Baudelaire: Invitation to the Voyage (from French)

     Dans ce poème  qui est un des plus célèbres qui figurent dans Les Fleurs du Mal, Baudelaire se sert du cadre de la chanson d'amour traditionelle et idealisante afin d'explorer les réalités psychologiques. L'évocation d'aversion pour la superficialité de l'allocutaire avec ses "traîtres yeux", dans un "pays qui [la] ressemble" (ce qui rend le pays d'autant plus trompeur) se mêle au plaisir véridique que prend le locuteur au luxe superficiel. Baudelaire a donc recours a ce mélange, bariolure de sentiments, pour communiquer au lecteur ce qui aurait été à l'époque une idée tout à fait nouvelle dans la poésie (française, en tout cas): qu'il est possible de prendre plaisir aux choses superficielles de ce monde sans devenir soi-même superficiel. Il s'agit ici d'une invitation adressée autant à l'allocutaire qu'au lecteur, invitation de se prélasser dans la traître beauté du réel. 

     In this poem, one of the most famous in the Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire employs the framework of the traditional ideal-ridden lovesong so as to explore psychological realities. The invocation of dislike for the addressee's superficiality with her "Traitor eyes" in a "land that looks like [her]" (thereby rendering this land all the more deceptive) blends into the honest pleasure which the speaker finds in superficial sumptuousness. Baudelaire thus resorts to a melding of sense and sensations in order to convey to the reader what was at the time quite a novel idea in (french) poetry: that one may enjoy superficialities without becoming superficial oneself. The invitation, here, is addressed as much to the reader as to the original woman, an invitation to bask in the traitorous beauty of reality. 

Invitation to the Voyage
Charles Baudelaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the French

    My sisterchild, my dear!
    Imagine going there
Gently to live together, just us two,

    To love and think not why
    To love and live and die
Together in the land that is like you.

    The soaking suns that rise
    Through those cloud-raveled skies
Will move me with the selfsame mystery

    And witchery that lie
    Within each traitor eye
That shines out through your tears to look at me.

There, there is but beauty, measure,
Luxury, repose and pleasure

    A furniture that bears
    The polishing of years
Will be the decoration of our chamber,

    The very rarest blooms
    Commingling their perfumes
With vague and sundry redolence of amber.

    Those ceilings richly wrought,
    And mirrors deep as thought,
And walls with oriental splendor hung

    They all would speak apart
    To nothing but the heart
In nothing but its tender mother tongue.

There, there is but beauty, measure,
Luxury, repose and pleasure

    See vessels in the sweep
    Of those canals, asleep,
Whose way it is to wander from their berth.

    See how, to answer some
    Small wish of yours, they come
Our way through all the waters of this earth.

    At close of day the sun
    Robes hayfields one by one,
Then the canals, and soon the town outright,

    In hyacinth and gold;
    The world that we behold
Subsides to slumber in a warm low light.

There, there is but beauty, measure,
Luxury, repose and pleasure

The Original:

Invitation au Voyage

    Mon enfant, ma soeur,
    Songe à la douceur,
D'aller là-bas, vivre ensemble!
    Aimer à loisir,
    Aimer et mourir,
Au pays qui te ressemble!
    Les soleils mouillés,
    De ces ciels brouillés,
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes,
    Si mystérieux,
    De tes traitres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.

Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

    Des meubles luisants,
    Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre;
    Les plus rares fleurs
    Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l'ambre,
    Les riches plafonds,
    Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
    Tout y parlerait
    A l'âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.

Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

    Vois sur ces canaux
    Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l'humeur est vagabonde;
    C'est pour assouvir
    Ton moindre désir
Qu'ils viennent du bout du monde.
    Les soleils couchants
    Revêtent les champs
Les canaux, la ville entière
    D'hyacinthe et d'or;
    Le monde s'endort
Dans une chaude lumière

Là, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Wang Wei: "Luzhai" (From Chinese)

At a Retreat in Luzhai
By Wang Wei
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

On a mountain apart — I see nobody
Only hear the echo of somebody's voice
Returning sunbeams enter the deep wood
And shine again upon the clear green moss

The Original:




Wen Yiduo: Stagnant Water (From Chinese)

A perhaps ill-advised attempt at translating a poem from modern Chinese, which I don't know that well.  I tried to use an anapest-differentiated version of iambic pentameter for the rather ingenious metrical pattern that appears to be used here.

Stagnant Water
By Wén Yīduō
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water,
Fresh breezes can't breathe half a ripple from its skin.
Better just junk your copper scrap metal here
Or dump the leftovers from dinner in.

Perhaps the copper will turn emerald green
And in rusting cans peach blossom petals will bloom.
Then let grease weave out a film of silken gauze 
And microbes brew up clouds of colorful brume.

Oh let the dead water ferment into green liquor
Abrim with floating pearls in its white foam
Sweet little pearls that, laughing, turn into large pearls
And burst when the liquor-raiding mosquitos come

Thus may a ditch of hopelessly dead water
Still boast some lively brightness where it lies
If the frogs cannot tolerate the desolation
Hear croaking song from stagnant water rise!

Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water.
It's really no place for Beauty to keep state. 
Better let Hellion Ugliness cultivate it
And see what kind of world it will create.

The Original:

死水         Sǐshuǐ

聞一多        Wén Yīduō

這是一溝絕望的死水, Zhè shì yī gōu juéwàngde sǐshuǐ,

清風吹不起半點漪淪。 qīngfēng chuī bùqǐ bàndiǎn yīlún
不如多扔些破銅爛鐵, Bùrú duō rēng xiē pò tóng làntiě,
爽性潑你的剩菜殘羹。 shuǎngxìng pō nǐde shèng cài cángēng.

也許銅的要綠成翡翠, Yěxǔ tóngde yāo lǜ chéng fěicuì,

鐵罐上鏽出幾瓣桃花; tiěguàn shàng xiù chū jǐ bàn táohuā;
再讓油膩織一層羅綺, zài ràng yóunì zhī yī céng luōqǐ,
黴菌給他蒸出些雲霞。 méijūn gěi tā zhēng chū xiē yúnxiá.

