Jerusalem Poems, Songs and Pictures
Read poems about Jerusalem from ancient to modern, including Jerusalem songs & liturgical poetry in English translation. View Jerusalem photos, videos & art.
Poems about Jerusalem
Poems about Jerusalem are central to Judaism and its liturgy. Songs were composed from liturgical poetry at least since the days of Jacob, before the Exodus of his descendants from Egypt.
Many of the Psalms written by King David were for the explicit purpose of worshipping the God of Israel.
Celebrating Jerusalem with poems and songs is a national holiday in Israel called Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim). You'll find the favorites in this collection. The holiday begins at sundown on Saturday, May 16, 2015, and concludes at sundown on May 17th.
On Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Biblical month of Av), people all over the world participate in a one-day fast commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This year, Tisha B'Av begins at sundown on Saturday, July 25, 2015, and concludes at sundown on July 26th. Several of the poems included here are always read on this day.
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The Holy City
The first historical mention of Jerusalem as a Holy City comes from the Bible, during the days of Abraham (early second millennium BCE). The city was called Salem, which means peace. The word uses the same root of the Hebrew word for Shalom and for the proper names Solomon and Shulamith.
Melchizedek is cited as the King of Jerusalem and priest of 'the most high God.'
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
"And he blessed him, and said: 'Blessed be Abram of the most high God, maker of heaven and earth; And blessed be the most high God, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand'.
"And he gave him a tenth of all."
– Bible, Genesis 14:18-20
The word Melchizedek means righteous king.
The city was captured by the second king of the Tribes of Israel, King David, in the year 1000 BCE, and became and has since remained the central city of worship in Judaism. Jewish families have lived in Jerusalem continuously for more than 3,000 years.
Jerusalem, circa 970 BCE
"Truly, it is I Who has established My king upon Zion, My holy mountain."
– Bible, Psalm 2:6
Before the First Temple was built, King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where it was housed on Mt. Moriah in a tent. The site, known today as the Temple Mount, was purchased by King David and the deed is recorded in the Biblical Book of I Chronicles.
When the ancient Ark of the Covenant entered Jerusalem:
"David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before God will all kinds of instruments made of cypress wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals."
– Bible, 2 Samuel 6:5
This Psalm of King David is attributed to the day the Ark was brought up to Jerusalem, and remains as one of the most famous poems about Jerusalem.
A Song of Ascents; of David
I rejoiced when they said unto me,
'Let us go unto the house of God.'
Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem;
Jerusalem, you are built as a city that is compact together;
To which the tribes went up, even the tribes of the LORD,
A testimony unto Israel,
To give thanks unto the Name of God.
For there were set thrones for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
May they prosper who love you
May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.
For the sake of my brothers and my companions,
I will now say: 'Peace be within you.'
For the sake of the house of the One Who is our God
I will seek your good.
More than 70 Psalms are directly attributed to King David and he is the most well-known and the most quoted poet in human history.
The Book of Psalms
Since publication in 2009, and acclaimed as one of Newsweek magazine's 'Best Books of the Year', this translation of the Hebrew Book of Psalms is considered a masterpiece.
The translations and commentary are by Robert Alter, retired Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.
Not only are the translations true to the original Hebrew and to their historical context, without bias, but the essence of the poetry is captured.
"Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her."
– Bible, 2 Samuel 11: 2 - 4
David and Bathsheba
Soliloquy of Bathsheba
by Writer Fox
At first it was a private amusing
A harmless mind-walk, sojourn of the soul,
A journey when there was no place to go
Returning to itself when thoughts idled,
Returning to the body where it was
Needed the most.
------------------------ Where it was truly born.
And that he was an easy man to want –
Handsome beyond ten thousand helmeted
Warriors under his earned command of them,
His symmetry of form, decisive with
The strength that marked him hero from his youth,
Now wisdom creeping white at his temples,
Like clouds collecting in the afternoon
Soften the face of an intrepid sky,
So softens him that he would seem a man
To be as resolute in love as war –
Is some excuse.
----------------------- But surely scant excuse
For the permission that I grant myself
To think of him with such compulsion that
I linger long in the imagining,
Until my thighs quiver like ostrich plumes
And turn spring-fed, warm-watered from within
Like En Gedi, and sweet with secret scent
That follows me.
------------------------ What is the point in this
When my full heart drops low like a caged bird,
Bottom-feeding when the cup is empty?
I would that he were but a common man
His only honor in his countenance,
Approachable in every common way
That we might meet, as common people meet;
I would that he were not a champion
Who conquers as the son of Nun and yet
My people need a champion in war,
For who can send the Syrians to flight
And turn, defeated, the sons of Ammon
If not my love?
