Hymn. (Translations From The Hebrew Poets Of Medaeval Spain.)

A poem by Emma Lazarus

Almighty! what is man?
But flesh and blood.
Like shadows flee his days,
He marks not how they vanish from his gaze,
Suddenly, he must die -
He droppeth, stunned, into nonentity.


Almighty! what is man?
A body frail and weak,
Full of deceit and lies,
Of vile hypocrisies.
Now like a flower blowing,
Now scorched by sunbeams glowing.
And wilt thou of his trespasses inquire?
How may he ever bear
Thine anger just, thy vengeance dire?
Punish him not, but spare,
For he is void of power and strength!


Almighty! what is man?
By filthy lust possessed,
Whirled in a round of lies,
Fond frenzy swells his breast.
The pure man sinks in mire and slime,
The noble shrinketh not from crime,
Wilt thou resent on him the charms of sin?
Like fading grass,
So shall he pass.
Like chaff that blows
Where the wind goes.
Then spare him, be thou merciful, O King,
Upon the dreaded day of reckoning!


Almighty! what is man?
The haughty son of time
Drinks deep of sin,
And feeds on crime
Seething like waves that roll,
Hot as a glowing coal.
And wilt thou punish him for sins inborn?
Lost and forlorn,
Then like the weakling he must fall,
Who some great hero strives withal.
Oh, spare him, therefore! let him win
Grace for his sin!


Almighty! what is man?
Spotted in guilty wise,
A stranger unto faith,
Whose tongue is stained with lies,
And shalt thou count his sins - so is he lost,
Uprooted by thy breath.
Like to a stream by tempest tossed,
His life falls from him like a cloak,
He passes into nothingness, like smoke.
Then spare him, punish not, be kind, I pray,
To him who dwelleth in the dust, an image wrought in clay!


Almighty! what is man?
A withered bough!
When he is awe-struck by approaching doom,
Like a dried blade of grass, so weak, so low
The pleasure of his life is changed to gloom.
He crumbles like a garment spoiled with moth;
According to his sins wilt thou be wroth?
He melts like wax before the candle's breath,
Yea, like thin water, so he vanisheth,
Oh, spare him therefore, for thy gracious name,
And be not too severe upon his shame!


Almighty! what is man?
A faded leaf!
If thou dost weigh him in the balance - lo!
He disappears - a breath that thou dost blow.
His heart is ever filled
With lust of lies unstilled.
Wilt thou bear in mind his crime
Unto all time?
He fades away like clouds sun-kissed,
Dissolves like mist.
Then spare him! let him love and mercy win,
According to thy grace, and not according to his sin!

Solomon Ben Judah Gabirol (Died Between 1070-80.)

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