讓死水酵成一溝綠酒, Ràng sǐshuǐ jiàochéng yī gōu lǜ jiǔ,

飄滿了珍珠似的白沫; piāo mǎnle zhēnzhū shìde báimò;
小珠們笑聲變成大珠, xiǎo zhūmen xiàoshēng biànchéng dà zhū,
又被偷酒的花蚊咬破。 yòu bèi tōujiǔde huāwén yǎopò.

那麼一溝絕望的死水, Nàme yī gōu juéwàngde sǐshuǐ,

也就誇得上幾分鮮明。 yějiù kuā déshàng jǐfēn xiānmíng.
如果青蛙耐不住寂寞, Rúguǒ qīngwā nàibuzhù jìmò,
又算死水叫出了歌聲。 yòusuàn sǐshuǐ jiàochūle gēshēng.

這是一溝絕望的死水, Zhè shì yī gōu juéwàngde sǐshuǐ,

這裡斷不是美的所在, zhèlǐ duàn bùshì měide suǒzài,
不如讓給醜惡來開墾, bùrú ràng gěi chǒu'è lái kāikěn,
看他造出個什麼世界。 kàn tā zàochū gè shénme shìjiè.

François Cheng: "Eastward of All" (From French)

Eastward of All
By François Cheng
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original French
Click to hear me recite the English

Eastward of all, where the sea recalls
The storm has scattered scales
Of dragons, turtle shells
We bow down unto pure silence
That rules beyond the banished land
At evening-fall, eastward of all

Where the wind of the one recollection rises.

The Original:

"À l'orient de tout..."

À l'orient de tout, là où se souvient
La mer, l'orage a dispersé écailles
Des dragons, carapaces des tortues
Nous nous prosternons vers le pur silence
Régnant par-delà la terre exilée
À l'heure du soir, à l'orient de tout

Où se lève le vent de l'unique mémoire.

Li Bai: Pouring Myself Drinks Alone By Moonlight (From Chinese)

Pouring Myself Drinks Alone By Moonlight
By Li Bai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in a reconstruction of what 8th century Chang'anese pronunciation
Click to hear me recite it in Modern Mandarin pronunciation
Click to hear me recite the English

Amid the flowers — a flask of wine 
 I pour alone — no company
I raise my cup to invite the moon 
 Then moon, my shadow and I are three
But no the moon knows not how to drink  
 And my shadow does naught but follow me
Yet I quickly make friends of moon and shadow 
 Enjoy what spring there may yet be
I sing — the moon just maunders on 
 I dance —my shadow flails away
Still lucid — we share in common pleasure 
 Blind drunk — each goes his separate way
Let us join to roam beyond all cares 
 And meet afar in the Milky Way

The Original:
(Medieval Chinese transcribed using David Branner's lovely system)

Han Characters 


Medieval Chinese 

ngwat3a ghà2 duk1b tsyak3
3d beik2a

hwa2 kan2b et3by ghuo1 tsóu3b
duk1b tsyak3 muo3c sang3 tshen3b
kúo3b pei1a au3y meing3a ngwat3a
twèi1a éing3a dzyeing3b sam1b nyen3b
ngwat3a kì3a pet3a ghèi2a ém3x
éing3a duo1 zwi3b ngé1 syen3b
dzàm1b bàn1 ngwat3a tsang3 éing3a
gheing2a lak1 suo3c gep3x tshywen3b
ngé1 ke1 ngwat3a bei1a ghwei1a
ngé1 múo3c éing3a leing4 lwàn1
séing4 dzyi3d dung1b kau2 hwan1
tswì3c ghòu1 kak1 pen3a sàn1
wéing3a kat4 muo3c dzeing3b you3b
sang3 gi3d mok2 wen3a hàn1
Modern Chinese 

Yuè xià dú zhuó 
Lǐ Bái 

Huā jiān yī hú jiǔ,  
dú zhuó wú xiāngqīn; 
Jǔ bēi yāo míngyuè,  
duì yǐng chéng sān rén. 
Yuè jì bù jiě yǐn,  
yǐng tú suí wǒ shēn;  
Zàn bàn yuè jiāng yǐng,  
xínglè xū jí chūn. 
Wǒ gē yuè páihuái,  
Wó wǔ yǐng língluàn; 
Xǐng shí tóng jiāo huān, 
Zuì hòu gè fēnsàn. 
Yǒng jié wúqíng yóu, 
Xiāngqī miǎo yúnhàn.  

Stefan George: Thou (From German)

By Stefan George
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click here to hear me recite the German

Thou flaming column pure and slender
Thou light and tender as the dawn 
Thou flowering shoot from seed of grandeur
Thou wellspring simple and withdrawn

Companion on my sunlit meadows
All round me in the evening haze
Light on my path through coming shadows
Thou cooling breeze Thou breath ablaze

Thou art my wish and all I think
I breathe of Thee in all my air
I savor Thee in every drink
I kiss Thy fragrance everywhere

Thou flowering shoot from seed of grandeur
Thou wellspring simple and withdrawn

Thou flaming column pure and slender
Thou light and tender as the dawn

The Original:

Du schlank und rein wie eine flamme
Du wie der morgen zart und licht
Du blühend reis vom edlen stamme
Du wie ein quell geheim und schlicht

Begleitest mich auf sonnigen matten
Umschauerst mich im abendrauch
Erleuchtest meinen weg im schatten
Du kühler wind du heisser hauch

Du bist mein wunsch und mein gedanke
Ich atme dich mit jeder luft
Ich schlürfe dich mit jedem tranke
Ich küsse dich mit jedem duft

Du blühend reis vom edlen stamme
Du wie ein quell geheim und schlicht
Du schlank und rein wie eine flamme
Du wie der morgen zart und licht

Rilke: Archaic Torso of Apollo (From German)

The interpretation of this poem is complex, to say the least. I have decided to follow my own sense of how it relates to vision, to the inversion of observed and observer, to oracularity and much else, in my translation. My notes are mostly just philological in nature, intended only to give an understanding of how I read the German at the lexical level in a few cases which may not be especially obvious.

Archaic Torso of Apollo
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

We never knew the epic head of sight
wherein the round eyes ripened. Even so
his torso still glows like a gas streetlight
in which his gaze has merely been turned low,

and holds agleam. If not, then the breast's bare
curve could not dazzle you, nor could the loin
swerve a smile down toward that center where 
begetting was begotten at the groin.

