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 of the tenth century and therefore precede the compositions of Ibn Gabirol, which previously were thought to be the earliest secular poems in post-biblical Hebrew. 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 if so, are the earliest extant specimens of poetic epistles composed in Hebrew.
The subjoined example is a letter of friendship from an unknown poet to a sick friend, one Samuel ben al-Lebdi, of whom nothing is known but his name.
'My friend, I did not remember thee, for how could I remember him who is always in my mind?'
[Probably a Syrian city, second half of the 10th century ]
My eyes are fixed on thee, my darling friend,
Like the eyes of the maids on their mistress. I always hope to hear from thee, as the earth awaits the rain. My heart longs for thee, like a woman in birth-pangs. When nothing is left that has the mark of perfection, when all is bare,
When friend is far, brother distant, sleep vanishing, illness heavy, pains great -
How can a man take courage, surrounded and burdened by sorrows?
My friend, I did not remember thee, for how could I remember him who is always present in my memory?
My soul, my only one, is bound to thee, with thee and
over thee. My illness is caused by thy illness, and my troubles brought about by thee.