Judah al-Harizi, “The Sun”

The Sun (from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Milosz)
Judah al-Harizi (tr. T. Carmi)

Look: the sun has spread its wings
over the earth to dispel the darkness.

Like a great tree, with its roots in heaven,
and its branches reaching down to the earth.

Comment:

Brevity brings strangeness into immediate confrontation. “Look,” someone tells us. The sun is a bird! The sun has spread its wings over the earth to dispel the darkness.

The same person continues, changing images entirely. Now the sun is likened to a tree, but upside down, branching towards the earth. Like a great tree, with its roots in heaven, and its branches reaching down to the earth.

Milosz cites this as being one of al-Harizi’s “slightly jocular quatrains.” Maybe that’s true, but my interpretation begins from a different place. Both speaker and audience have not been in the best mood, as the earth is covered with darkness. It’s not just night, about to become day. However, the speaker begins the poem thinking he’s found joy, and he’s eager to share.

Hence, the sun is a bird. Not a ball of fire, not a heavenly body that moves in fixed ways, but a free, living creature which has chosen to grace us, giving light. That’s what the sun is, but it is another consideration what it is like. The effect of the sun, that which we experience but is not the thing itself, is like that of a great tree. In heaven, it has roots. Thus, the cause of joy is beyond us, mysterious, remote, glorious, bright. The tree also has “branches reaching down to earth.” The poem could have said that the branches are all across the face of the earth, illuminating it. I suspect “reaching down” reinforces that joy is chosen. The sun is a bird, dispelling darkness. Inasmuch you are a living creature, will you not glorify Creation yourself?

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