If not, this stone would stand cut short with strife  
and maimed beneath the shoulders’ clear cut case,
and would not shimmer like a wild beast's fur,

and would not burst forth like a blazing star
from all its boundaries: for there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
Archaïscher Torso Apollos
Rainer Maria Rilke
Click here to hear me recite the original

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und brächte nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.


L1: Unerhört translated literally lexeme by lexeme means "unheard-of", and has a whiff of "legendary." Other translators of this sonnet have chosen things of this kind: unheard-of, legendary, fabled etc. However, the word also suggests something excessive, tremendous, beyond precedent, above and beyond. In some contexts it might mean "outrageous" as when describing a high price. For some reason, the English term "epic" comes to mind. I'm not entirely sure why, but I like what it does in the English.

L2: Augenäpfel literally means "eye-apples" and many translators have rendered it thus, but it is in fact a normal and unremarkable way of saying "eyeball" in German. Rilke is capitalizing on the dead metaphor by introducing reiften "ripened."

L3: Kandelaber can mean candelabrum, and most translators have taken it to mean that. But here, it refers to a gaslit streetlight, of the sort that dotted cities in the early 20th century, so named in German because they were commonly shaped in a way reminiscent of candelabra. The gaze is thus zurückgeschraubt "turned/dialed down" as a gaslight's flame would be turned down, but not necessarily off, during the day.

L10: Sturz is normally "fall, plunge, drop" and has, without exception I believe, been so translated. It has two further meanings, however. Sturz was a common synonym for "torso" in sculpture. In common usage it also referred, as it still does in Austria, to a glass cover, or belljar, which would be transparent and reveal its contents even as it covers them.

Rilke: The Panther (From German)

The Panther
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to here me recite the original German

His gaze has been so worn from the procession
of bars, that there is nothing it can hold.
There are a thousand bars in his impression;
and there behind a thousand bars, no world.

The powerful soft footsteps' supple movement
turned in the tightest circle of them all
is like a dance of strength about a center
wherein a mighty will stands stunned in stall.

Only at times the pupil's soundless curtain
is reeled away, letting an image start
inward through the taut silence of his sinews
and come to nothing in the heart.

The Original:

Der Panther

Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf—. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille—
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

Iskandar Chahari: Infidel's Confession (From Persian)

Infidel's Confession
By Iskandar Chahari
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Hey, Sheikhs and Preachers. I'm a man from Unbelieverdom.
I will not fake repentance for my drunkenness and fun.
There's joy both in debauchery and Surat al-Rahman.
My one true God of love and lovemaking, where have you gone?

The Original:

كافرم از كفر اباد اى واعظ و مفتى
توبۀ خالى نخواهم كرد از اين مستى
لذت است از رندگى و سورت الرحمان
اى خداى دوست داران تو كجا رفتى؟


Kāfiram az kufrabād ay wā'iz o muftī
Tawba-i xālī naxwāham kard az īn mastī
Lizzat ast as rindagī o sūrat al-rahmān
Ay xudā-i dōstdārān to kujā raftī?

Li Bai: Yearning in Chang'an (From Chinese)

Yearning in Cháng'ān
By Li Bai
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

  Endlessly yearning for you 
  In the city called Endless Peace,

Where autumn crickets cry from the well's rail that shines of gold, 
Where flecks of frost blow chill and leave the bedmat colored cold, 
  With no light from the lonely little lantern, 
  The thread of longing set to snap out loud,
  Gaze at the moon, and heave a useless sigh:
  My love, a flower beyond that wall of cloud!
  And high above the heavens' blue dark reign
  And down below the waters' pale waves stream
Endless the sky, and far the journey - the fleet soul grieves in flight, 
And cannot touch beyond those mountains even in a dream. 

  So endlessly the yearning
  Beats a man's heart down.

The Original:



Zhang Rong: Poem of Parting (From Chinese)

Poem of Parting
By Zhang Rong
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

White clouds are gone  away from the hills.
Pure breezes have paused  beneath the pines.
You really want  to taste parting's grief?
Climb a lone tower  and watch the moon shine.

The Original:



ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ: "The Cycle of Death: A Muˁallaqa" (From Arabic)

A discussion of this poet, and the nature of the works attributed to him, may be found at this link in the introduction to the previous work of his that I translated. 
This poem represents my first attempt at translating a muˁallaqa. The muˁallaqāt are a collection of pre-Islamic poems especially esteemed by tradition. The origin of the term muˁallaqa has been much debated. Traditionally it is understood to mean "that which is suspended, hung up" and to refer to poems which were so illustrious as to earn the honor of being hung on the walls of the Kaˁba at Mecca. This explanation, which goes back to the tenth century and is part of common knowledge among educated Arabs even today, has largely been rejected by scholarship as entirely fictitious and based on little more than folk etymology. The most probable explanation for the term is that it was originally the title of the first section of the anthology compiled by Abū Zayd Al-Qurašī entitled Jamharatu Ašˁāri l-ˁArab, with the term al-muˁallaqāt meaning something like "the precious" (other sections have similar titles such as al-muntaqayāt "the chosen.") There was uncertainty for a long time as to precisely which poems were muˁallaqāt. The poem translated here is a muˁallaqa by some reckonings, but not most.  
This poem is an odd and, seemingly, rather disjointed thing, if one reads it against the background of later Arab tradition. But as it stands, and especially in light of the other poems attributed to ˁAbīd, a striking and memorable thematic (though not linear, let alone narrative) coherence emerges. The tragedy that has befallen the speaker's people, at the hands of a stronger party, is chiastically echoed in the final eagle-simile used to characterize the speaker's mount, in which a bird of prey strikes and brutalizes a fox, pillaging his heart to take to her eyrie. Nature does not give a damn about making anybody or anything happy. The poem that began by describing tribal lands depopulated and buddilat ahluhā wuḥūšan "their people replaced with beastly ones", ends with a simile of the strong preying upon the weak, in a circle of death (or "circle of life" for those at the top of the food chain like the eagle, or the monarchic predators we're supposed to root for in The Lion King.) It has happened before, and it will again. Lā badī'un wa-lā ˁajību "it is not unprecedented, and it is no wonder." 
As I mention in my introduction to ˁAbīd's lament, this poem here has a meter that (like the poem by the Unknown Woman) does not fit very easily into the khalīlian prosodic scheme. This is all the more the case if - as the Arab commentators did - one ignores the possibility that the meter is a somewhat loose form of rajaz, or at least related to it. The commentators, apparently unable to accept that so illustrious a poem should have such a low-prestige meter, took it to be in a form of basīṭ instead. The unusual nature of the meter, as well as its apparent derivation from a meter that later tradition held in extremely low esteem, argue for a very early date indeed for this poem's composition.  

