An Early Hebrew Poetic Letter of Friendship
AMONG the treasures found in the Cairo Genizah in recent times are some purely secular poems which probably belong to the end ofthe tenth century and therefore precede the compositions of Ibn Gabirol, whichpreviously were thought to be the earliest secular poems in post-biblicalHebrew. They show great command of form as well as subtlety of thought. Some of them have all the appearance of letters sent to real people, and ifso, are the earliest extant specimens of poetic epistles composed in Hebrew.
The subjoined example is a letter of friendship from anunknown poet to a sick friend, one Samuel ben al-Lebdi, of whom nothing is known but his name.
AN UNKNOWN POET TO SAMUEL BEN AL-LEBDI
'My friend, I did not rememberthee, for how could I remember him who is always in my mind?'
[Probably a Syrian city, second half of the 10thcentury]
My eyes are fixed on thee, my darlingfriend,
Like the eyes of the maids on theirmistress.
I always hope to hear from thee, as the earthawaits the rain.
My heart longs for thee, like a woman inbirth-pangs.
When nothing is left that has the mark ofperfection, when all is bare,
When friend is far, brother distant, sleepvanishing, illness heavy, pains great --
How can a man take courage, surrounded andburdened by sorrows?
My friend, I did not remember thee, for howcould I remember him who is always present in my memory?
My soul, my only one, is bound to thee, withthee and over thee.
My illness is caused by thy illness, and mytroubles brought about by thee.