Mark This Lament by Philologus

Jul 15th, 2013 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Prayer
Leon de Modena’s Kina Sh’mor, “Mark This Lament,” was written when he was a bar mitzvah boy of 13. (One of the most fascinating characters in Jewish literary and intellectual history, de Modena grew up to be not only an outstanding scholar, poet and all-around Renaissance man, but also a compulsive gambler who repeatedly lost all his money.)

The poem is an elegy for a teacher of de Modena’s, Moses della Rocca, who died in 1584, and its first four lines go in Hebrew:

“Kina sh’mor, oy ma ki pas otsar bo,

Kol tuv elim. Kosi or din el tsilo.

Moshe, mori, Moshe, yakar davar bo.

Sham tushiya on, yom kippur hu zeh lo.”

In a rough translation (the Hebrew is difficult in places), this would be:

“Mark this lament!

Ah, but the treasure of him has passed,

All his divine good!

The shadow of God’s judgment falls on my cup of light.

Moses, my teacher, Moses, how precious all was in him,

How much resourcefulness and strength were there!

This is his Day of Atonement.”

And now for De Modena’s homophonic Italian version.

“Chi nasce, muor. Oime, che pass’ acerbo!

Colto vien l’huom, cosí ordin’ il Cielo.

Mose mori, Mose gia car de verbo.

Santo sia ogn’ huom, con puro zelo.”

This translates as (or so I hope; my Renaissance Italian is imperfect):

“Whoever is born, dies. Ah, me!

A bitter thing has come to pass!

A man has been plucked, such is the decree of Heaven.

Moses, my teacher, Moses, so precious of speech,

Sainted be he of all men, pure was his zeal!”

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