The Cycle of Death: A Muˁallaqa 
By ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Barren of its people lies Malḥūb, 
 and Al-Quṭabiyyāt, and Al-Dhanūb.

Barren of its people too lies Rākis 
 and all of Al-Qalīb and Dhāt Firqayn
And ˁArda and Qafā Ḥibirr and Thuˁaylibāt. 
 Nowhere in the land do any of us remain.

The land has taken in the wild and beastly 
 instead of its own people. Things have changed.
A land inherited by death it is. 
 All who once lived there have been raided, razed,
Slain by the blade, or left to die alone, 
 and grey hair is the mark of survivors' shame.

The tears gush from your eyes, as if their ducts 
 were waterskins too hole-filled to retain
A single drop, or as cascades of water 
 down hillside gullies newly washed in rain,
Or as a torrent through a wādī bed 
 flooding the valley floor to a waterway,
Or a slight stream slow under bending palms 
 wending with wet murmur in their shade.

How can you yearn for flings of youth, when your hair 
 warns of a date with death in going gray?
If the land be changed, its folk displaced and scattered, 
 it is no wonder, nor theirs the first such fate,
Though all that mighty expanse be now deserted 
 though it now be home to drought and dearth and plague.
There's no hope so firm life will not belie it, 
 no happiness life will not wrest away.
No camel but is given to heirs in death, 
 no plunderer but is plundered for his take.
All who are gone on journeys may return 
 but all who are gone in death have passed away.

Is a barren womb the equal of the fertile? 
 Is the failed pillager equal to him who gains?
Prosper however you will. Sometimes the weak 
 achieve, and sometimes the skillful are tricked astray.
Men warn not him who will not heed the warnings 
 of Fate. To teach of wisdom is to fail
Without the heart-born gift of disposition. 
 How often has a friend become a hater.

Give aid in any land you find yourself in,
 and say not to yourself "I am a stranger."
You can grow close with people from afar 
 and be cut off from closest of relations.
Man founders in deceit, all the age of his life. 
 Torture for him is a life into old age.

Many a stretch of slime-aged standing water 
 I've reached through deathly, terrifying wastes,
The plumes of pigeon carcasses strewn about. 
 The frenzied heart heaves fearful of the place.
I passed it on my weary way in worry, 
 I and my brawny mount in the morning haze,
My mount: a camel, onager-swift, strong-spined 
 her withers smooth as a dune on a windless day,
A nine-year tush has replaced her seven-year tooth, 
 not too young or too old, in the prime of age   
Like a wild ass gone rushing through the reeds, 
 dark-furred with fight-scars round the neck and face.
Or like an oryx in his prime that feeds 
 on bindweed1, the northwind round him wrapped and raging. 

But that was an age ago. I see myself 
 born by a swift, big-bodied mare again
Her frame firm to perfection, and her forelocks 
 cleaving apart in the clearing of her face,
Oil-fluid her every movement, her veins asleep, 
 with a lithely gliding supple healthy shape. 
She seems an eagle ready for the hunt, 
 to fill her nest with hearts plucked from her prey,
Who spends the night perched high upon a rock 
 like an old woman looking for her babies. 

Then there she is in the piercing cold at dawn, 
 hoarfrost adrip from her feathers agleam with day.
She glimpses a meaty fox out in the distance, 
 nothing between them but one barren waste. 
She shakes frost off her feathers, then shakes herself 
 alert, preparing to launch out for the take,
Then launches aloft, swift as a hungry spear,
 aiming in one sharp swipe to fell her prey. 
He hears her wings, and lifts his tail in terror 
 as creatures will do only when afraid.
He spots her swoop, and crouches to a crawl  
 looks up at her and bears his eyes agape.
She takes him, flings him onto the brute rock. 
 Now the prey beneath her lies in crippling pain.
She lifts him up, then dashes him back down. 
 His face is scraped with stones. His body breaks.  
The talons tear into his flank. He squeals. 
 His breast is pierced. His heart her food. No escape. 


1 - The term bindweed is my translation of Arabic ruḵāmā. The word is obscure to the commentators who merely describe it as some sort of white bulbous plant. However, ruḵāmā (or ruḵēmā) in the usage of modern Arabian Bedouins refers to the convolvulus cephalopodus (c.f. James T. Mandaville, Bedouin Ethnobotany: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World), a type of bindweed, also known as the desert morning glory. And if this footnote isn't a prime specimen of my tendency toward philological excess, I don't know what is.

The Original:

