tone and styleas when he addresses an audience.The audience is his own nafs, but the tone remains distant, impersonal; there is no difference between the nafs and a group of strangers. This style is less common in Hebrew, where the address to the soul tends to be more intimate, even tender. The harsh address to the soul is mitigated in the case of Hebrew poetry by difference in the ways medieval Judaism and Islam conceived of the soul. For the Islamic pietism as represented in zuhd poetry, the nafs represents man’s appetite for sin and worldly things; it is a force that needs to be controlled, even crushed; in Jewish religious verse, following the philosophic tradition, the nefesh (soul, cognate with nafs) is the divine part of man, trapped in the body, perhaps under its baneful influence, but essentially pure and capable of being redeemed. The soul needs to be admonished to be true to its own better self rather than excoriated and mortified.

  • 6 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dâya, p. 119. For another example, see the poem in Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. a (...)

7Although I found no case in Abū l-‘Atāhiya or other zuhd poets where the nafs is addressed in the kind of intimate tone normal in Ibn Gabirol, a truly intimate, meditative style does occur in Arabic in occasional poems, in the works of poets not particularly known as zuhd poets. But usually these poems are addressed not to the poet’s soul but to God and thus are not versified sermons but versified prayers. To those examples, I can now, by the way, add a few lovely poems by al-Ilbīrī, like this one6:

I come to you in hope, Exalted God,
so save me from the trouble I am in.
I disobeyed you, foolishly —Alas!— Ο master,
heedless of the shame my sin would cause me.

To whom can a slave bring his complaint,
but to his master, master of all masters!
I only wish my mother had not borne me,
and that I had not angered You in the darkness of the night.
Now, here I am, your disobedient slave,
in need of mercy; so accept my prayer.
If You punish me, Ο Lord, You will be punishing
a man who merits punishment exemplary;
and if You should forgive, Your grace has shown me
my deeds, the heavy burdens that I bear.

  • 7 I. Abū l-‘Atāhiya, Diwān, ed. by Louis Cheikho, Beirut, Matba‘at al-Yasū‘iyyīn, 1887, p.263; 2. Ibn (...)

8Such poems as this and the occasional poems by other poets just referred to could very well have served as models for Ibn Gabirol and the other Hebrew poets. The Hebrew poets might have hit upon the style by themselves, but it seems likely that they were aware of and impressed by such Arabic religious poetry. The first known Hebrew religious poem employing the intimate style is Ο God, do not Judge Me According to my Sin by Isaac ibn Mar Saul (second half of the 10th century), which seems to have a specific Arabic poem by Abū l-‘Atāhiya as both its prosodic and stylistic model. Here are the openings of two poems, one, in Arabic, by Abū l-’Atâhiya, one by Ibn Mar Saul in Hebrew, and a third quotation, in the same style, by al-Ilbīrī7:

ilāhī lā tu‘ādbdhibnī fa’innī/muqirrun billadhī qad kāna minnī
wa-mā lī ḥīlatun illā rajā’ī/wa-‘afwuka in‘afawta wa-ḥusnu ẓannī […]

elohay al tedineni ke-ma‘li/ve-al tamod eley ḥeqi ke-fo‘li
beḥemlatkha gemol‘alay ve-eḥye/ve-al na el teshalem li gem uli […]

ataytuka rājiyan yā dhā l-jalālī; fa-farrij mā tarā min sū’i ḥalī
aṣaytuka sayyidī waylī bi-jahlī/-wa-‘aybu l-dhanbi lam yakhtur bi-bālī […]

9Hearing the three poem-openings in succession makes it hard to escape the conviction that they belong to a single tradition. Ibn Mar Saul’s poem, which owes its warmth both to its intimate manner of addressing God and to the sheer intensity of its introspection, became a cornerstone of the Sephardic liturgy, and inspired many imitations. Though longer than Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s poem, it is similar in mood, especially in being rather harsher than most I Hebrew liturgical poetry in its expression of personal guilt. It includes lines like these:

What can I say on the day of judgment,
where shall I turn for help?
Where will I flee, who will protect me?
My crimes are right before my face and eyes,
my shame before and beside me.
If my neighbors caught the stench of my sins,
they would flee from where I am.
With a heart defiled and ungovernable,
that turns to every wicked sin—
I am aware of them storming my heart,
I see them on my night and left!

10This harsh view that the sinner has of himself may be due to the closeness of the poem to the model of Abū l-‘Atāhiya, but so is the warmth and intimacy with which the poet addresses God, especially in the poem’s openings lines quoted earlier. But although in this poem and in Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s poem we have an I, we do not yet have a persona.

11In the dīwān of al-Ilbīrī, we do, as we shall see.


  • 8 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya ,pp. 19-30; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 61-69.

12The longest poem in al-Ilbīrī’s dīwān, Days Crumble your Heart into Bits8 is addressed to a young man, an otherwise unidentified Abū Bakr. The poem begins with a generalization couched in the second person:

Days crumble your heart into bits
and hours reduce your body to emaciation,
and doom calls you with a call that cannot be denied:
Ο friend! —It is you I want, yes, you. [v. I-2]

13Because the addressee is not named at first, we assume that the second person is being used here merely as a conventional framework for a series of maxims. But when, a few verses later on, the impersonal speaker does address the friend by name

Abū Bakr, I am calling you —if only you will respond—
to something that will be good for you, if you are clever. [v. 6],

14we retroactively reinterpret the second person addresses of the opening lines and personalize them, for we now see that a real person, rather than a literary convention was being addressed; we also associate the poet with the voice of doom that he himself had said was calling. This is an interesting effect. But then the poet goes on for many verses with a lot of ordinary zuhd-type advice already quite familiar to those of us who have read a lot of zuhd poetry; the next gesture that catches our attention occurs only in verse 62, when the poet reminds us that he is actually addressing a real person, at the same time turning the poem in a different direction altogether:

Why don’t you say to me: «O counselor, if you look at the situation rightly,
you are more in need of your counsel than I!»

