Chapters on Jewish Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 120 pages of information about Chapters on Jewish Literature.

In the very year of Ibn Gebirol’s death Moses Ibn Ezra was born.  Of his life little is certain, but it is known that he was still alive in 1138.  He is called the “poet of penitence,” and a gloomy turn was given to his thought by an unhappy love attachment in his youth.  A few stanzas of one of his poems run thus: 

    Sleepless, upon my bed the hours I number,
    And, rising, seek the house of God, while slumber
    Lies heavy on men’s eyes, and dreams encumber
    Their souls in visions of the night.

    In sin and folly passed my early years,
    Wherefore I am ashamed, and life’s arrears
    Now strive to pay, the while my tears
    Have been my food by day and night.

* * * * *

    Short is man’s life, and full of care and sorrow,
    This way and that he turns some ease to borrow,
    Like to a flower he blooms, and on the morrow
    Is gone—­a vision of the night.

    How does the weight of sin my soul oppress,
    Because God’s law too often I transgress;
    I mourn and sigh, with tears of bitterness
    My bed I water all the night.

* * * * *

    My youth wanes like a shadow that’s cast,
    Swifter than eagle’s wings my years fly fast,
    And I remember not my gladness past,
    Either by day or yet by night.

    Proclaim we then a fast, a holy day,
    Make pure our hearts from sin, God’s will obey,
    And unto him, with humbled spirit pray
    Unceasingly, by day and night.

    May we yet hear his words:  “Thou art my own,
    My grace is thine, the shelter of my throne,
    For I am thy Redeemer, I alone;
    Endure but patiently this night!”

But his hymns, many of which won a permanent place in the prayer-book, are not always sad.  Often they are warm with hope, and there is a lilt about them which is almost gay.  His chief secular poem, “The Topaz” (Tarshish), is in ten parts, and contains 1210 lines.  It is written on an Arabic model:  it contains no rhymes, but is metrical, and the same word, with entirely different meanings, occurs at the end of several lines.  It needs a good deal of imagination to appreciate Moses Ibn Ezra, and this is perhaps what Charizi meant when he called him “the poet’s poet.”

Another Ibn Ezra, Abraham, one of the greatest Jews of the Middle Ages, was born in Toledo before 1100.  He passed a hard life, but he laughed at his fate.  He said of himself: 

    If I sold shrouds,
      No one would die. 
    If I sold lamps,
      Then, in the sky,
    The sun, for spite,
    Would shine by night.

Several of Abraham Ibn Ezra’s hymns are instinct with the spirit of resignation.  Here is one of them: 

    I hope for the salvation of the Lord,
      In him I trust, when fears my being thrill,
    Come life, come death, according to his word,
      He is my portion still.

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Chapters on Jewish Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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