أَقفَرَ مِن أَهلِهِ مَلحوبُ فَالقُطَبِيّاتُ فَالذُّنوبُ
فَراكِسٌ فَثُعَيلِباتٌ فَذاتُ فِرقَينِ فَالقَليبُ
فَعَردَةٌ فَقَفا حِبِرٍّ لَيسَ بِها مِنهُمُ عَريبُ
إِن بُدِّلَت أَهلُها وُحوشاً وَغَيَّرَت حالَها الخُطوبُ
أَرضٌ تَوارَثَها الجُدودُ فَكُلُّ مَن حَلَّها مَحروبُ
إِمّا قَتيلاً وَإِمّا هالِكاً وَالشَيبُ شَينٌ لِمَن يَشيبُ
عَيناكَ دَمعُهُما سَروبُ كَأَنَّ شَأنَيهِما شَعيبُ
واهِيَةٌ أَو مَعينٌ مُمعِنٌ أَو هَضبَةٌ دونَها لُهوبُ
أَو فَلَجٌ ما بِبَطنِ وادٍ لِلماءِ مِن بَينِهِ سُكوبُ
أَو جَدوَلٌ في ظِلالِ نَخلٍ لِلماءِ مِن تَحتِهِ قَسيبُ
تَصبو وَأَنَّى لَكَ التَّصابِي أَنّى وَقَد راعَكَ المَشيبُ
إِن تَكُ حالَت وَحُوِّلَ أَهلُها فَلا بَديءٌ وَلا عَجيبُ
أَو يَكُ أَقفَرَ مِنها جَوُّها وَعادَها المَحلُ وَالجُدوبُ
فَكُلُّ ذي نِعمَةٍ مَخلوسٌ وَكُلُّ ذي أَمَلٍ مَكذوبُ
وَكُلُّ ذي إِبِلٍ مَوروثٌ وَكُلُّ ذي سَلَبٍ مَسلوبُ
وَكُلُّ ذي غَيبَةٍ يَؤوبُ وَغائِبُ المَوتِ لا يَؤوبُ
أَعاقِرٌ مِثلُ ذاتِ رِحمٍ أَم غَانِمٌ مِثلُ مَن يَخيبُ
أَفلِحْ بِمَا شِئتَ قَد يُبلَغُ بالضَّعفِ وَقَد يُخدَعُ الأَرِيبُ
لاَ يَعِظُ النَّاسُ مَن لاَ يَعِظِ الدَّهرُ وَلا يَنفَعُ التَلبيبُ
إِلّا سَجِيّاتِ ما القُلوبِ وَكَم يَصيرَنَّ شانِئاً حَبيبُ
سَاعِد بِأَرضٍ تَكُونُ فِيهَا وَلا تَقُل إِنَّنِي غَريبُ
قَد يوصَلُ النازِحُ النائي وَقَد يُقطَعُ ذو السُهمَةِ القَريبُ
وَالمَرءُ مَا عَاشَ فِي تَكذِيبٍ طولُ الحَياةِ لَهُ تَعذيبُ
بَل رُبَّ ماءٍ وَرَدتُ آجِنٍ سَبيلُهُ خائِفٌ جَديبُ
ريشُ الحَمامِ عَلى أَرجائِهِ لِلقَلبِ مِن خَوفِهِ وَجيبُ
قَطَعتُهُ غُدوَةً مُشيحاً وَصاحِبي بادِنٌ خَبوبُ
عَيرانَةٌ مُؤجَدٌ فَقارُها كَأَنَّ حارِكَها كَثيبُ
أَخلَفَ ما بازِلاً سَديسُها لا حِقَّةٌ هِي وَلا نَيوبُ
كَأَنَّها مِن حَميرِ غابٍ جَونٌ بِصَفحَتِهِ نُدوبُ
أَو شَبَبٌ يَحفِرُ الرُخامى تَلُفُّهُ شَمأَلٌ هُبوبُ
فَذاكَ عَصرٌ وَقَد أَراني تَحمِلُني نَهدَةٌ سُرحوبُ
مُضَبَّرٌ خَلقُها تَضبيراً يَنشَقُّ عَن وَجهِها السَبيبُ
زَيتِيَّةٌ ناعِمٌ عُروقُها وَلَيِّنٌ أَسرُها رَطيبُ
كَأَنَّها لِقوَةٌ طَلوبُ تُخزَنُ في وَكرِها القُلوبُ
باتَت عَلى إِرَمٍ عَذوباً كَأَنَّها شَيخَةٌ رَقوبُ
فَأَصبَحَت في غَداةِ قِرَّةٍ يَسقُطُ عَن ريشِها الضَريبُ
فَأَبصَرَت ثَعلَباً مِن ساعَةٍ وَدونَهُ سَبسَبٌ جَديبُ
فَنَفَضَت ريشَها وَاِنتَفَضَت وَهيَ مِن نَهضَةٍ قَريبُ
يَدِبُّ مِن حِسِّها دَبيباً وَالعَينُ حِملاقُها مَقلوبُ
فَنَهَضَت نَحوَهُ حَثيثَةً وَحَرَدَت حَردَةً تَسيبُ
فَاِشتالَ وَاِرتاعَ مِن حَسيسِها وَفِعلَهُ يَفعَلُ المَذؤوبُ
فَأَدرَكَتهُ فَطَرَّحَتهُ وَالصَيدُ مِن تَحتِها مَكروبُ
فَجَدَّلَتهُ فَطَرَّحَتهُ فَكَدَّحَت وَجهَهُ الجَبوبُ
يَضغو وَمِخلَبُها في دَفِّهِ لا بُدَّ حَيزومُهُ مَنقوبُ

Jaufré Rudel: Joy and Love Afar (From Occitan)

Philology is not much in vogue these days. At least, not in the English-speaking world. Yet when it comes to medieval and ancient texts, I seem to be part translator, part long-winded commentator, and part philologically-obsessed editor. I have come to increasingly accept this about myself, much as one must accept the passing of youth, the passing of air or the passing of a kidney stone. I had set out to write a brief two-to-three paragraph introduction to the song here translated. But it seems to have mushroomed into about five printed pages worth of philological, editorial and comparative literary divagation about Islamic literatures, modern Occitan and the history of troubadour studies.
An weird little story is found in Jaufré Rudel's vida, or biography. It tells how he fell in love with the countess of Tripoli simply by hearing about her from pilgrims, which inspired him not only to sing songs about her ("with great melody but poor words" ab bon sons, ab paubre motz) but to go on Crusade across the sea to try and see her. But he took gravely ill at sea so that his dying body had to be brought to an inn in Tripoli. The countess, having heard of this, came to see him in his last moments, and gave him the joy of dying in the arms of his lady love, seeing her for the first time, after which, she became a nun in posthumous fidelity to her one-time beloved.

This unworldly little chain of improbabilities, seemingly drawn mostly from medieval stock commonplaces, fired the romantic blood of nineteenth century Europeans. Given what an extremely combustible substance romantic blood tends to be, this is unsurprising. What may be more of a shock, or rather more of an indictment, is that even medievalists took the tale to be basically factual until Gaston Paris set them straight, also disposing of the general reliability of Occitan troubadour biographies in the process. Yet even then, the search continued for some lucky lady referent, some real unseen woman of historical or literary note, to bear the dubious honor of being Rudel's Amor Lonhdana.