15The poet then fictionally yields speaker’s voice to his addressee for the space of no fewer than twenty-five verses urging the young Abū Bakr to turn the zuhd themes against him. The accusations made (in imagination, remember) by the young man are actually a litany of activities that the poet sees as his own sins, a mirror of his guilty conscience. One example:

True, it is ugly when a young man pursues love affairs, hut uglier by far is an old man playing the youth! [v. 72].

16(This is also a specific theme of al-llbīrī’s guilt feelings, to which we will return.) It is only fifteen verses later that al-Ilbīrī takes the podium back for himself.

Abū Bakr, you have revealed to me a little of my blemish,
but you have still concealed the greatest part of it;
say whatever you wish about my shameful doings,
double it, and you would still be right […] [vv. 97-98]

17This turn introduces the concluding section of the poem, which goes on for another fourteen verses before ending with the poet’s good wishes and expressions of confidence to Abū Bakr.

18By letting Abū Bakr speak, al-Ilbīrī has given new life to the convention of gnomic poetry, going back to the pre-Islamic Near East, that puts advice for life in the mouth of an older man addressing his son or disciple, and by so doing he has made his poem much more vivid than might have expected. He has also given himself a device with which to lay out his own spiritual anxieties, which seem all the more sincere thanks precisely to the break with the formal tradition. Conventional as are most of the actual contents of this poem, it is one in which al-Ilbīrī creates the hud of a literary persona, one much more attractive than the faceless one of the hectoring Abū l-‘Atāhiya.

  • 9 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 104-06 (poem no. 105).

19Moses ibn Ezra also has a poem of zuhd-type advice to a young man: My Son, Incline your Ear to my Speech9, a poem of fifty-two verses addressed to his nephew, Judah ibn Abī l-Ḥajjāj; Ibn Ezra has other poems of advice to young men, but the advice they contain is more of the worldly type found in Ibn Naghrella’s Den Mishle, while this poem is more in the zuhd tradition. My Son, Incline your Ear to my Speech, may seem to have the advantage of explicitly placing itself in a real-life situation: the poet takes time out from his maxims to remind the recipient, Judah, that he is the son of an illustrious family and that he has inherited values and other advantages from his parents, who are now dead. Moses implies that in offering this poem of advice, he is speaking in lieu of the recipient’s illustrious father; he speaks of Judah’s brother, offers his own consolations to both brothers, offers his own prayers on behalf of the two of them, alludes to his own misery at being separated from his family and his beloved Granada, and ends with the wish that the two achieve worldly success.

20Given all the family information it contains and the care the poet takes to place the poem in a real-life situation, we cannot claim that the poem lacks a personal note; but that personal note derives from the family relationships and feelings written into the poem, not from the manipulation of convention. The effect is therefore less artistic than in al-Ilbīrī’s poem. Nor does this personal information reveal much about the poet. Moses ibn Ezra in this poem speaks conventional language of consolation as he speaks a conventional language of counsel. Having read the poem, we feel that we know nothing more about him than that he was an elegant writer, hardly as deep a revelation as al-llbīrī’s revelation of himself as a sinner. I do not want to be seen as blaming Ibn Ezra for not doing something he did not set out to do or of overrating the profundity of al-Ilbīrī’s confessions. But to my reading, Ibn Ezra’s poetry in general fails to reveal him to the degree that other great Hebrew poets of al-Andalus are revealed in their poetry, unless what is revealed in Moses ibn Ezra’s poetry is a rather stiff, aristrocratic figure, to whom the most important thing is to be elegant and correct. I find this poem of his charming, but unoriginal. Al-Ilbīrī, a much less important figure in his own tradition than Ibn Ezra is in his, permits a more convincing glimpse of himself.

21There is, by the way, another reason why we cannot imagine al-Ilbīrī as having written Moses ibn Ezra’s poem. Its zuhd themes, which occupy about thirty-five lines of this fifty-two line poem, all seem to vanish into a prayer for worldly success at the poem’s end! Viewing the poem as a whole, we see that for all its zuhd content, it is not a genuine zuhdpoem, but an epistolary poem that makes extensive use of zuhd materials.

22Most of al-Ilbīrī’s zuhd poems are not addressed to others, but to himself. This is already a change vis-à-vis most of Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s zuhd poems, which are either addressed outward to an imagined audience (i.e., us), or make generalizations about «people» or «we», and which only occasionally, address the speaker’s own soul. It makes a difference when a Muslim poet addresses himself as opposed to his nafs. The nafi is the root of evil, it is what prompts, even commands man to do wrong; it can therefore only be spoken to with anger and contempt. Gne does not address one’s self in that tone, and accordingly, al-Ilbīrī’s self-admonitions, whether forceful, ironic, despairing, or bemused, are not usually withering. The voice of the speaker is not so much monitory (as it would be addressing an audience, even if that audience is his soul) as it is confessional —I have done this, I ought to do that— in which the poet owns up to his spiritual failures and presses upon himself the urgency of making amends.

  • 10 Al-Ilbiri, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, p. 64; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 111-112.

23Even in the one poem of al-Ilbīrī’s that does deal with the evils of the nafs, I took Refuge in al-‘Uqāh, Fearing Divine Punishment10, this separation between self and nafs is used to convey not the necessity of treating the latter as a spiritual cancer but rather to express a feeling of robust religious strength.

[…] I hate my soul because of its disobedience,
and I rebuke it with the severest rebuke.
I say to it, «Youth has abandoned you,
and age has stripped you of your coat of boyhood.
Nothing is left for you after this but effacement,
lying in the grave, and the terror of judgement.»
My blame awakened it from slumber,
but it was abounding in anxiety.
How often did it raise a rain-cloud of reverence
that turned out to be fast-disappearing as a mirage!
How often did it promise me repentance,
but did not fulfill its promise!
How often did it betray me, though I
am clear-seeing in the ways of sin and righteousness.
I would not trust it not to betray me,
though it should swear on the verses of Scripture! [vv. 2-9]

24Here is a persona with a healthy sense of control over its own spiritual life and destiny, not doomed to be victimized by the nafs, that treacherous element in human character. The nafs can be overcome/The speaker’s persona is strong enough and wily enough to get the best of the betrayer; it is a persona that speaks of zuhd in the voice of fakhr.

