Before I Was: A Hebrew Poem

Artwork by Jean-Francois Portaels (1818-1895)

This poem was written by Solomon ibn Gabirol, who was born into a Jewish family in the Al-Andalus region (Iberian Peninsula; Southern Spain) during the First Taifa period, early 1000 A.D. He studied extensively in philosophy, ethics, and biblical studies. He wrote well over a hundred poems, and one of his greatest works titled “Fountains of Life” or “Vons Vitae”, which expresses his philosophical doctrine. A book that stands a testament to his legacy.

Before I was , Thy mercy came to me,

Inverting void and being Thou madest me to be.

Who wrought my image, poured my essence

into the crucible and gave me shape?

Who breathed a soul in me

opened the belly of Sheol and took me out?

Who led me from childhood until here?

Who taught me to understand, caused me to marvel?

Indeed I am clay in Thy hand.

Thou didst make me, in truth, not I myself.

I shall confess my sins, and not say to Thee

“The Serpent deceived me and led me astray.”

How can I hide my guilt from Thee? For indeed

before  I was, Thy mercy came to me.

-Solomon ibn Gabriol

Source: Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, & Hebrew Poems by Bernard Lewis (pg. 182)

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