To my mind, the basic value of the vida, which one ought not to ignore, is that it suggests not only that some audiences as early as two centuries after Rudel's death found his lyrics less than appealing aesthetically (with their "good melodies but poor words"), but also just how peculiar they must have found their substance. The interpretative knot which the vida twists itself into by trying to understand Jaufré's songs in literal terms seems to me a masterpiece of creative un-imagination which made the songs all the more memorable to medieval audiences, motivated as it was by the kind of textual intractability which once fostered the akhbār on pre-Islamic poets, and would centuries later stoke the minds of Biblical philologists.

Modern audiences may find the vida to be much more fanciful than the song corpus it attempts to explain. Still, it is not an entirely straightforward matter to determine what the "love afar" (amor de lonh, amor lonhdana, amors de tèrra lonhdana), which Rudel sings about even is (nor, as I would argue, does it even matter quite so much as one might think.) It is still occasionally taken to be a woman, one which the singer has never seen and perhaps never will. Yet Rudel is peculiarly vague about the object of his love, and also contradictory, such that some have considered her to be a woman of dream visions, or a mere set piece abstracted from the "princesse lointaine" trope found sporadically in Old Spanish and Old French literature.

Moreover, transcendent and temporal love seem to heavily inflect one another in Rudel's songs, with a heavy undertone of Crusading (that he did take up the cross for the Holy Land is one of the few things about his life for which there is external evidence.) Thus other incorporeal and even inanimate candidates for the "love afar" have been identified including not merely "love of God" but the Crusades themselves, the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Land, the Christian Paradise and even Helen of Troy (as a literary trope, obviously, not an object of fanciful necrophilia.) The broader generic question of whether Rudel's love was "religious or profane" has also been a cause in whose name many a valiant scholar's ink has been tragically shed. (One would do well to recall how close to the heart of lyric poetry hymnody was in the early Middle Ages, a matter all too often forgotten in the disciplinary crevice between Late Latin and Medieval Romance literature.)

This and the other songs of Rudel have attracted much interest for all manner of reasons. But among the reasons why they interest me, one is somewhat odd. Perhaps it is odd (and more so today than it would have been 50 years ago) only because of how frequently, and increasingly, the study of literature is determined by the intellectual genealogies and taxonomies reflected in the divisions of university departments, and therefore students of Islamicate literatures seldom busy themselves much with the study of Occitan these days. For we have here a particularly crystalline example of the parallels with Islamicate court lyric that have long been sensed with regard to much troubadour song. Many of the issues at play with this song (confusion as to verse ordering, structural opacity, lack of clarity as to what the song is "really" supposed to be about and a good deal else both thematic and editorial) will ring a bell for anyone familiar with scholarship on classical Persian (and Persianate) court lyric, as well as the debates of orientalists regarding same in the previous century. Indeed, veterans of the badly-framed "religious or profane love" question that so troubled scholarship are downright legion among students and afficionados of Persian and Urdu poetry, including yours truly. To clone a phrase, you might say Rudel's stanzas are as beautiful as occident pearls at random sung.

The relationship of Andalusi, Sicilian and even Persian lyric to troubadour song (and also to Italian lyric) has long been a point of discussion. The scholarly debate on the matter is fascinating, albeit sometimes "fascinating" in a rather clinical sort of way. Generally it has gone in a crude vein of "who influenced whom and how" (or, mīn akhad min mīn as I once heard an Arab nationalist friend put it), sometimes with naked national or disciplinarian prejudices involved. Sometimes it has taken the form of more nuanced speculations about the influence of the courtly melting pot of Frederick II. Apart from the obviously porous boundaries between Romance and Arabic oral culture in medieval Iberia, I'm inclined to grant the high plausibility of the latter speculations, as well as the general fact that troubadours and joglars traveled widely, from France to Spain to Germany to Hungary to Malta to Palestine, and must have had a considerable impact on their own. Explanations of this kind are in order in cases where the similarities go to the point of poets using the same peculiar metaphors for the same referents, as is the case especially with Italian and Arabic poetry, or of documentable points of contact however vague (e.g. Petrarch's mysterious comments about Arab poets.) But something more general seems to me to be at work, beyond specific sites of "cross-pollination" and not least because it would be rather more difficult, though not impossible, to rope Persian lyric into this filiation than the Andalusi or the Sicilian.

Julie Scott Meisami writes this germane pair of sentences in her Structure and Meaning in Medieval Arabic and Persian Poetry:
Since the medieval literatures of Europe and the Middle East present similar problems in many respects (not least because they are medieval), the study of one may shed light on another, while reference to more familiar traditions may make the “exotic” ones more accessible to those unfamiliar with them. The medieval world was not fragmented by twentieth-century geopolitical or linguistic boundaries; despite differences of language, faith, and culture, it was far more homogeneous than traditional scholarship would have us believe. 
Equally relevant, but in a different way is what Meisami says later on the same page:
In the West, the “experience” of the speaker (typically identified with the poet) is considered primary; that this is not obviously so in Arabic or Persian has led to the belief that Islamic literatures place no value on the individual or on individual experience.
I would argue that it is precisely the preoccupation with the speaker's experience that has led so much scholarship on Rudel's songs until recently to go off the rails. Particularly since he is a "western" poet, he must be made to fit the western ideas (but especially Romantic and post-Romantic ideas) of what it is that poets express, and the relationship of that expression to their reality. L. Topsfield certainly seems to me on the right track in pointing out that Rudel's songs and those of his contemporaries comes from a period characterized by "a seeking and experimental type of poetry...not normally tied down by courtly ideas of behavior, [which] is often more abstract than worldly in intention and is concerned more with the personal quest for joy and the absolute ideal of an ultimate happiness than with conformity to social convention." For Jaufré Rudel's preoccupation with an amor de lonh is much easier to understand as a function of his particular approach to the religious and ethical dimensions of his craft, in response to the more proximate (and less chaste) love that others in his day sang of (or, as in Marcabru's case, viciously sang against.) Rupert T Pickens puts it well:
The quest for an historical amor de lonh is futile and, in my opinion, wrongheaded. The identity of a woman as the object of the troubadour's passion can add nothing to our understanding of his poetry; on the contrary, the poetic content of his work is diminished when attention is deflected away from the songs themselves...[L]ove is a creation of the poet's imagination and...the poems are jeux d'esprit.
Now, then, about the Occitan text.