25Αl-Ilbīrī’s first-person voice is one of several features of his poetry that lend it a note of sincerity, that give the reader the feeling that the speaker is a man who is not merely posing as a preacher, but who, having attained a milestone or crossroads in his life, is truly assessing his own spiritual condition and struggling with himself. It is a voice quite unlike Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s preacher’s voice, even if it uses exactly the same religious vocabulary and stock of themes. The speaker can be confident in his religious strength, but he cannot have Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s cold, smug distance, or the concomitant characteristic harshness.

26Another feature of al-Ilbīrī’s dīwān that lends it a tone of reality and sincerity is the fact that the I that speaks in it has a particular theme to which it reverts over and over again, no matter what the starting point, a theme that appears in nearly every poem in the dīwān. This is the theme of old age, or, more exactly, the theme of coming to accept old age. It is a literary obsession of al- Ilbīrī’s, and the poems in which he treats it are quite personal, some of them achieving a really intimate tone.

  • 11 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 94-95; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 147-48.

27Some of these poems are in a conventional vein11:

I saw a white hair trespassing on the back of my neck,
and I said: prepare for the journey;
Do not take lightly just a little of it;
when it comes to white hair, there is no such thing as a little! [vv. 1-2]

  • 12 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 43-44; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 83-85.

28But some refer to his specific age, like this one12:

At the age of sixty should I be sleeping in my comfortable spot,
when the urgers-on-to-death are giving the wake-up call
to break up camp,
When time has unfurled the banner of my white hair to fold me up and take away my sash,
When fate has drawn its sword against me
and will kill me, though my sword is sharp? [vv. 7-9]

  • 13 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 50-51; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 93-95.

29or this13:

You have reached the age of sixty—alas for you— just know that what come after will last a long time. [v. I]

30His constant theme is: «I am too old for this nonsense; it is time for me to turn to serious pursuits.» Many a preacher, whether in sermon or poem, has so admonished others; but such admonitions addressed to the preacher’s own self are touching because they bespeak an internal struggle. Old age should bring wisdom, but what if it doesn’t? What if, at age sixty, we find we are still moved by the same impulses of ambition, wealth, and sexual pursuit that governed us at twenty? We see our poet in poem after poem trying to sober himself up and act appropriately for his age, but repeatedly backsliding. There is the same conviction of the wrongness of his behavior, the same conviction of the certainty of judgment and hellfire that motivates Abū l-‘Atāhiya, but none of the preacher’s smugness that makes the latter’s poetry so harsh.

  • 14 Sources given above, note 11.

31One of the things that makes al-Ilbīrī’s zuhd poetry seem so believable is that he refers to a particular weakness of his repeatedly so that we cannot escape the conviction that it is real. This weakness is for sex. He puts it in a merely conventional way in the poem on gray hair quoted above14:

How many a person whose hair-part is white,
whose stars are on the descending part of the zodiac,
finds his yard-long arm now half a span,
and his sharp sword notched and blunted.

How can such a person hope for a wild cow of the sands?
To attain her is the delirious dream of a sick man! [vv. 6-8]

  • 15 References above, note 13.

32In other poems it comes out in a more personal way, as in You have Reached the Age of Sixty15:

How has my branch faded that used to be verdant,
and my back bent that used to be straight,
my edge that used to be lethal, blunt,
and my troop turned back that was formerly numerous.
How has time exchanged the bloom of my youth
for gray hair, reviled by pretty girls,
so that now I have to console myself for the loss of their love,
I, who once was constantly enslaved to them! [vv. 6-9]

  • 16 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 83-89; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 137-141. This poem is one o (...)

33Notice that he complains both of the diminution of his own potency and of his inability (or fear of his inability) to be attractive to young women. He has a madiḥ poem in which this motif actually constitutes the opening theme, one of his many artful manipulations of motifs of ancient secular Arabic poetry into service of zuhd16:

An old man should not be concerned with pretty girls,
when he is like a bubble on water’s surface.
The sight of the eyes of wild cows and herds of gazelles
should not make him act like a boy
when the time for boys’games is long past.
By my life, a young girl would not love an old man,
even if he became caliph!
She likes a youth of delicate body,
as dry land loves a prediction of rain that comes true—
one who in grace is her equal, and whom she resembles,
so that in love they are like two winds mixed together—
not like one who, thirsty, stops by a well,
without a bucket or rope with which to draw water;
he gazes at it in sorrow,
drawing near to it when he is actually far away […] [vv. I-8]

  • 17 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 77-82; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 131-135.

34Al-Ilbīrī’s obsession with his own weakness for women is strikingly revealed in an unintentionally humorous passage in Turn Aside the Mounts, a poem on the death of a woman (his own wife, according to the copyist of the dīwān)17. The poem begins with the traditional ancient call to turn aside and gaze at the site of the ruined encampment; this turns out to be the grave of the dead woman, a place distinguished by the greatness of the woman’s character and her religious merits. The speaker then urges the listeners in the poem to call «peace» over the grave so that perhaps the occupant will visit the poet in a dream-vision. The poet can envision her as if in life, though the body has decomposed. The dead woman was unique (nadratan), so the poet laments her with unique words (nawādir). To do justice to her, he should by rights have died on the day she died, or at least should have dug a grave for her in his own heart and watered it with his tears and spent his days in begging God’s mercy for her. All this is conventional. But then —with no transition of any kind— he goes on to say:

Is it right for one like me to be seeking out
black-eyed girls with long hair and bracelets? […]
When one has passed sixty years, it is not decent for him
to be occupied with pretty girls and musical instruments.
The most an old man can accomplish is to achieve piety,
not to go wandering in lust after the wild calves.
[vv. 16, 20, 22]

35No sentimental nonsense here about loyalty to the dead wife’s memory forever, only frustration at not being able to replace her! These may seem tactless things to say in a lament on the death of one’s own wife, and it gets worse:

The natures of long-necked girls shrink in disgust;
it is torment to be in love with one who is revolted.
Should an opponent meet an opponent in battle
unless he has a spear and a cutting sword?
When one plunges without a weapon into the battlefield,
he becomes the captive, not the capturer.
No one should crave a breast or a flirtatious glance
except a bachelor, someone relaxed with time.
But as for me —the book of God is enough for me; it is my
pleasure. My books are my companionship in my loneliness.
[vv. 23-27]

36The overall sequence of ideas in the poem is as follows: this magnificent woman is dead; no more women for me —not only is it disgusting for an old man to lust after them, but they are revolted by him; so I take comfort in religion. To reduce it even further, the poet compares the dead old woman with the living, young women; he is clearly tempted by the latter, but rejects them in favor of religion. The fantasy of younger women effects the transition from the memory of the dead woman and the determination to devote himself to religion in the future.

  • 18 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān,ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 140-142 (poem no.137).

37This poem lends itself to comparison with a poem by Moses ibn Ezra lamenting a dead woman, in this case, the mother of two friends18. For twenty-two verses, Ibn Ezra speaks of the dead woman’s qualities. Then the focus shifts, as the poet asks how the ground (i.e., the grave) could have snatched her away when she was the very stars, the heaven itself, how could the dust of earth be eating someone who was the moon. This image launches a tirade against the earth, which in the verse just paraphrased is literally the ground, but which quickly turns into the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic dunyā, the world seen as a monster destroying its own children; a female destroyer ever restless in quest of victims; a seductress who lulls us with pleasures so she can destroy us; a charmer; a female magician who puts the great and the lowly in the same grave. Ibn Ezra assures the bereft brothers that his thoughts are in sympathy with theirs, that he joins them in weeping over her grave, and he urges them to take comfort through self-control motivated by reason, and by reflecting that this is the end of all men.

38The parallel and contrast with al-Ilbīrī’s lament is quite striking. In both poems, the dead woman is compared with a fictitious woman. Ibn Ezra’s fictitious woman, however, is an abstraction, the treacherous world of pleasure and death, who has vanquished the dead woman as she vanquishes everything, while al-Ilbīrī’s is real women, women in makeup and jewelry and trained in seduction, women who not only are attractive to men but who have their own sexual tastes and can destroy a man’s morale by rejecting his advances. The consolations offered by the two poets are also quite different. Ibn Ezra’s consolation is the consolation of philosophy (self-control, reason over emotion), while al-Ilbīrī’s is religion (occupying himself with the words of revelation). Al-Ilbīrī’s poem takes the risk of incorporating a certain crudeness in the overt and personalized dealing with sexual temptation in the context of a formal lament, but it wins in its liveliness, earthiness, and sheer human quality over Moses ibn Ezra’s rather formal, classical, merely perfect lament.

39Thus, al-Ilbīrī does not address himself like a preacher, standing apart to admonish himself or his soul as one would an audience (as was done by both Arabic and Hebrew zuhd poets); he adopts, rather, a confessional, sometimes even exhibitionist manner, of formulating his thoughts about old age.


40Al-Ilbīrī’s zuhd poetry has provided us with a collection of rather personal musings on the problem of old age for comparison with the personal musings on old age found in the poems of some of the Hebrew poets who inhabited the same cultural world and who had inherited the same Arabic literary traditions. We will now identify several important differences between his approach and that of the Hebrew poets.

  • 19 Judah Halevi, Shire-haqodesk lerabi yehuda halevi, ed. Dov Jarden (2 vols.), Jerusalem, privately p (...)
  • 20 Typically Halevian in that many of Halevi’s poems are grounded in the kind of piety according to wh (...)

41We have already cited Ibn Mar Saul’s penitential poem. This poem inspired a number of imitations, of which the greatest, employing a very similar prosodic pattern and a similar intimate tone, is Ο Lord, My Longing Is Clear for You to See by Judah H lalevi19. Though Halevi clearly expresses consciousness of his sin, he does not dwell on it with the same insistence as did Ibn Mar Saul; on the other hand, Halevi does dwell on a zuhd theme that Ibn Mar Saul does not, the speaker’s disgust at the idea of his own dissolution in the grave. But I Halevi’s focus is elsewhere, on the typically Halevian point that the poet can change his ways only if God helps him to do so20. In this poem, Halevi pushes this idea to a degree that I have not yet seen anywhere else in Arabic or in Hebrew:

Teach me your ways, Ο Lord,
and turn me hack from the bondage of folly;
Chastise me while yet I have the strength
to be chastised, do not reject my suffering—
before I become a burden to my own self,
when my limbs will become too heavy to bear each other,
when I have no choice but to be submissive
when my bones will be moth-eaten, unable to bear me,
when I travel to the place to which my fathers traveled,
encamp where they encamped. [vv. 6-10]

42Halevi asks what good it will do him to repent if he waits until he is too old to enjoy life and its pleasures, and too old to endure any really rigorous chastisement. When one’s lusts diminish, resistance to temptation loses its merit. He begs to be taught while he is still young, while giving up desire is still a struggle.

  • 21 Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi, al-‘Iqd, Cairo, 1952, vol. III, p. 185.

43I have not yet encountered this particular use of the theme of old age in Arabic zuhd poetry, though I have found it as a piece of religious advice in the name of al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī: Ο You Old Men, Who do not Abandon Sin Until it Abandons You and then Think that its Abandoning You is Repentance!21 Thus, for all its originality in Hebrew, Halevi’s poem is still within the range of the Arabic zuhd tradition.

