Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Atternen Ju meets a vizier

As you may know, I'm working on a prose translation back to "old English" (normal English to everyone but me) of my narrative poem, The Atternen Juez Talen (The Eternal Jew's Tale).

I just finished translating a scene in which he and his wife have undergone a difficult trip from Kairouan (in current Tunisia) to Garnotta (now Granada) to deliver a message to the vizier, Shmuel haNagid (Samuel the Prince)....

Long we are hustled down lightless halls and then, behold, marble baths, steamy and clean and smellin’ of mint. There, two attendants take my clothes, soak me, and scrub me with pumice and soap. They cuts my hair and oil it smooth and bring me new robes like the high-born wear. My own clothes they throw in a bin of rags. Probably use them to mop the floor.

“Now you are ready to meet the vizier.”
And I thinks, ‘Now I knows how Joseph felt when they whisked him from jail to interpret dreams.’

Butkoel come out, her hair in braids, lookin’ like a princess in silk and lace. And what’s that rosy tint on her cheek, and crimson lips like poppy blooms? And I think to myself, not without fear,
“When they brought Bathsheba to David’s room, no doubt they prepared her just like this. Will they send me, like Uriah, out to my death?”

Where next we’re led.... We enters a room like I never seen, and my fears fade. Casement windows with diamond panes inset in deep niches in the wall, with faceted peaks and surfaces in tile, glazed in a sparkly floral designs. Giant tapestries hang on the wall and couches upholstered in minute brocade of geometric patterns, who can describe? A table set with silver plates gilded with a delicate filigree, and silver utensils and silver bowls and silver pitchers all beaded and etched. And cups propped up on thin little pipes; goblets they call them, like drinkin’ from a flower made of glass.

And at every window and every door attendants with cocked heads and haughty stares, weighin’ our thoughts. Not chamberlains these snooty pages, but angels of death with bonebreaker hands.

And just as I wonders, ‘what should I do?’ a door bursts open and a guard shouts out,
“To stations, men!”
And there, the vizier.

Some people float like a leaf in a stream; some sink as soon as the waters get rough; some tumble on, gaspin’ for air; some get stuck in pools midstream or aimlessly drift by stagnant banks.

When Shmuel haNagid steps in a room he is not one of them awash in the stream. He is the mountain that sends forth the stream. Does he step in the room, or the room step to him? The force of his character bends the world. But what is the cost of such world-shapin’ will? Like a spring compressed, you cannot let up, or all your force will redound on you....

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