Vulture in a Cage: Poems by Solomon ibn Gabirol

By :  Raymond Scheindlin Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature Posted On Nov 28, 2016 | Author Conversations: Between the Lines

Named after Solomon Ibn Gabirol’s own sharp self-description, Vulture in a Cage is the most extensive collection of the eleventh-century Hebrew poet’s works ever to be published in English. Here, vital poems of praise, lament, and complaint sit along­side devotional poetry, love poetry, descrip­tive meditations on nature, and epigrams. Obsessed with the impediments of the body and the material world, Ibn Gabirol ambitiously dreamed of breaking through corporeal constraints and launching his soul into the realm of the intellect. He hurled unforgivable insults at his contemporaries, yet he resented their refusal to grant him the recognition that he felt was his due and lamented his own inability to find human companionship. In his secular poetry, he bewails the unattainability of true spiritual wisdom; but in his devotional poetry, his voice seems to emerge from a realm of pure spirituality.

Solomon Ibn Gabirol, a Hebrew poet and philosopher active in eleventh-century Muslim Spain, was one of the greatest poets of the Hebrew Golden Age. His body of poetic work deals with the secular and the sacred, the personal and the public, in a voice that ranges from the acerbic to the ethereal and that is always distinctively his own. From the perspective of his own troubled selfhood, he strives to evoke the struggle of the tormented soul to reach the transcendent. For his ability to evoke the majesty of the cosmos through the complexity of the individual, Ibn Gabirol has been acclaimed for almost a millennium.