  • 22 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 90-93; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 143-146.
  • 23 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, p. 172 (poem no, 173).

44One way in which both Ibn Mar Saul’s poem and Halevi’s penitential poem diverge from the Arabic zuhd tradition is in the weakness of their treatment of the final judgment compared with the overwhelming importance of this theme in Arabic zuhd poetry. There is nothing in Hebrew that resembles the fear of judgment that dominates Abū l-‘Atāhiya, al-Ilbīrī and Islamic religiosity generally. Al-Ilbīrī, for example, has a poem of thirty-five lines beginning, «Woe to the people of hell fire from hellfire; what hardships they will endure in hellfire!»22, in which every line ends with the word nār («hellfire») and whose strength is the depiction of the terrors of the last judgment. By contrast, Moses ibn Ezra’s poem beginning «Fear the awesome and terrible day»23, which at least opens with a vision of doom, has only two rather nonspecific lines describing the day itself; the rest consists of commonplace exhortations to repent. One reason for the disparity must be that the last judgment plays a much bigger part in the scriptural sources of Islam than it does in that of Judaism; the Last Judgment was an historical latecomer to Judaism, while with Islam it was present at the origins. Furthermore, Hebrew eschatological anxiety is focused far more on the fate of the people as a whole than on the fate of the individual. There is another reason for the disparity, which will be dealt with below, a certain optimism inherent in the neoplatonic approach to the soul and death. Hebrew poets share the Muslim poets’disgust at the idea of disillusion in the grave, but the delicious macabre elements in Abū l-‘Atāhiya and al-Ilbīrī are hardly paralleled in Hebrew.

  • 24 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 38-42 (no. 40); and pp. 42-43 (no. 42).

45Halevi’s older contemporary and mentor, Moses ibn Ezra, takes the theme of old age into a new direction, that of the consolations of senescence. Moses ibn Ezra has at least two long poems that deal extensively with this theme, The Days of Youth and When I Recall24. These poems are qaṣīdas, with the zuhd subject matter concentrated in the nasīb. Thus, they are generically unlike most of the preaching poems of zuhd or the versified prayers we have been dealing with on the Arabic side, but they treat the theme of old age so systematically that we cannot pass them by. Particularly impressive is The Days of Youth, which includes the lines;

Why do people who are themselves trustworthy
put their trust in frivolous men, betrayers?
Why do they fear the arrival of old age, when many are happy
at the outcome of something that they had lamented.
How tiresome was my youth to me,
how dear and respectable my old age. […]
I would give my life for the the white, scattered on
my head and cheek like hail;
I would redeem with my life the little sprouts that have sprouted
on my forehead, replacing the locks that have gone away,
[vv. 8-10, 12-13]

  • 25 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 42-4; (no. 42).

46Moses ibn Ezra’s theme is: youth was a waste, I couldn’t concentrate on important things, and life went against me anyway. Thank God I am now old, have lost my zest for externals, can concentrate on wisdom; old age and philosophy are a good consolation, after I have been let down so by life. As he says in When I Recall25:

  • 26 The Hebrew word te‘uda from Isaiah 8:16 is often used as an equivalent for Torah, especially in con (...)

[When I recall that] time has chosen to wear out my youth
and has prohibited me from tying my steps to the ground,
My heart turns to undoing the mysteries of revelation
and to release the bonds of wisdom with my own hands,
To pour out the rain of good instruction and to water
abundantly the thirsty souls, […]
Wisdom and virtue are now my masters;
the body and its lusts are now my servants. [vv. 4-8]

47I am astonished at the frankness with which Moses ibn Ezra admits that the pursuit of wisdom is his career merely by default; he is so frank about it that I wonder if he realized the significance of what he was saying, and I cannot help contrasting this faute-de-mieux approach to philosophy with the passionate embrace of philosophy by the youthful Solomon ibn Gabirol. Ibn Ezra’s turn toward wisdom in old age may seem parallel to al-Ilbīrī’s turn to religion, but it can be distinguished from al-Ilbīrī’s approach. Al-Ilbīrī admits that his lusts have not diminished, and feels he ought to be fighting them down; we observe his struggles and enjoy his humanity; while for Moses ibn Ezra, lusts and ambitions have already faded, as he says later in The Days of Youth:

  • 27 Note, incidentally, the coupling of wisdom and poetry as the worthiest achievements of a serious ma (...)

The days of folly flew off and were swept away together
before the days of wisdom; they could not stand;
My white hair has set my feet on the heights of
righteousness, and the feet of lust have stumbled;
Old age has straighted for me the paths to the heights of wisdom
and lowered the peaks of poetry so that I could ascend
[vv. 20-22]

48Ibn Ezra has the very condition that Halevi, in his penitential poem, feared —the condition of achieving wisdom too late for there to be much merit in it— but he shows no rueful awareness of Halevi’s refinement of the zuhd motif. Ibn Ezra is glad that old age has helped him at last find his way to wisdom; alIlbīrī, already old, would be happy if old age would help him too, but so far he finds himself still embroiled in the struggle against youthful pleasures.

