Yannai : The celestial fire

Yannai (late 5th-early 6th c. CE) lived in the Galilean region of Byzantine Palestine, and is considered the father of Jewish liturgical poetry. He was the first in that tradition to use acrostics, by which words are formed by certain letters of succeeding lines, and end-rhyming, intricacies by which a poem may become a glittering jewel of meaning. These features are largely lost in translation, but we may still recognise the divine spirit in this poem.

Now an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a blazing fire —

a fire that devours fire;
a fire that burns in things dry and moist;
a fire that glows amid snow and ice;
a fire that is like a crouching lion;
a fire that reveals itself in many forms;
a fire that is, and never expires;
a fire that shines and roars;
a fire that blazes and sparkles;
a fire that flies in a storm wind;
a fire that burns without wood;
a fire that renews itself every day;
a fire that is not fanned by fire;
a fire that billows like palm branches;
a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning;
a fire black as a raven;
a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbow!

English version by T. Carmi

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