One of the greatest of the medieval poets of Spain was Solomon b. Judah Ibn Gabirol of Cordova (c.1021-1058). "A poet whose poems are consecrated by the intellect, a thinker whose thoughts are transfigured by poetry,"[1] he produced philosophical and ethical works, as well as poetry.

Ibn Gabirol was filled with enthusiasm for the Hebrew language; he was active in all the fields of religious lyric and did more than anyone else for the dissemination of Hebrew poetry. We have from his hand hymns and meditations, selihot (penitential prayers) and prayers, kinot (dirges) and hopeful, longing visions of the future in the most varied forms and styles.[2]

Ibn Gabirol's secular poetry deals with the standard themes of wine, friends, loneliness and sorrow; it expresses both a joie de vivre and despair at the vanity of life and worldly striving. In the following exquisite poem about nature, the poet paints a canvas of flowers and stars, the rains of autumn serving as a metaphor for the creative act of writing.

With the ink of its showers and rains,
with the quill of its illuminating lightning,
and the hand of its clouds,
autumn wrote a letter upon the garden,
in purple and blue.
No artist could conceive of such things.
And this is why the earth,
grown jealous of the sky,
embroidered stars in the folds of the flowerbeds.


[1] Michael Jehiel Sachs, Der Religiose Poesie der Juden in Spanien. Berlin: Veit und Co., 1845, p. 223. [back]

[2] Ibn Gabirol's sacred poems were collected in the (second) edition by H.N. Bialik and I.H. Ravnitzky (Tel Aviv, Dvir, 1927/8, 1931/32). See Selected Religious Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol, ed. I. Davidson, trans. I. Zangwill I (Philadelphia: JPS, 1928). [back]
More about Solomon Ibn Gabirol's religious poetry

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