--------------------- It has secluded him,
Surrounded by a wall of bannered ones,
And I, Bathsheba, daughter of an oath,
So rightly named, I am immured within
An oath to one who takes no thought of it;
And if we met politely at some fete,
What could I say but that I am not free?
This is the torment of my circumstance,
The cause of what I am about to do
On this spring night.
---------------------------- The ardent air becomes
The gloss that it might be some stroke of chance
That brings me to my balcony to bathe
In waters from the spring rainfall at this
Precise moment when all Jerusalem
Is slumbering, but when I know he is
So prone to pace about his roof of late,
The somnolence of a soldier at war,
The vigil of the duty of his rank,
No peer with which to palaver the cruel
Decisions only he can make for us.
It is the time.
------------------ I tremble in the thoughts
Of what I am about to do beneath
The subreption of stars, the paldao
Of precious moon, suborner to the one
I deeply love. But tremble more to think
Of greater risk I take, that he not find
Me pleasing in his sight and so turn from
My form, that thoughts which are my sustenance
Forever turn from me, and yet I can't
Contain them anymore with my heart,
And this must end.
-------------------------- There now he walks beside
The parapet and has caught sight of me.
Chief Officer of my desire, as I
Let loose this garment, let it tumble to
My feet, O taste me with your glance, imbue
Me with your eyes, let this action speak in
The cipher of what must forever be
Unspoken; Commander, my Commander,
If I find favor in your sight, let your
Desire be to command of me what I
This poem was originally published in The Harbinger, as a winner in the competition sponsored by the University of South Alabama.
Read the full story of King David and Bathsheba.
Song of Songs
King Solomon's Love Poem
The second son born to King David and Bathsheba was named Solomon and he assumed the throne as anointed heir after the death of David.
True to his Davidic lineage, Solomon was a poet. The most famous love poem in the world, Shir HaShirim, is attributed to King Solomon or to his sponsorship. The literal translation of Shir HaShirim is Song of Songs, but the poem is also known as Canticle of Canticles, Canticles and Song of Solomon.
The poem contains 117 verses in eight chapters, and it is read in its entirety on Friday evenings in Jewish synagogue services and on the Sabbath during the Passover holiday week. The narrative takes place in Jerusalem and its environs and speaks to the 'daughters of Jerusalem' as an audience.
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles and by the hinds of the field,
That you awaken not, nor arouse love,
Until it pleases."
– Bible, Song of Songs 2:7
The little city of Jerusalem as it was more than 3,000 years ago is described in a dream:
"By night on my bed I sought him
Whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but I found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city
In the streets and in the squares,
I will seek him whom my soul loves."
– Bible, Song of Songs 3:1,2
One line from the poem is a favorite inscription for jewelry, especially for sweetheart rings and wedding rings:
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
– Bible, Song of Songs 6:3
Song of Solomon
This remarkable English translation of the complete Song of Songs is presented with 65 illuminations by the artist Debra Band. This book is a celebration of the love poem and is a perfect wedding gift or anniversary present.
This book is a collector's item and it includes a verse-by-verse commentary.
I Am My Beloved's and My Beloved is Mine
One line from The Song of Songs is a favorite inscription for jewelry, especially for sweetheart rings and wedding rings:
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
– Bible, Song of Songs 6:3
This inscription is used for rings for men and for women.
King Solomon's Temple
King Solomon built the first Temple for the God of Israel, following the plan his father made.
Solomon's Temple stood for 410 years, until it was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar II.
The destruction of the Temple is described in the poem Eicha, the Biblical Book of Lamentations, written by the prophet Jeremiah.
This 154 verse poem is read every year in synagogues and at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av, the memorial day of the Temple's destruction.
The destruction of the Temple led to a 70-year exile in Babylon.
Destruction of Solomon's Temple
The Book of Lamentations
by the Biblical prophet Jeremiah
How the city sits solitary, that was full of people!
She has become as a widow
She that was great among the nations,
And princess among the provinces,
How is she become tributary!
She weeps bitterly in the night
And her tears are on her cheeks;
She has none to comfort her
Among all her lovers.
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
They are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into exile because of affliction,
And under harsh servitude;
She dwells among the nations,
She finds no rest;
All her pursuers overtook her within the straits.
The roads of Zion are in mourning
Because no one comes to the appointed feasts.
All her gates are desolate;
Her priests are groaning,
Her young maidens are afflicted,
And she herself is in bitterness.
– Bible, Lamentations 1:1-4
By the Waters of Babylon
Biblical Psalm 137 is one of the most famous in the Hebrew poetry canon. It was written after the exile to Babylon which began in 597 BCE. It is chanted every year on the Jewish religious fast day of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the date of the destruction of both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem.
