"There is a kind of academic critic who considers it his duty to approve of everything, however inferior, provided it was produced in the past, and who will spend much patient labor editing and historically justifying a bad eighteenth century versifier whereas he would turn with contempt from his modern equivalent." This description by David Daiches (266) suits the prevalent practice in the scholarship of Mediaeval Hebrew Poetry exceptionally well. The rules of the game are something like this: one may praise an outstanding poet as superior to others, but may not mention that the other poets were inferior. The following paragraph by the greatest scholar of the field Yefim Schirmann is an exquisite example of this attitude:
Actually, Ibn Gabirol was the first to develop the unique Spanish style of liturgical poetry. And one must add: though he was the first one, in certain liturgical genres he was superior to those who came after him. It would not be an exaggeration to say that by these poems he gave our literature works that are peerless after the Biblical era. I mean, first of all, the Rashuyot--short poetic preludes to certain prayers. Their poetic form requires succinct thought and expression at the same time, because they usually contain only four-five verse lines. (181)
Thus Schirmann inadvertently provides us with a powerful tool for comparing poems of the period regarding their value--supported by rigorous descriptive statements. One can argue for or against succinctness. One must find sufficiently similar poems to compare and describe the relative informativeness of their expressions. It is not particularly difficult to find such pairs of "sufficiently similar" poems. There was a convention that poets payed homage to some great poet by writing a poem similar to one of his poems, in the same metre, using the same monorhyme, and adopting some of its key expressions. In what follows I will violate the above taboo by comparing such a "minimal pair" of poems.
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[??]ehartikha bekhol [??]ahri veni[??]pi lekha [??]hm [??]belev same e [??]dm[??] meromot lo jekhilukha le[??]ivtakh halo [??]spon belibi [??]em kevodkha ani al ken ahod[??][??]em adonaj ufarasti lekha kapaj ve api ledal [??]od el alej pithi vesipi ve ulam je[??] mekomkha tokh seipi vegavar hi[??]kekha ad ja avor pi be od ni[??]mat [??]lohim haj be api I seek Thee in all my dawns and evenings and I spread to thee my palms and nose (face) I sigh [yearn] for Thee with a thirsty heart and am like a pauper begging at my doorway and threshold Heaven cannot contain Thee to sit there but there is room for Thee in my thought Why, I would place [conceal, withhold] thy name of honour in my heart and my desire for Thee grows so strong as to run over my mouth [brim] I therefore thank the name of the Lord as long as God's soul [breath] lives in my nostrils [as long as the living God's soul [breath] is in my nostrils]
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[??]e|halelkha bekhol [??]ahri veni[??]pi ve akuma le[??]aherkha besihi jehidati lekha ta tof veti[??]al hamol alaj vehon malki kedo[??]i keratikha uvoker lakh asap[??] le[??]oni jidre[??]a tamid vegam pi ve[??] naf[??]i lekha asim bekhapi seliha mike[??]i libi veorpi a[??]orer lakh be ugavi vetupi be odi haj veni[??]mati be dapi To praise Thee in all my dawns and evenings my tongue demands always and also my mouth And I wake up to seek Thee with my words and I will put my soul for Thee in my palm My only (soul) faints for you and begs forgiveness for my hard heart and stubbornness (hard nape) Pardon and have mercy on me my King my Saint I will sing to Thee with my pipe and my timbrel I call Thee and in the morning look for Thee as long as I live and my soul [breath] is in my nostrils
The second poem (by Levy Ibn Altaban) is written in homage of Shlomo Ibn Gabirol, the author of the first poem. …