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I was reading the poem "The Miracle at Sea" by Shmuel HaNagid (translated from Hebrew by Peter Cole), and I came across a passage that really confused me. This is the second stanza of the poem:

By the lives of all who’d come
    to console and assist the stricken,
        by the life of each who came
    when I was in need and saw me panicked,

I would really appreciate it if someone could explain it to me.

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    It would be very helpful if you would provide more context. This sounds perhaps like an oath sworn "by the lives of....", or it might be something that is demonstrated "by the lives of ..." But you haven't given us enough to tell. Thanks. – Isabel Archer Apr 29 at 14:39
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    By the lives of is a standard oath structure - I swear by my ancestors - but not a very Hebrew one (frowning on swearing). The previous stanza opens "Is there poise for the stumbling and fallen?" That is a nod to Psalm 37 and 94:18 (אִם אָמַרְתִּי מָטָה רַגְלִי חַסְדְּךָ ה' יִסְעָדֵנִי). According to the Psalmist, yes, there is help nearby: God. The poet is thankful for kindness to a friend in need. – Yosef Baskin May 4 at 19:32
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Your example is only part of the sentence spoken by the narrator and lacks the context and the first verse:

The context is when at sea, the narrator has seen a creature so horrible that the sight of it leaves those who see it disturbed for ever.

In the first verse the narrator asks the rhetorical question “Do people help each other?”

He does not answer the question directly but informs you indirectly that people do come and try to assist those who have been traumatised and he adds that, in particular, people have come to help him.

By the lives of all who’d come

to console and assist the stricken,

by the life of each who came

when I was in need and saw me panicked,

*could it be there’s never respite from anguish, that desolate land is desolate forever? *

He does this by using (as indicated by Isabel Archer) “By the lives/life of” is a mild oath (now old-fashioned or literary) used as solemn emphasis.

Oaths are sworn in this manner by a respected person, a thing, a deity, etc.: they are not always "solemn."

"By God! I will avenge the murder of my father!";

"By all that I hold dear, release my children";

"By the stars in heaven! There is a ship coming to save us."   The narrator is clearly grateful for the help that is offered but nevertheless, the help was of no use to him or, (we assume) the others.

The first four lines can be omitted: it is the fifth line, another rhetorical question, that is important.

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    Welcome to the site, hope to see more good answers from you in the future! – Skooba May 4 at 21:15

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