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Esor Ben-Sorek
Esor Ben-Sorek

The Dead Poet Who Lives Within My Heart

He was born in Granada, Spain about the year 1070 and before his death in 1138 at the age of 68, he had published more than 6,000 poems. He was considered the greatest of what the famous poet Heinrich Heine called “the three stars in the firmament of Neo-Hebrew poetry in Spain: ibn Gabirol, Judah Halevi and Moshe Ibn Ezra.”

I am reading a book of his poetry which I took down from a bookshelf in my home, published in 1934 by The Jewish Publication Society of America. “Selected Poems of Moses Ibn Ezra” was translated into English from the Hebrew by the British scholar Solomon Da Silva Solis-Cohen with a critical text and history edited and annotated by the brilliant German scholar Professor Heinrich Brody.

Brody’s remarks enrich the reading and the meaning of Ibn Ezra’s thousands of published poems, both the non-liturgical poems and the liturgical poems. The first segment are poems of wandering and longing for a home, songs of friendship and the importance to the poet of faithful companionship, the delights of mankind and the transience of the world in which he lived.

The second segment are Ibn Ezra’s praise of the Creator and prayers for Divine grace, compassion, mercy and God’s love.

Ibn Ezra had a lonely life and he lived as an unhappy man, much reflected in the poetry that he composed. He had left his happy home in Muslim Granada and went to live in Christian Castile where he endured much suffering. He traveled much of Christian Spain, in particular in the region of Aragon and the cities of Seville, Barcelona and Saragossa. Having been accustomed to wealth and comfort in Moorish Granada his new life in exile was one of danger and unrest.

In his writings he mentions having been tortured and imprisoned. He longed for his beautiful Granada, a city of immense culture and for his children whom he had not seen for many years. He had severe money problems and thankfully managed with generous gifts from friends.

His poetic style was much akin to Arabic poetry, well-known and highly regarded. He wrote in rhyme.

In one of his early poems, “When the Morning of Life Had Passed”, opening words touched my heart with immense feeling. “I arose with a broken heart. How shall I exist without (her) and the light of mine eyes be not with me?” Another poem he entitled “Sorrow Shatters My Heart” also has intense meaning in my life. “Sorrow shatters my heart: and men distress it with blame, because it follows love”.

The death of my beloved wife, the greatest love of my life, is a knife that was stuck into my heart five years ago and remains stuck still today. I am unable to pull it out. And family and many friends chastise me for continuing to mourn. They are like Ibn Ezra has written, “they distress it with blame” (they continue to blame me) “because it follows love.” And that love, like Ibn Ezra’s, does never fade away . It cannot!

He has given me after 1,884 years, the right to mourn and the right to remain broken-hearted. In his own words “Wherefore my heart swears by the life of Love, that it will not listen to the detractors; But the flame of its affection it will hide in its innermost chamber, even from the loved one, that his heart may not be lifted up in pride.”

In another of his poems directed at a dove that nests in a tree-top, he speaks of lament and sorrow. He uses the words “mourn, grieve, cry, bemoan” and in his poem “Wrung With Anguish”, written in 1138, he speaks to me and to my heart. “Wrung with anguish my heart complains, each chamber mourning… my mind is wearied, my strength decays, I stumble and fall…”

How is it possible that I am bound to a man who wrote poetry that is my inner poetry, the poetry of my soul, almost two thousand years ago?

But the dead poet lives firmly in my heart as I carefully turn the pages of the collection of his thousands of poems.

Who will read the pages of my soul when, approaching the age of 90, I am no longer here?

I care for Moshe Ibn Ezra. Will kind souls care for me?

In need of comfort, I turn the pages of the book gently and with loving hands. And I return it to the bookshelf to begin a new day in a new year. May it be a year of blessing for me and for my people everywhere.

Let each man and woman take pen in hand and inscribe with their very own words the symbols of an alphabet which speaks of eternal love…. Words on paper which come from the throbbing human heart and the flow of life from within the eternal soul.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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