Hanagid: Two Poems about the Heart

Shmuel Hanagid (993-1056 CE) was one of the major Jewish poets from Andalusia, at a time when Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures lived together in relative harmony.  Hanagid was an extraordinary figure: he became the Prime Minister of the Muslim state of Granada and the leader of the Jewish community in all of Spain; he was a military commander, actively campaigning in the field for many years; he was also a scholar of religious law and the Bible, a patron of the arts and a poet.  Although he came from a good family in Cordoba, in his youth he was displaced, isolated and impoverished by war, so his advice in the first poem is no doubt based on his own experience. (It is said that to support himself in that difficult time he opened a spice shop, and worked as a scribe, writing letters and documents for people.  According to the legend, the door to his advancement in life opened when a vizier  recognised his classical Arabic style in a letter written for the vizier’s servant.)

When You’re Desperate

When you’re desperate ride
the lion’s back
to sustenance,
but don’t use others
or envy them—

the envy will weigh on
your heart, not theirs.

It’s Heart That Discerns

It’s heart that discerns
between evil and good,
so work to develop your heart.

How many are there
who heartless destroy
and think their destruction a start?

from “The Dream of the Poem”
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Your email address will not be published.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.