Archive for the ‘Arabic poetry’ Tag

The dearness of home: Arabic verse attributed to Maysūn bint Baḥdal al-Kalbiyya   1 comment

The poem below is one of Heimweh. The poetess credited with the poem, whether rightly or wrongly, is Maysūn bint Baḥdal b. Unayf al-Kalbiyya, the mother of Yazīd I and wife of Muʿāwiya, and she is said to have sung these lines after her husband brought her to Syria (al-Šām) from the desert home of her family. She came from a tribe predominantly Christian. (See the brief article about her by Lammens in EI² 6: 924. On her father, Baḥdal, see EI² 1: 919-920.) After the Arabic text, an English translation follows, together with a list of some vocabulary.

The poem’s rhyme-letter (rawī) is f, which is preceded by ī or ū, these two vowels being considered as rhyming (Wright, Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol. 2, § 196b). The text of the poem is given in Nöldeke-Müller, Delectus veterum carminum arabicorum, Porta Linguarum Orientalium 13 (Berlin, 1890), p. 25, and in Heinrich Thorbecke’s edition of Al-Ḥarīrī’s (EI² 3: 221-222) Durrat al-ġawwāṣ fī awhām al-ḫawwāṣ (Leipzig, 1871), pp. 41-42. (Nöldeke and Müller dedicated their Delectus to the memory of the recently departed Thorbecke.) The images below are from the latter book.

al-hariri_durrat_p41al-hariri_durrat_p42

English’d:

Aye, dearer to me is a tent where the winds roar than a lofty palace.
Dearer to me is a rough woolen cloak with a happy heart than clothes of well-spun wool.
Dearer to me is a morsel of food at the side of the tent than a cake to eat.
Dearer to me are the sounds of winds in every mountain path than the tap of the tambourine.
Dearer to me is a dog barking at my night visitors than a familiar cat.
Dearer to me is a young, unyielding camel following a litter than an active mule.
And dearer to me is a thin generous man from among my cousins than a strong lavishly fed man.

Vocabulary and notes:

  • ḫafaqa i to beat; (of wind) to roar
  • qaṣr citadel, palace (on which see Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary of the Qurʾān, 240)
  • munīf lofty, sublime, projecting
  • ʿabāʾa cloak made of coarse wool
  • qarra a i to be cool; with ʿayn eye, to be joyful, happy (Lane 2499c)
  • šaff a garment of fine wool
  • kusayra (dimin.) a small piece of something
  • kisr side (of a tent). Note in this line the jinās, the use of two words of the same root but different meaning (see Arberry, Arabic Poetry, 21-23).
  • raġīf cake
  • faǧǧ wide path in the mountains
  • naqr beat, crack, tap
  • duff tambourine
  • ṭāriq, pl. ṭurrāq someone who comes at night
  • dūn here, before, opposite (Lane 938c)
  • alūf familiar, sociable
  • bakr young camel
  • ṣaʿb difficult, unyielding
  • baġl mule
  • zafūf agile, active, quick
  • ẓaʿīna a woman’s litter carried by camels
  • ḫirq liberal, generous, bountiful
  • naḥīf thin, slight, meager
  • ʿilǧ “strong, sturdy man” (Lane)
  • ʿalīf fatted, stuffed, fed

Al-Ṣafadī on the Two Methods of Translation   Leave a comment

In his Classical Heritage in Islam, Franz Rosenthal gives an English translation of what has become a well-known, if too simplistic, presentation of Graeco-Arabic translation technique by Al-Ṣafadī (1297-1363) in his Al-ġayṯ al-musaǧǧam (Cairo ed., 1888, vol. 1, 46.12-25), a commentary on Al-Ṭuġrāʾī’s (1061-1120/1) Lāmiyyat al-ʿaǧam. Since the Cairo edition is not always easily discoverable, and not always easily legible to every Arabic student that might wish to read it, I have re-typeset the passage together with Rosenthal’s ET, prefaced by a short introduction. See the PDF here: al-safadi_on_transl_method.

Labīd’s poem from the Muʿallaqāt   1 comment

A 16th/17th-century Arabic manuscript belonging to the Near East School of Theology in Beirut (on which see pp. 5-6 of Illuminations, Spring 2011) contains the old Arabic poems known as Al-Muʿallaqāt along with some brief commentary on individual words. The Muʿallaqāt, usually deemed to be seven in number but sometimes more, are the most famous collection of classical Arabic poems. They have, of course, long excited interest and enjoyment in arabophone and arabophile places, and 19th- and 20th-century European orientalists toiled over these long and often difficult poetic works with manuscript-hunting, editions, commentaries, and translations. An edition with Arabic commentary appeared in Leipzig in 1850 by F.A. Arnold (see the poem of Labīd, with commentary, beginning here).

