Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 1

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piety, in wisdom, in ta lmud ic learning, and , if poets, rulers
“over words pu re as sapphires.”
His erotic poetry flows in rhe tor ic none too or iginal abou t the
charms of the beloved, the inevitable gazelle, her capriciousness
and mischief, the pangs of love and the anguish of par t ing .
Most del igh t fu l are the wine songs of Hanag id . T h ey are
beau t i fu l in construction, epicurean in spirit. T h ey in t roduce
us in to an atmosphere of repose, of solemn festivity amidst scenes
of n a tu ra l beauty.
H anag id is lavish in images, unspa r ing in me taphor . “T h e sky
uncover ing the sun hides its stars like a beau t i fu l woman tha t
uncovers he r cheek and hides he r earrings.” T h e moon in the
darkness appears “like an emerald in the hand of a da rk young
woman .” T h e color of the wine is “like tears over the pa r t ing
of friends or like the pale face of lovers.”
T h e r e is one b ranch of poetry in which Hanag id is un iqu e in
Hebrew literature , and tha t is his war poetry wr i t ten on various
battlefields where he served as mi l i tary leader. T h e war poems
of H anag id combine his lyric qua l i ty and his ap t i tude for narra-
tive and description. T h ey contain numerous descriptions of war
scenes: the na tu re of con tend ing armies, the fury of battle, acts
of heroism, his emot ional state before and after combat. Many
of the poems are odes, hymns of thanksgiving to God for vie-
tories won. T h e joy of the poe t at the defeat of his enemies is
hera lded in many a r ing ing note. T h ro u g h o u t these poems there
are ample manifestations of the great piety of the poet, of his
deep a t tachmen t to Jewish t rad i t ion and learning, of his fervent
hopes for the restorat ion of Zion. One of the odes, composed
after a par t icu lar ly difficult battle, gives an account of the de-
velopment of ta lmud ic l i te ra tu re and makes men t ion of his pre-
occupat ion wi th the compi lat ion of a work deal ing w i th talmudic
law, in order to s trengthen the au tho r i ty of the rabbis challenged
by heretics. Some of the later poems of Hanag id , no tab ly those
strike the note of despondency over the
ravages of T im e and the frustrations of life. T h e r e is pa lpab le
in them the qu ie t grief of the aging poet who, th rough introspec-
tion, is led to see more keenly the failings of humani ty .
Shemuel Hanag id , it may be re-emphasized, enlarged the con-
cept of Hebrew poetry to include all tha t is close to hum an hear t
and mind . T h e r e in is his significance in Hebrew literature . His
influence was far and wide. Benefiting by his example, the
galaxy of poets th a t succeeded h im made Hebrew poetry of
medieval Spain a source of lasting inspiration.