It is also the poem responsible for the custom of smashing a wine glass at a Jewish wedding. The lines, 'If I do not remember you/ If I do not set Jerusalem/ Above my chief joy' is alluded to on a Jewish wedding day so that even the joy of a wedding cannot be considered a complete joy because of the condition of Jerusalem.
Once a desolation and a deserted city, Jerusalem is invoked with sadness at a Jewish wedding today because there is no house for God to dwell among his people and with His bride, the City of Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung up our lyres.
For there our captors asked of us words of song,
And our tormentors asked of us mirth, saying
'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How can we sing the Lord's song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not set Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom 1
The day of Jerusalem,
Who said, 'Raze it, raze it
To its very foundation.'
O daughter of Babylon, you are to be destroyed;
Happy will be the one who repays you
As you have served us.
Happy will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.
1 Edom is the Biblical kingdom of the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, known today as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
By the Waters of Babylon from Godspell
Jewish composer and songwriter Stephen Schwartz wrote the music for Psalm 137 in the Broadway musical score for Godspell. Hear the song, On The Willows, from the movie version of the musical.
The Second Temple Destruction
From the expulsion of the Ten Northern Tribes of Israel by the Assyrians in 733 BCE and the deportation of the Tribe of Judah to Babylon, few returned to the land of Israel when permission was granted by the Persian King Cyrus to rebuild the Temple. There were more descendants of Israel living outside the land than within, as it is to this day.
More than 42,360 people made the four-month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, under the direction of Nehemiah, the prophet.
The Western Wall
The Second Temple was completed in 516 BCE and stood until 70 CE when it was destroyed by the Roman armies under Titus. The treasures of the Temple were taken to Rome and used to fund the Colosseum.
The destruction of the Second Temple is remembered in a poem by Naftali Imber that became the National Anthem of the State of Israel:
"Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope that is two-thousand years old,."
Some of the walls of the Temple compound survived the destruction, the most famous of which is the Western Wall (referred to in past generations as the Wailing Wall because it was the site where pilgrims mourned the Temple's destruction and the loss of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem.) The Western Wall is called the Kotel in Hebrew.
"Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
Your builders hurry;
Your destroyers and devastators
Will depart from you."
– Bible, Isaiah 49: 16, 17
Since the days of King Solomon, the Tribes of Israel journeyed to what is now present-day Spain and established many colonies there.
After the Roman conquest, many Jews made their way to ancient Spain. In Medieval times, Jews enjoyed a 'Golden Age' in Spain, until their persecution and forced expulsion in 1492 by the Roman Catholics King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
During the Golden Age, Hebrew poetry flourished in Spain. The most well-known Hebrew poet of this time was Yehudah (Judah) HaLevi. Many of his poems survive in the liturgy of the Jewish Prayer Book. His famous line "My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west" has become the byword of the Jewish Diaspora.
HaLevi was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1075. In 1141, he realized his life-long dream of traveling to Jerusalem. Upon entering Jerusalem, he was killed by an Arab.
Jerusalem Poem Collections
Poems About Jerusalem by Yehuda Halevi
Longing to Return to the Land of Israel
by Yehudah (Judah) HaLevi
My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west.
How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lieth beneath the fetter of Edom, and I in Arab chains?
A light thing would it seem to me
To leave all the good things of Spain –
Seeing how precious in mine eyes
To behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.
In Remembrance of Jerusalem
by Yehudah (Judah) HaLevi
Delight of the world,
City of Kings,
My heart longs for you from the far-off west.
I am very sad when I remember how you were.
Now your glory is gone, your homes destroyed.
If I could fly to you on the wings of eagles,
I would soak your soil with my tears.
My Soul Longed for the Place of Assembly at the Beginning of my Journey
by Yehudah (Judah) HaLevi
On that day when my soul longed for the place of assembly,
I found nevertheless that a dread of departure seized a hold of me.
He, great in counsel, prepared for me ways for setting forth,
And I found His name in my heart a sustainment.
Therefore I bow down to Him at every stage;
And at every step I thank Him.
Hayyim Nahman Bialik
Hayyim Nahman Bialik was born in 1873 in the Russian Empire. He published his first poem at age 19, which led to a literary career culminating in the award of Israel National Poet. A deeply religious youth, his first poem revealed his longing for Jerusalem.
While still in Russia, we was asked to interview Jewish survivors of the Russian Pogroms in the early 1900s. That experience changed his life and his destiny.
The New York Times published this account of the first Kishinev Pogrom:
"The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, 'Kill the Jews,' was taken-up all over the city.