49Ibn Ezra’s idea that old age is good for his spiritual life, of course, stands on its head the traditional motif of both Hebrew and Arabic secular poetry, that youth is good and old age is bad. In a paradoxical way, traditional zuhd is in collusion with the secular idea, because in it the pleasures of youth —foolish pleasures from the point of view of the poet, but pleasures nevertheless— are replaced, as one ages, by terror of the grave, terror of the final judgment, urgent prayer and asceticism to make up for lost time. This development is emotionally parallel to the secular poet’s enjoyment of youth and disgust at the waning of his powers. In both secular poetry and zuhd, youth is very pleasant to the young, and old age is very unpleasant to the old: the two traditions differ only in the different value they assign to pleasure and unpleasantness: secular poetry praises youth and reviles age; zubd poetry reviles youth and sees the misery of old age as a warning of the judgment to come, a cause of anxiety and a spur to repentance. Al-Ilbīrī, typical-zuhd poet in this respect, is engaged in trying to fight down his sensuous impulses that he knows are no longer appropriate; he may be vigorous, but he knows that bad things are coming and he worries about them, a natural theme of reflection for even a vigorous man of sixty convinced of the reality of hellfire. Moses ibn Ezra in old age is not in terror of hellfire, nor is he struggling with his passions and ambitions; he is reaching for, may have reached, a state of equilibrium, serenity, and consolation. He concedes that the pleasures of youth are pleasant to the young, but, in the two poems just quoted, he replaces both the secular poet’s theme of the bitterness of old age and the zuhd poet’s fear of the grave and final judgment with something like a welcome to a better stage of life. Perhaps Moses ibn Ezra’s writing in this vein was what gave Halevi the idea that there is more merit in repenting when still subject to the power of desire.

  • 28 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 148-49 (no. 144). My translation of the entire poem appeare (...)

50Moses ibn Ezra’s most profound treatment of old age is a famous meditative poem, I Roused My Sleeping Mind in which he takes the ideas we have just been discussing and raises them to the level of a philosophical principle. Old age is better than youth, for the progressive weakening of our bodies permits our souls to take charge of us; the process of aging is a natural motion from the world towards God28:

I roused my sleeping mind
to lull my lusting soul, my restless eyes,
and in my heart I studied what has passed away,
so that my ears might hear what lies in store.

My mind’s mouth speaks to me of marvels,
lays God’s wonders out before me,
teaches me secret wisdom, mysteries,
until I almost think that I abide
among the sons of heaven;
and in my intellect I see the Lord,
perceive that He exists inside of me.

His splendor, true, is hidden, but His works
reveal Him to my thinking eye;
for in my inert body, God has kindled,
from his radiance, a lamp,
a lamp that tells me of the sages’ paths.
It is the light that goes on glowing through my youth,
and glows yet brighter as I grow old.
It must be of the substance of God’s light,
for otherwise it would be fading
as my years and strength decline.
It lights up wisdom’s rooms for me to search,
lifts me with no ladder
to Gardens of Delight.

  • 29 Note the similarity of this expression to the last line of the poem by Halevi quoted above.

Yet God has made my earthly life an emptiness
I walk the path that others have walked before:
I journey on my fathers’ path
alight where they encamped
and God will call me to account for everything,
and my own deeds will be his witnesses.

And so I scorn this world and shun her lure,
so that she not pile sins on me—
abandon her, lest she abandon me,
untie my shoe, fling spit in my face.
And though she were to make the sun my crown,
the moon an ornament to wear,
the Bear a chain of honor round my arm,
its stars a medal encircling my neck
I would not want her glory, no, not even
if she were to build a palace for me,
set among the spheres!

  • 30 I wish to thank Professor Paul Fenton for pointing out that the lines «until I almost think […] exi (...)
  • 31 Cf. Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary on the verse.

51If Moses ibn Ezra’s qaṣīdas struck us as conventional and a bit pompous, he has more than redeemed himself with the serene valedictory tone of this warm, intimate meditation, a kind of dramatic monologue in the voice of a person who is conscious of having reached a turning point in life and taking stock, as we we have seen in al-Ilbīrī. But here, the zuhd vocabulary of the journey toward death common to all Muslim pietistic writers, including al-Ilbīrī, and to all Jewish writers within the Arabic cultural ambit is adapted to the neoplatonic theme of the soul’s journey toward reunion with its divine source30. The light that guides the poet-philosopher on this path is the soul, the divine element in. man. The lamp is conceived of as one that a person might hold to light his way as he walks through darkness. But the figure is complicated by the fact that the path is also a set of books, the words of the ancient sages (whether the philosophers of the Graeco-Arabic tradition or the rabbis of the Jewish traditions Ibn Ezra leaves unclarified, but we may assume that he means both).Thus, the lamp is at once the one carried by the traveler, the one that illumines the desk of the scholar, and the one that man bears within himself, the lamp of reason, identified with the words of Proverbs 20:27: «The soul of man is the lamp of the Lord»31. We will not find any imagery of like complexity in al-Ilbīrī.

  • 32 Moses ibn Ezra, Ḥadīqa, p. 83, line 16; Halevi, Kuzari, 5, 12; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, (...)

52The chief contribution of Ibn Ezra’s poem to the discussion of old age is the notion that the decline of the body is neither a tragedy one has to make one’s peace with, nor a premonition of the final judgment; it is rather an opportunity for the soul to shine more brightly and to prepare itself for its ultimate bliss. In fact, the inclination of the old man toward philosophy is itself evidence of the divine nature of the soul; for if the soul were mere matter like the body, it would decline with the body instead of glowing more brightly as it does. Moses ibn Ezra says this explicitly in his prose treatise Maqālāt al-ḥadīqa, as, later, would his protégé, Judah Halevi in the Kuzari and Maimonides near the end of the Guide. A curious later development is the return of the theme in a poem by Nahmanides, stripped of its philosophical underpinnings and reworded in terms of the Jewish tradition32.

53In I Roused My Sleeping Mind, Moses ibn Ezra has in common with al-Ilbīrī the quest for late tranquility. But the two poets start their quest from quite different emotional ground: Moses ibn Ezra is troubled by the body’s decline, but encouraged by the concomitant maturation of the rational soul and consoled by the soul’s prospects beyond the grave; al-Ilbīrī is troubled by the failure of his body to decline and by terror of the prospects beyond the grave. Moses ibn Ezra’s poem is grounded in the ultimately optimistic neoplatonic view that the next world is not a place of terror but an opportunity for true bliss. This philosophical approach to eschatology is a major divide between Hebrew and Arabic zuhd poetry.

  • 33 Scheindlin, «Ibn Gabirol’s Religious Poetry».
  • 34 Text, translation, and brief explication in Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Gazelle. Medieval Hebrew Poe (...)

