Avraham Ibn Ezra: I Bow Down

Avraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1093–c. 1167 CE) was one of the great Hebrew poets of Andalusia but waves of invasion from North Africa displaced him, and from his mid-40’s he began to wander.  He lived by writing for Jewish communities in Italy, North Africa, Provence and elsewhere, producing not only poems, but also around a hundred volumes of mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and philology.  He also translated a great amount of scientific work on medicine, physics and the natural sciences from Arabic to Hebrew.  In its sense, the poem below presents a striking similarity to the recently posted Intimate Conversations of Abdullah Ansari.

I Bow Down

I bow down, my face to the ground,
for there is no place lower–
I fall before the King on high–
sublime, beyond all splendour.
How could I come before Him except
with spirit from His hand?
He set it to dwell in the heart’s chamber–
and nothing is finer in man.
His greatness has no beginning or end;
how could my words exalt Him,
farther from me than heaven’s heights,
and nearer than my skin?
Lord, I come before you here–
only you can save me.
You formed the hosts of heaven and earth,
just as you formed me.
What comfort could I seek from them?
All their help is vain;
and a servant has no refuge apart
from the lord by whom he’s retained.
What more could I learn when now I know
that out of love you formed me?
How could I count your mercies when
my lapses would fill the seas?
How could I raise my eyes toward you,
when they too have sinned?
And if my lips presumed to speak,
what of their transgression?
My heart’s pride has done to my soul
what no foe was able–
again and again, I have rebelled,
and so with fear I tremble.
I did not intend to anger you;
my desire led me on;
the wrong I’ve done harmed me alone–
from you alone can mercy come.
You who’ve taught me all I know,
show me the path of compassion.
My heart’s burden I’ve uttered aloud–
now hear it, Lord, in heaven.

Tr. Peter Cole

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.