Poetry in Translation: The 13th Century ‘My Religion—My Wine’

Like a scorpion, its sting is rancorous. 22 O cupbearer, pass me the daughter of the jugs. Hashish is no kohl—it’s set your eyes aflame. Nothing’s more lovely, more exquisite in the mouth.  21 Hashish saddens, wine gladdens. I said, I’ve been looking for you, And you for me—I’ve brought your girl’s suitor. 26 The vine’s daughter’s a maiden, winsome and shy.  You want to drink? 19 It froths in its cup, banishing misfortunes.  All exclaim, How lovely in the cup! Even my praises fall woefully short. She banishes my cares and summons my joys. Quickly, make our cups froth over.  When evening falls, bring candles and light them. Weed fells lions—you have no chance against it. It is found in a pocket notebook of 14 pages, currently located at the National Library of Austria (PER H 134). Poetry in Translation: The 13th Century ‘My Religion—My Wine’ January 17, 2022January 14, 2022 by mlynxqualey By Nasir, the Hebrew & Arabic Litterateur Edited and translated by Alan Elbaum Translator’s note: The author of the text translated here — one of the two poems by Nasir that appeared in the FOLK issue of ArabLit Quarterly — is a Jewish poet and popular entertainer named Nasir, who enjoyed local acclaim in Mamluk-era Cairo around the year 1300 CE. You’ll hardly see straight in that delirious mess. His particular focus is the study of Arabic, Judaeo-Arabic, and Hebrew private letters preserving firsthand accounts of experiences of illness. I swear to God, I don’t touch the stuff. The dower’s a hundred dinars. 5 It’s wine that I love, so, friend, pour me some bubbly. Last year, I began noticing manuscripts in his distinctive handwriting, and I’ve now assembled approximately 40 fragments containing his previously unknown poetry and rhymed prose. The narrator, an evangelist for wine and an enemy of hashish, offers one of the only known depictions of the pothead (al-mastul) in medieval Arabic or Jewish poetry. My Religion—My Wine 1 Hashish has a way of scrambling the brain. 20 The vine’s daughter enraptures whenever she comes. You aim for Qalyub, and you land in Banha. 2 That dude over there, stoned out of his mind, He’s like a ghoul, eating all in his path. 33 I’m Nasir the Jew, and I revel while my wine lasts. Pass my love back, yes, put her there between us. … 11 Make merry in your cups, and shun hashish. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… Let us never be parted. 25 Wake up in the morning, and lounge on the grass, And bring us the mats and arrange them. 7 Swallow some grass, you’ll be high in two bites. …. 6 My wine sells for cash, paid to the penny.  As for hashish, it can’t even be sold on credit. 29 He turned and said, Ahlan, a hundred welcomes.  You can take her if you show me the dower.  30 I forked over the money without further ado.  Content as could be, I carried my wine off. After his death, he was forgotten. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, he lived for two years in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Dissuasion is futile, so fill my cup anew. … 35 My religion—my wine—I’ll never abandon. 28 Hey, monk! Many of his papers, fortunately, wound up in the trove known as the Cairo Geniza, the heap of ~400,000 scraps of medieval trash preserved in the Ben Ezra Synagogue of Fustat (Old Cairo). 12 It’s bound your legs and shackled your arms. “My Wine—My Religion,” is Nasir’s take on the folk genre of the debate poem. 27 How I’ve wandered the climes for the princess of liquors, How I’ve searched the abbeys for a monk who would sell her. … 17 Your mind is spinning, you’re slacking at work. About two-thirds of the material is written in Judaeo-Arabic (i.e., Arabic language in Hebrew script), and the other third is in Hebrew. Before it kills you, rise up and kill it. He is also a 4th-year medical student in San Francisco, soon to start a residency in psychiatry, and aiming for a career that combines the humanities and medicine. 18 For all these faults, I’ve cast it far from my heart.  Pour me some wine, and I’ll sing you its praises. All demand her aroma, all submit to her charm.  32 Friend, you’ve pained me—where have you gone? How delicious, how sweet! * Alan Elbaum is the senior research assistant at the Princeton Geniza Project, where he studies the Cairo Geniza, the trove of approximately 400,000 scraps of medieval trash found in a synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo). * The image is from the other poem published in the FOLK issue in Elbaum’s translation, “Love’s Cure.” Thanks to the Syndics   of Cambridge University Library for permission to reproduce the image of T-S 12.537, which contains the beginning and the end of the text. 31 And now, I can barely keep her admirers at bay. Nasir composed solemn dirges and festive songs, liturgical poetry, erotic odes, lampoons of stingy hosts and tactless guests, retellings of biblical tales, a jingle about basketmakers and fava-bean vendors (“if you pop these beans in your mouth, you’ll be perfumed with fragrance and freshness”), and a great deal of love and wine poetry. Your fortune has flipped, but all’s not lost—yet. 3 Hearken and heed me, consider and judge.  Eating hashish will wreck you—try it and see.  4 As a man of taste, I never eat hashish. The text contains numerous lacunae and uncertain readings. These are my boasts, these verses I publish. 15 It’s bankrupted you, taken the shirt off your back. … 14 Your problem is worsening, you’d better quit. 24 O friend, rise!

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