A confession of editorial license: the arrangement of the stanzas, though not without textual warrant, is simply the one I liked best. The "original" (if it even makes sense to think in these terms) ordering of stanzas is probably impossible to authenticate, from the available manuscripts of this song. This is in the first place because not all of the best manuscripts even have all of the stanzas, and secondly (and relatedly) because the variation in attested stanza ordering for this song is so great that it is unlikely that stanzaic order remained stable anymore than the number of stanzas themselves. After his death, stanzas of Rudel's song were probably rearranged, or excised by singers according to taste and the exigencies of performance, in addition to the fallibility of memory, and there seems to be a small amount of evidence, albeit indirect, that troubadours expected their work to be modified in transmission, at least some of the time. (I am reminded of the variant orderings found in the lyrics of Hāfiz.) Unlike some other Occitan lyrics, there is little sign of either ring composition or linear development here, so much as variations on a theme developed in various directions. The ordering of stanzas might easily be changed about depending on how one interpreted the amor de lonh.

My "edition" of the original text is a somewhat eccentric thing. Since my last translation from Old Occitan, for reasons made more explicit in this post, I have made some serious effort to familiarize myself more with Modern Occitan. I have taken a cue from Bianchi's and Romieu's La Lenga Del Trobar: Precis de Grammatica d'Occitan Ancian as to the value which Old Occitan texts may have for the speaker, or learner, of the modern language, and have regularized the text's orthography with the modern nòrma classica as a guide, not because I think modern Occitan readers are so dim that <can> will be unintelligible to them unless regularized to quand or quant, but because unless one is directly reproducing a manuscript version, which I'm not, I see little point in maintaining an old and hugely variable orthography. Moreover, partial modernization and systematization of orthography in texts for non-specialist modern readers is a fairly routine practice for other medieval languages (e.g. Middle French, Middle English, Old Spanish) with modern descendants, and I see no reason not to do this with Old Occitan. Thus for example, intervocalic [s] and [z] are distinguished by -ss- and -s- respectively, open o and e in stressed syllables are marked by a grave accent, and close o and e by an acute accent in non-final position. Where original pronunciation is clearly at issue, I leave irregularities as they are. For example, <chans> in the original is regularized as chants, and not cants. Forms with palatalized j/ch- and with unpalatalized g/c- before -a seem to have alternated freely in the version of Old Occitan in which many of the troubadours composed, presumably sometimes to suit taste or effect as in the alliteration of jamais and jausirai here. (One might compare American poets' willingness during the twentieth century to rhyme "again" with both "men" and "pain", and "been" with both "seen" and "fin", and the frequent preservation of a dual pronunciation in recitations.)

As for my recording of the text in Old Occitan, further considerations apply. According to the ablest analyses of available evidence, many alternating features of the literary language (or, to borrow an Arabist's term which may be more appropriate, the "poetic koiné") reflected in later copies of the troubadour songs, if viewed in light of Modern Occitan dialect geography, correspond to a series of modern isoglosses which all converge more or less within ancient Languedoc province. I thought therefore of using features that are known, or thought, to be specific to medieval Lengadocian. There are limits to how certain an inference can be drawn from the data however. Although many of the dialectal divisions of Modern Occitan are indubitably very old (Latin etymological evidence shows that at least some predate the recorded use of Occitan as a literary language) the dialect geography of the 11th and 12th centuries can not necessarily be inferred from that of the 19th and early 20th. Moreover, as the Old Occitan of song was not a standardized literary language but rather a supraregional oral norm that appears to have been peculiar to lyric verse (much as the supraregional English of modern rock and rap has a detectably Southern American or Black American coloring, even when it comes out of the mouth of the welshman Tom Jones) which nonetheless admitted a large amount of phonological flexibility, regionalism is probably not the best way to look at it.

In my recording of the Old Occitan, I have opted for something close to what can be deduced of the 12th century lyric language, and which wound up similar in many respects to the pronunciation found in any manual of Old Occitan. The peculiarities that stand out for many (particularly modern Occitan speakers) will be at least three: first the close <ó> in heavily stressed syllables pronounced [o], with the [u] pronunciation limited to unstressed syllables and rarely-stressed monosyllables, and second, the pronunciation of <ç> and <c> before <e, i> as [ts] rather than [s]. (Both were to change in the subsequent century, judging by the Tolosan literary pronunciation reflected in the prescriptions of Guilhèm Molinièr's Leys d'Amors.) The third peculiarity, included on deductive and orthographic grounds, is my velarization of the /l/ as [ł] in coda position. This to me seemed justified by scribal evidence, as well as the data from modern Occitan dialects, a few of which have, and many more of which bear evidence of once having had, a velarized [ł] (whether in coda position as in standard UK English, or in general as in American English or standard Catalan.) 

You will notice that I have used the word "song" rather than "poem" above to refer to Jaufré Rudel's work. This is intentional. For this was in fact a song, with all that implies, and indeed the music for it still survives. I had considered singing the song on the recording. But it quickly became apparent that I did not have the training necessary to sing the somewhat complicated melody correctly, and tolerably, over seven stanzas. But the internet boasts a wealth of people doing their own renditions of this song. Here's one that sticks fairly closely to the recorded melody (the singer, judging by her pronunciation, is a native Catalan speaker). And here's another sung by the musicologist Elizabeth Aubrey, ripped from the CD accompanying William D. Paden's Introduction to Old Occitan, a wonderful book which I used to learn Old Occitan all those years ago. (Aubrey's performance will naturally be de-linked from this page upon request of copyright holders.)