54I cannot claim that Moses ibn Ezra’s theme in this poem is typical of Hebrew zuhd poetry, but neither does it seem out of place there against the neoplatonic backround common to many of the Hebrew poets of al-Andalus. I have not yet found it at all in Andalusian Arabic zuhd poetry. Its presence in Moses ibn Ezra is a symptom of a fundamentally different attitude toward the soul of man that divides Andalusian Hebrew and Arabic religious poetry in this period. This difference has many manifestations. Elsewhere, I have contrasted the moralistic harshness of the Arabic zuhd-poet’s address to the soul with the Hebrew poet’s philosophically-grounded urging of the soul to follow its true nature and improve itself33. The eschatalogical parallel to this distinction is the contrast between the motif of the terror of the last judgment, typical of Arabic zuhd poetry, as we have seen above, with the more philosophical eschatology of some Hebrew zuhd poetry, such as the following poem by Judah Halevi34:

O you who sleep in childish folly’s lap–
Childhood is chaff to be thrown off:
Do black-haired days endure?
Go out and see the gray-clad messengers
Who greet you with their lessons every dawn.
And shake off Time
As birds shake drops
Of night-dew when they wake.
Like swallows, soar o’er sin.
And free yourself from Time,
That seething sea.
But be pursuing God, among those souls
That flow with shining faces
Toward His bliss.

55A third manifestation of this distinction may be found in the contrast between Moses ibn Ezra’s pronouncements of how he plans to spend his old age and those of al-Ilbīrī. In I Roused My Sleeping Mind, Moses ibn Ezra described these plans in terms that join the Jewish tradition (te‘udat ḥolefim), philosophy (musar, sekhel), and poetry (renenai, shir). By contrast, al-Ilbīrī, in a passage of Turn Aside the Mounts (verse 27) that is analogous both in content and tone, announces his intention to limit his reading strictly to Scripture and his writing strictly to religion:

Sufficient for me is the Book of God as my pleasure;
and my notebooks are my companion in my loneliness […]
When I wish for pleasure, I read them,
and immerse myself through them in elegant radiance.
They give me a clear view of the plain road of Guidance,
that saves whoever does not stray from it.
It is time for me to wake up and become a docile subject.
if I am indeed a person of healthy vision.

  • 35 Al-Ilbiri, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 59-60; Garcîa Gómez, Un alfaquí pp. 101-103.
  • 36 «Gray hair gives a warning and the wise man recognizes it»: al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 47-4 (...)

56Moses ibn Ezra, in The Days of Youth, also cited above, says that old age makes «wisdom and poetry» easy (verse 22), and promises (verse 60) to devote himself to the «secrets of the sages» (hidot ḥakhamim) which could be either the Jewish tradition or rational philosophy or both. In When I Recall, another poem cited above, verse 5, he speaks of devoting his old age to the religious tradition (te‘uda) and philosophy (haskel). Al-Ilbīrī, by contrast, is vehemently opposed to rational philosophy. In his poem of advice to a youth, How the Soul Tends toward Vanity35, he refers to rational wisdom not as a ladderless path to Gardens of Delight, as does Moses ibn Ezra, but as something equivalent to worldly pleasures, something that leads directly away from ultimate bliss. In an anti-intellectual maxim that tops off an autobiographical statement, he declares36:

I used to have shrewdness as a trait, but I have given it up,
knowing that abandoning shrewdness is itself shrewd behavior;
For if I were to choose a course of such baseness,
I would prefer to be foolish, dull-witted.

57We have outlined three distinctions between the Jewish and the Muslim poets in their formulation of zuhd themes: I°. the eschatological optimism of Hebrew poetry contrasted with the eschatological pessimism of Arabic poetry; 2°. the optimistic view of old age found in some Hebrew poems contrasted with the uniformly negative view of old age in Arabic poetry; 3°. the Hebrew poet’s recommendation that one devote one’s old age to religion, philosophy, and poetry, contrasted with the Arabic poet’s exclusive concern with religion. These differences reflect the different religious and intellectual formation of the Arabic and Hebrew poets. The Arabic zuhd poets were grounded in Islamic pietism, whether the poets were courtiers like Abū l-‘Atāhiya or religious functionaries like al-Ilbīrī, and their eschatology was Quranic, even if they they occasionally employed philosophical vocabulary. Hebrew poets tended to be educated more in the mold of the faylasūfs; their individual eschatology was neoplatonic and fundamentally optimistic, even though they draw heavily on the vocabulary of Arabic zuhd poetry.

58All the poems we have discussed, both by al-Ilbīrī and by the Jewish writers, though dealing with themes normally identified as zuhd themes, go far beyond the limitations of the genre of zuhd poetry and strive toward a personal, confessional type of self expression. Though the intellectual formation of the Muslim and the Jewish poets led them to somewhat different views of the problems of aging, death, and personal eschatology, all show a lively individuality in manipulating the inherited conventions so as to bring forth personal versions of a theme that always has and always will obsess mortal man.


1 As in the case of Arie Schippers, Spanish Hebrew Poetry & the Arabic Literary Tradition. Arabic Themes in Hebrew Andalusian Poetry, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1994. See my review in Journal of the American Oriental Society, 117, 1997, pp. 188-90.

2 Raymond P. Scheindlin, «Ibn Gabirol’s Religious Poetry and Sufi Poetry», Sefarad, 54, 1994, pp. 109-42 (quoted as Scheindlin, «Ibn Gabirol’s Religious Poetry»).

3 Poems by Moses ibn Ezra are cited from Moses ιβν Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Ḥayim Brody (2vols.), Berlin-Jerusalem, Schocken, 1938-1941 (quoted as Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody).

4 E. García Gómez’s disparaging remark is found in his article «Abū Isḥāḳ al-Ilbīrī» in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (new edition), I, 130.