The image below shows the end of the poem of Imruʾ al-Qays and the beginning of Labīd’s; the latter poem is actually the second poem in this copy, but it is often the fourth poem in others. A prose translation into English of Labīd’s poem survives from the hand of William Wright and it was published in 1961 (see reference below).

NEST AP 6, ff. 62v-63r

These opening lines of the poem in Wright’s translation are:

1. Effaced are the dwelling-places at Minā, whether temporary or permanent; desolate are their Ghaul and their Rijām,

2. and the slopes of ar-Raiyān; their traces are laid bare, but old and worn, just as the rocks retain the letters graven on them.

3. Sites of dwellings are these, over which, since they were last inhabited, many a long year has passed with its full tale of sacred and profane months.

4. They have been gifted with the showers of the constellations of spring, and the rains of the thunderclouds have fallen on them in torrents and in drizzle;

5. rains from every cloud of the night, and morning cloud that covers the sky, and evening cloud whose thunderpeals answer one another.

6. And so the shoots of the wild rocket have sprung up over them, and the gazelle and the ostrich have their young on the two sides of the valley;

7. and the antelopes lie quietly by their young, to which they have newly given birth, while their fawns roam in flocks over the plain.

8. And the torrents have newly laid bare the marks of the tents, as if they were lines of writing whose text the pens retrace;

9. or the lines which a woman tattooing traces afresh, rubbing in her lampblack in circles, on which her pattern reappears.

A more thorough comparison would clarify the relationship, but it is notable that several of the explanatory words in the NEST manuscript agree exactly with the commentary published by Arnold, reflecting a tradition of comment on the poem(s).

Lamentation for the lost past, in particular as tied to a specific place, is a hallmark of old Arabic poetry, and these nine lines illustrate the theme well. This kind of writing can, to be sure, on occasion lean toward tedium, but the variety of similes, not to mention the language itself, can also to one in the right mood for it offer worthwhile evocative amusement. When reading these lines I thought of Aragorn’s mournful recitation of the lament for the old days of Rohan in chapter six of Book III of The Lord of the Rings (see The Two Towers [i.e. part two of the whole work], pp. 496-497) and beginning “in the Common Speech” — Legolas does not understand the language but knows that it is that of the Rohirrim and that the song “is laden with the sadness of Mortal Men” — with the words “Where now the horse and the rider? Where now the horn that was blowing?” It is widely known that Tolkien took as models for many aspects of The Lord of the Rings things literary, linguistic, and historical from Anglo-Saxon and other adjacent cultures, and this is the case with this piece of poetry, too. The source is the well-known Old English poem The Wanderer, beginning at line 92 (full text, with translation, available here, along with a note linking this part to Tolkien’s poem):

Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago?

Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa?

Hwær cwom symbla gesetu?

Hwær sindon seledreamas?

Eala beorht bune!

Eala byrnwiga!

Eala þeodnes þrym!

Hu seo þrag gewat,

genap under nihthelm,

swa heo no wære.

The “where? …where? …where?” (hwær) is in both the Old English poem and in Tolkien’s, with characteristic sound repetition, and in The Wanderer there is yet more repetition with eala (“alas”). There is sound repetition, too, in Labīd’s poem, but of a different kind: each line (bayt) ends in -hā (usually -āmuhā), and in some cases not only the second hemistich (called ʿaǧuz al-bayt, the back-end of the line), but also the first hemistich (ṣadr al-bayt, the front of the line). In all of these poems, whatever the language and whatever the sound repetition, the sadness they’re laden with is palpable, and when you’re in a melancholic mood, or some worse kind of temperament, it makes for something of a balm to hear and read yourself of the melancholic remembrances of others.

Bibliography

F.A. Arnold, Septem Mo‘allaḳât Carmina Antiquissima Arabum (Leipzig, 1850).

Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur I (Weimar, 1898), 17-19, with Supplementband I (Leiden, 1937), 34-36.

Ursula Schedler, “A Prose Translation of the Mo‘allaqah of Labid by William Wright,” Journal of Semitic Studies 6 (1961): 97-104.

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