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Joseph Friedlander, comp. The Standard Book of Jewish Verse. 1917.

By Immanuel Ben Solomon of Rome (Trans. Solomon Solis Cohen)

The Ballad of Ephron, Prince of Topers

COME listen to a merry song about a merry wight—

The sovereign of all topers he, Ephron the Prince that hight;

He strict forbade that any lad who aimed to live aright

Should ever drink a drop—a drop of water!

When with his court he sate at board, they always brought him first,

A bowl of twenty flagons for to slake his royal thirst;

Then he’d fall to, and crunch and chew until you thought he’d burst—

But never stop to drink a drop—of water!

Each morn Prince Ephron said his prayers before he broke his fast—

“Good Lord!” he’d cry, “My mouth is dry, my tongue and lips stick fast;

My throat’s on fire, my heart’s a pyre, my frame’s a furnace vast,

Oh, quench my flames with drink—but not with water!

“Make haste, dear friends, for love of God and my immortal soul,

And fetch me good old white wine in my lordly silver bowl;

Oh, that’s the thing to heart a king and make a sick man whole—

But spoil it not, Oh, spoil it not, with water!

“The harm that water does to folk, if that you doubt,” says he,

“There’s quite a bit in Holy Writ, for everyone to see;

Examples few, I think will do, to make you say with me,

That danger lurks in every drop of water.

“There’s Noah’s flood—that near made mud of all the world then known—

The Nile—wherein by tyrants vile, our baby boys were thrown—

And the Red Sea—where Pharaoh’s host went down like any stone—

Now what were flood, and Nile, and sea, but water!

“There’s Moses—meekest shepherd he, of an unruly flock—

Yet lost the Promised Land because, in rage, he struck the rock;

If blame to him, no shame to him, for sure ’twas quite a shock

To hear the people grumble so—for water!

“Look ye, how pride,” he often cried, “makes for contracted view;

Your glass-blowers now, from potters well might learn—and tinkers too!

This thing they call a wine-glass, pah! ’Twould hold a drop of dew—

But I’m not drinking dew—or any water!”

Prince Ephron kept the sacred days of Israel’s faith. At least,

If fasts him irked, he never shirked a single holy feast;

And on the Days of Penitence, was none, in West or East,

That, more than he, kept gullet-free—from water.

Tebèt would make him whine and fret; through Tamuz he would bawl;

And sore he’d moan and fast he’d groan, in Ab for Zion’s fall,

Till by the ninth too weak he’d grown, to try to fast at all;

Yet still he strict abstained—from drinking water.

Yom Kippurìm his eyes went dim, with anguish of the soul,

So by the Din it was no sin to call for plate and bowl;

But down his cheeks in salty streaks the tears of guile would roll,

And once in every year, he tasted water.

Amends, indeed, he made full meed. Each month he’d keep Purìm

The four cups he made forty—every night Leil Shimurìm;

Succòth, Sh’buòth, Kiddùsh and Habdalàh were good to him—

Be sure his cup of blessing wasn’t water!

Whene’er it rained or threatened rain, at home would Ephron stay;

“If clouds were wine-vats and their showers strong drink,” he used to say,

“I’d hie me out the storms to flout, and bask in them all day—

“But what’s the use of ‘ifs,’” he said,—“or water!”

“If ’stead of brine, the waves were wine, of vintage fine,” quoth he,

“I’d wish to be a Jonah’s fish a’ swimming in the sea;

None other Eden would I ask to all eternity—

But for our sins God made the sea of water!

“For had He sent a flood of wine—in Noah’s time, you know,

Our patriarch had built no ark, to be shut in, below;

In such a tide, Oh, none had died—but all cut up Didò—

And that’s why rivers, rains and seas are water!”

Prince Ephron (peace upon his soul!) lies sleeping in the dust

Until that day when, sages say, the sinful and the just

Shall rise to meet their due reward. Then, let us humbly trust,

Nor he, nor we, shall crave in vain for water!