Cairo Genizah : Poetry

Dunaš Ibn Labrāṭ, wife of

Cairo Genizah

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Part of a copy of a poem by the wife of Dunaš Ibn Labrāṭ, followed by the first part of a second poem, a reply from Ibn Labrāṭ to his wife. Ibn Labrāṭ (920-990 CE) was a Spanish poet, grammarian and commentator who worked in the service of Ḥasday Ibn Šapruṭ, the leader of the Jewish community in Spain. Ibn Labrāṭ had a contentious relationship with his contemporaries, but very little is known about his wife. Her poem - the only known medieval Hebrew poem by a woman - has been praised for its quality and poignancy: Will her love remember his graceful doe / her only son in her arms as he parted? / On her left hand he placed a ring from his right, / on his wrist she placed her bracelet. / As a keepsake she took his mantle from him, / and he in turn took hers from her. / Would he settle, now, in the land of Spain, / if its prince gave him half his kingdom? [translated by Peter Cole]. The couple appear to have separated reluctantly under difficult circumstances, resentfully described in another poem identified as being by Ibn Labrāṭ to his employer: I served you in sorrow, for all your wares are loathsome. / I will glean no grapes, nor will I gather corn. / I betrayed a young wife and sent her a writ of divorce. / I left my home, and abandoned the son that she bore. (T-S J2.71, f. 2v). Part of a copy of Ibn Labrāṭ’s response to his wife’s poem is preserved at T-S NS 143.46: Were you seeking the day of my death when you wrote: / ‘Have you betrayed and abandoned your vows?’ / Could I betray a woman so wise / given by god as the bride of my youth? / Had my heart ever thought to leave you / I would have torn it into pieces. / For those who betray their beloved companion, / God brings down with the trials of foes. / Lions soon will devour his flesh, / and vultures will consume his blood. / Who resembles the stars of dawn […] [translated by Peter Cole].</p>


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