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As you may have noticed, my spiritual life is an eclectic patchwork — there's a solid core to it (although even that is a patchwork), but in general, when I see something I like, if I can find a way to make it fit, I will.

Through my relationship with [ profile] fiddledragon, one of the religions I have collected parts of is that of Bryn Mawr College, a Wisdom cult which I've mentioned before. One of the major festivals of this cult is May Day, which is observed on the Sunday closest to May 1st (i.e. today — happy May Day!).

May Day celebrates the completion of the school year and honors the graduating seniors. One of the traditions assocated with May Day is that of "May Day gifts", which are legacies which must remain at the college and are thus passed from a senior to the underclasswoman of her choice. While I'm not a Bryn Mawr alumna (obviously), my experience of those Bryn Mawr traditions which I have attended has been an inspiration to me, and I want to give something back. Or maybe I'm just feeling creative and enjoying my own cleverness. Anyway, here's the first of two "open source" May Day gifts:

The BMC school song is "Σοφιας" (Sophias), a hymn to Wisdom, and it had occurred to me that, hey, we have that idea in Judaism, too, and maybe I could translate "Σοφιας" into Hebrew. However, [ profile] fiddledragon forbade me to do so, and since it is her tradition and not mine, I have abided by her decision.

On the other hand, we have that idea in Judaism, too... maybe I don't have to translate this one from Greek? Where have I seen... right, pretty much the whole Book of Proverbs!

You may be familiar with the line "עֵץ-חַיִּים הִיא לַמַּחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ" (etz chayyim hi lamachazikim bah), "She is a Tree of Life to those who grasp Her". Where this line occurs in the liturgy, it seems to be referring to Torah, the particular wisdom of the Jewish people, but in its original context (Proverbs 3:18), it refers to Chochmah, which is universal Wisdom, personified as a feminine power who might or might not be considered a goddess, depending on whom you ask — in other words, just like Σοφιας in Greek.

At first I settled on Proverbs 3:13-18, which is roughly parallel in meaning and about the same length as "Σοφιας", but it didn't scan to it. Then I noticed that the verses from Proverbs were in* iambic tetrameter. In fact, all of Proverbs is in iambic tetrameter — which means it all scans to "Greensleeves".

"Greensleeves"?!, you might be thinking, Isn't that a bit cliché?, but in fact it works very well — the mood of "Greensleeves" is appropriate to the content, and the culture-of-origin of "Greensleeves" seems (to me) appropriate to Bryn Mawr's roots.

However, "Greensleeves" really wants an even number of stanzas, and Proverbs 3:12-18 provides three. So, I flipped through the rest of the book, copied and pasted, and settled on an arrangement with eight stanzas which I'm quite happy with. It includes the line quoted in the title of this post, which seemed especially appropriate for Bryn Mawr.

Here's a PDF of the lyrics** (the English text on the left is not meant to be singable, sorry — I decided to stick with making sure it made sense) and an MP3. Enjoy!

* (modulo the intrinsic differences in stress structure between English and Hebrew, re. which see this paper — no, really, go have a look at it, it's quite accessible and extremely nifty.)

** (one other thing — Hebrew is a grammatically gendered language. In the text of Proverbs, Wisdom is feminine, but the speaker and the persons addressed are masculine. It would seem more appropriate to Bryn Mawr for all to be feminine. Others are welcome to make the necessary changes, but I wanted to keep the text in its original form for this version. Besides, I can't be entirely sure (not knowing Greek), but I think "Σοφιας" is the same way.)

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bnewman: (Default)Ben Newman

September 2017


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