An unrivaled master of Hebrew language and prosody, Yehudah HaLevi (c. 1075–1141) is perhaps the most famous of all the medieval Hebrew poets. Born on the border between Muslim and Christian Spain, he spent much of his life crossing back and forth between the north and south. While still in his teens, he traveled to Granada at the invitation of Moshe Ibn Ezra. Eventually he settled in Christian Toledo, where he was a physician at the court of Alfonso VI. His poetry is prized for its fusion of a pure Hebrew lyricism and religio-historical concerns, as well as for its incorporation of Sufi devotional elements, and he is perhaps best known for his hybrid poems of Zion, in which he gives powerful expression to his longing for a return to the ancient center of Jewish life. In 1140, in the wake of the Almohad invasion, and deeply conflicted about the ultimate worth of Andalusian Hebrew culture and all it stood for, he set sail for the Holy Land. Historical records find him thriving in Alexandria and Fustat (medieval Cairo), where he spent some six months waiting for favorable winds to continue his journey. In early 1141, he left the port of Alexandria, heading for Acre, and though the facts remain unclear, it seems that he died en route or shortly after arriving in Palestine.
Peter Cole is the author of two collections of poetry, Rift (Station Hill) and Hymns & Qualms (Sheep Meadow), and has published nine books of translation from Hebrew and Arabic poetry and prose. Cole has received numerous awards for his poetry and translation, including the Modern Language Association-Scaglione Translation Prize for Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid (Princeton University Press) and the Times Literary Supplement-Porjes Hebrew Translation Prize for Selected Poems of Solomon Ibn Gabirol (Princeton). He has also been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Cole, who makes his living as a translator and editor, has been visiting professor at Wesleyan University and Middlebury College. He lives in Jerusalem.