"The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews."
– The New York Times, April 28, 1903, page 6.
The interviews Bialik conducted with the Pogrom survivors led to one of his most famous poems, In the City of Slaughter. That single poem became a battle cry of the Haganah, a pre-statehood defense league in Israel that became the Israel Defense Forces at the 1948 Israel War of Independence.
In 1921, after the Bolshevek Revolution, Bialik was granted permission to leave Russia. He moved to Germany and then immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1924.
Bialik wrote in Yiddish and in Hebrew, but his poems have been translated into 30 languages. Following is a translation of Bialik's first published poem, which he wrote prior to his first visit to Israel, El Hatzipor:
To the Bird
by Hayyim Nahman Bialik (1873 – 1934)
Greetings of welcome, lovely bird,
from the warm countries to my window –
my soul yearned for your pleasant voice,
in winter after you left my home.
Sing to me, tell me, dear bird
from the faraway wonderful land,
is there in the land of sun and beauty,
much evil and hardship too?
Have you greetings from my brothers in Zion,
my distant brothers yet near?
Oh Happy ones, have they known,
that I suffer, great pains I suffer?
Do they know how numerous my foes stand
so many, oh countless, who rose against me?
Sing to me, my bird, wonders from the Land,
where spring will endure for eternity.
This mosaic tile floor was discovered in 1894 in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is an exquisite record of the birds of Jerusalem in the 5th or 6th century. Israel is visited by more than 500 million migrating birds every year.
Visit the Bird Mosaic in Jerusalem
Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem Photo 1918
Mark Twain in Jerusalem
When Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) visited Jerusalem in 1869, he wrote of his tourist's journey on horseback from Jerusalem to Jaffa in his book, The Innocents Abroad.
"For about four hours we traveled downhill constantly. We followed a narrow bridle-path which traversed the beds of the mountain gorges, and when we could we got out of the way of the long trains of laden camels and asses, and when we could not we suffered the misery of being mashed up against perpendicular walls of rock and having our legs bruised by the passing freight. Jack was caught two or three times, and Dan and Moult as often.
"One horse had a heavy fall on the slippery rocks, and the others had narrow escapes. However, this was as good a road as we had found in [Ottoman] Palestine, and possibly even the best, and so there was not much grumbling."
The journey required an overnight stay wherever a bed could be found. Most tourists in that day would arrive by ship at the ancient Mediterranean port in Jaffa, believed by some to be the oldest port city in the world. From Jaffa to Jerusalem, unlike Twain's journey in the reverse, is an uphill climb. Only physically fit foreign pilgrims would take the trip to see the most Holy City in the world.
Opened in August, 1892, to carry pilgrims from the ancient port city of Jaffa to the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Jaffa to Jerusalem Railway forever changed tourism to the Holy Land. The convenience of the new railway brought global attention to potential Jerusalem tourists.
Many of the people in this Jerusalem photograph are pilgrims from Russia, and adherents of the Russian Orthodox religion. This was in the days before the Russian Revolution and many Russian people were religious devotees. So many visited Jerusalem, in fact, that the government of Russia established a huge complex and a hospital just outside the Old City walls in Jerusalem to care for the needs of the Russian Pilgrims. Today, the complex is known as The Russian Compound.
The old railway station was closed in the 1990s and re-opened in April, 2013, as a cultural arts center.
The Jaffa and Jerusalem Railway
by Eugene Field (1850 –1895)
A tortuous double iron track; a station here, a station there;
A locomotive, tender, tanks; a coach with stiff reclining chair;
Some postal cars, and baggage, too; a vestibule of patent make;
With buffers, duffers, switches, and the soughing automatic brake –
This is the Orient's novel pride, and Syria's gaudiest modern gem:
The railway scheme that is to ply 'twixt Jaffa and Jerusalem.
Beware, O sacred Mooley cow, the engine when you hear its bell;
Beware, O camel, when resounds the whistle's shrill, unholy swell;
And, native of that guileless land, unused to modern travel's snare,
Beware the fiend that peddles books – the awful peanut-boy beware.
Else, trusting in their specious arts, you may have reason to condemn
The traffic which the knavish ply 'twixt Jaffa and Jerusalem.
And when, ah, when the bonds fall due, how passing wroth will wax the
From Nebo's mount to Nazareth will spread the cry "Repudiate"!
From Hebron to Tiberius, from Jordan's banks unto the sea,
Will rise profuse anathemas against "that – monopoly!"
And F.M.B.A. shepherd-folk, with Sockless Jerry leading them,
Will swamp that corporation line 'twixt Jaffa and Jerusalem.