5 The dīwān was published by Emilio García Gómez, Un alfaquí español: Abū Isḥāq de Elvira, Madrid-Granada, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1944 (quoted as García Gómez, Un alfaquí), and Muḥammad Ridāwn al-Dāya, Beirut, Mu’assasat al-Risāla, 1976 (quoted as al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Daya). Al-Ilbīrī’s poems referred to in this paper are cited from the edition by al-Dāya and from García Gómez edition, if the poem also appears there.

6 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dâya, p. 119. For another example, see the poem in Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dâya, p. 117; García Gómez, Un alfaquí p. 75.

7 I. Abū l-‘Atāhiya, Diwān, ed. by Louis Cheikho, Beirut, Matba‘at al-Yasū‘iyyīn, 1887, p.263; 2. Ibn Mar Saul, in Ḥayim Schirmann, Hashira ha‘ivrit bisefarad uveprovence, 2nd edition (2 vols.), Jerusalem, Bialik Institute, 1960, vol. I, pp. 50-52; 3. Al-Ilbírí, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, p. 119. The meter of all three poems is identical (except that the Arabic poems occasionally varies the foot---by replacing it with--- which is impossible in Hebrew). The rhyme of Abū l-‘Atāhiya’s poem is not technically identical with the poems of Ibn Mar Saul and al- Ilbīrī, since the final consonant (ni in Abū l-‘Atāhiya, in Ibn Mar Saul and al- Ilbīrī) is different; but since the lines of both poems end in liquid consonants plus the vowel ī, and since both poems are in the same meter, they sound remarkably similar. Other common elements are the penitential theme and the particular quality of intimacy deriving from the fact the first line of each of the two poems begins by addressing God and ends with a pronoun referring to the speaker, qualities that are also present in the third quotation, where the rhyme is lī.

8 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya ,pp. 19-30; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 61-69.

9 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 104-06 (poem no. 105).

10 Al-Ilbiri, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, p. 64; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 111-112.

11 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 94-95; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 147-48.

12 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 43-44; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 83-85.

13 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 50-51; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 93-95.

14 Sources given above, note 11.

15 References above, note 13.

16 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 83-89; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 137-141. This poem is one of the few of al-Ilbīrī’s in which zuhd is only a minor theme.

17 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 77-82; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 131-135.

18 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān,ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 140-142 (poem no.137).

19 Judah Halevi, Shire-haqodesk lerabi yehuda halevi, ed. Dov Jarden (2 vols.), Jerusalem, privately published, 1978-1985, vol. I, pp. 78-80 (poem no. 32). Like Ibn Mar Saul’s, this poem also found its way into the Sephardic liturgy. Text with translation in Judah Halevi, Selected Poems of Jehudah Halevi, ed. Nina Salaman and Heinrich Brody, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1928, pp. 87-89.

20 Typically Halevian in that many of Halevi’s poems are grounded in the kind of piety according to which a person should minimize wordly efforts and place himself in God’s hands, trusting God even to lead him to the performance of pious acts like prayer. This attitude stands out very clearly against the background of the more actively self-generated type of piety underlying the religious poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol. The distinction is developed at length in my article «Contrasting Religious Experience in the Liturgical Poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol and Judah Halevi», Prooftexts, 13, 1993, pp. 141-162.

21 Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi, al-‘Iqd, Cairo, 1952, vol. III, p. 185.

22 Al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. Al-Dāya, pp. 90-93; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 143-146.

23 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, p. 172 (poem no, 173).

24 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 38-42 (no. 40); and pp. 42-43 (no. 42).

25 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 42-4; (no. 42).

26 The Hebrew word te‘uda from Isaiah 8:16 is often used as an equivalent for Torah, especially in contrast with words denoting rational philosophy; cf. Shire Levi ibn al-Tαββαν, ed. Dan Pagis, Jerusalem, Israel Academv of Sciences and Humanities, 1967, poem 48, p. 126.

27 Note, incidentally, the coupling of wisdom and poetry as the worthiest achievements of a serious man’s old age.

28 Ibn Ezra, Dīwān, ed. Brody, vol. I, pp. 148-49 (no. 144). My translation of the entire poem appeared in Prooftexts, 17, 1997, pp. 260-265.

29 Note the similarity of this expression to the last line of the poem by Halevi quoted above.

30 I wish to thank Professor Paul Fenton for pointing out that the lines «until I almost think […] exists inside of me» are a versified paraphrase of a famous passage from Plotinus, Enneiads, IV, VIII, I, quoted in many Muslim and Jewish philosophical texts, including Moses ibn Ezra’s own Maqālat al-ḥadīqa fī l-majāz wa l-ḥaqīqa, MS Sassoon 412 = Jewish National Library, 5701, p. 21.

31 Cf. Abraham ibn Ezra’s commentary on the verse.

32 Moses ibn Ezra, Ḥadīqa, p. 83, line 16; Halevi, Kuzari, 5, 12; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 3, 51; Nahmanides, The Hundred Verses, in Kitve Ramban, ed. Ḥayim D. Chevel, Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook, 1962-1963, vol. I, pp. 397-420.The theme has antecedents in Avicenna: see Henri Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, New York, 1960, p. 82 and the Ihwān al-afa’, Rasā’il, Beirut, 1376/1957, vol, IV, p. 7, as summarized in Joel Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1992, p. 166.

33 Scheindlin, «Ibn Gabirol’s Religious Poetry».

34 Text, translation, and brief explication in Raymond P. Scheindlin, The Gazelle. Medieval Hebrew Poems on God, Israel, and the Soul, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1991, pp. 160-163.

35 Al-Ilbiri, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 59-60; Garcîa Gómez, Un alfaquí pp. 101-103.

36 «Gray hair gives a warning and the wise man recognizes it»: al-Ilbīrī, Dīwān, ed. al-Dāya, pp. 47-49, vv. 12-13; García Gómez, Un alfaquí, pp. 89-91, vv. 12-13.


Jewish Theological Seminary, New York

© Casa de Velázquez, 2002

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