Joy and Love Afar
By Jaufré Rudel
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Old Occitan

Now that the days grow long in May
I hear birds' gentling song afar
When from that song I turn away
My mind turns to my love afar
Bent with desire — downcast and dour
No springbird's song nor whitethorn flower
Can touch me more than winter's chill

Never will I find joy on earth
In love without my love afar
Who shines above all other worth
Above all others near and far
Her virtue reigns so true and pure
I'd die a prisoner of war
In Saracen lands to serve her will

Half grieved half joyful will I go
Once having seen my love afar
When shall we meet? I do not know
For our two lands lie far too far
So many paths by land and sea
What lies ahead I cannot see
But all things follow God's good will

What bliss for love of God will be
There in the lodge of love afar
I'll lodge with her if she wants me
Although a stranger from afar
O discourse will be dear the day
I come her love from faraway
To hear love's words and feel its thrill

I call him Lord who I believe
Shall let me see my love afar
Though for each pleasure I receive
Two ills since she remains so far.
I'd go a pilgrim to that shrine
To see my dust-dark tunic shine
Reflected in those bright eyes still

God who made all things swift and still
And fashioned me my love afar
Grant me a way — I have the will
Soon to behold my love afar
In such a truly pleasant place
That chamber wall and garden space
Will seem a palace on a hill

He speaks the truth who says I yearn
And lust for naught but love afar
What joy on earth would I not spurn
Just to enjoy my love afar?
But what I want is barred with hate
My godfather1 has fixed my fate
To love well and be treated ill

Oh what I want I'll never find
God damn that godfather of mine
Who doomed my love to bring me ill

1- An allusion to the belief that children's lives are influenced by the fate of their godparents.

The Original:

Amor de Lonh
Jaufré Rudèl

Lanquand li jorn son lonc en mai
M'es bèls dòutz chants d'ausèls de lonh
E quand me soi partitz de lai
Remémbra·m d'un amor de lonh
Vau de talan embroncs e clis
Si que chants ni flors d'albespis
No·m platz plus que l'ivèrns gelatz

Jamais d'amor no·m jausirai
Si no·m jau d'est' amor de lonh
que melhor ni gensor no·n sai
vas nulha part ni près ni lonh
Tant es sos prètz verais e fis
Que lai e·l reng dels Sarrasis
fos ièu per lièis chaitius clamatz

Iratz e jausents m'en partrai
quand veirai cest' amor de lonh
mas non sai córas la veirai
car tant son nòstras tèrras lonh
Assatz i a pòrtz e camis
e per açò no·n soi devis
Mas tot sia com a Dièu platz

Be'm parra jòis quand li querrai
Per amor Dièu l'albèrc de lonh
E s'a lièis platz albergarai
Près de lièis si be·m soi de lonh
Adoncs parra·l parlaments fis
Quand drutz lónhdas er tant vesis
Qu'ab bèls digs jausirai solatz

Be tenc lo Senhor per verai
Per qu'ièu veirai l'amor de lonh
Mas per un be que m'en eschai
N'ai dos mals, car tant m'es de lonh
Ay! Car no fui lai pelegris
Si que mos fustz e mos tapis
Fos pels sièus bèls uèlhs remiratz

Dièus qui fetz tot quant ve ni vai
E formèt cest' amor de lonh
Mi don poder que còr ièu n'ai
Qu'en brèu veia l'amor de lonh
Veraiament en lòcs aisis
Si que la cambra e·l jardis
Mi ressemblès tostemps palatz

Ver ditz qui m'apèla lechai
e desirón d'amor de lonh
que nulhs autres jòis tant no·m plai
Com jausiments d'amor de lonh
Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs
Qu'enaiçi·m fadèt mos pairis
Qu'ièu amès e non fos amatz

Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs
Totz sia mauditz lo pairis
que·m fadèt qu'ièu non fos amatz


The Vida of Jaufre Rudel

Jaufre Rudel of Blaya was a very noble man, and lord of Blaya. He fell in love with the countess of Tripoli, sight unseen, because of all the good things that he heard pilgrims tell of her on their way back from Antioch. He made many songs about her with good melodies but poor lyrics.
Out of desire to see her, he took up the cross and went to sea, but was taken ill while on board and was brought, near to death, to an inn in Tripoli. This was made known to the countess, and she came to his bed to see him, and took him into her arms. And he, having realized that she was the countess, at once recovered the faculties of hearing and smell, and praised God who had sustained his life until he could see her; and so he died in her arms.
And she had him buried with high honors in the house of the Templars, and became a nun that same day out of grief over his death.

La Vida de Jaufré Rudèl

Jaufrés Rudèls de Blaia si fo mòut gentils om e fo prínces de Blaia. Et enamorèt de la comtéssa de Trípoli ses veser, per lo bon qu'el n'ausi dire als pelerins que vénguen d'Antiòcha. E fetz de lèis mains vèrs ab bons sons, ab paubre motz.
E per voluntat de lèis veser, el se crosèt e se mes en mar; e pres lo malautía en la nau e fo conduch a Trípoli en un albèrc per mòrt. E fo fait saber a la comtéssa et ela venc ad el, al son lièit, e pres lo antre sos bratz. E saup qu'ela èra la comtéssa e mantenent recobrèt l'ausir e·l flairar, e lausèt Dièu que l'avia la vida sostenguda tro qu'el l'aguès vista; et enaiçí el morí entre sos bratz.
Et ela lo fetz a grand honor sepelir en la maión del Temple; e pòis en aquel dia ela se rendèt morga per la dolor qu'ela n'ac de la mòrt de lui.

Unknown Woman: Lament for a Man Dear to Her (From Arabic)

 This short poem which seems to be pre-Islamic, is preserved in Abū Tammām's Ḥamāsa. The attribution found in the Ḥamāsa is probably false, and the only clues as to the poem's provenance would seem to be the features of the text itself. It is also an extremely short piece, and therefore one is faced with a more acute version of the same question one is always faced with in dealing with a piece that survives only in the Ḥamāsa: do we have the entire piece as Abū Tammām knew it?
 The answer, obviously, is that we don't know. It may well be that some material has fallen out after line 6. But the poem stands well as is.
 The reader will note from the line numbers that I have made minor adjustments to the ordering of lines based on what seemed to me to make good sense, and what made for the strongest poem. This may upset the purist, who is perfectly entitled to see this as inexcusable editorial violence on the part of a translator. Those who wish to read the poem with the line-order preserved in the Ḥamāsa may do so by reading the lines in strictly numerical order.
 Like Arab commentators I find it difficult to shake the sense that the man being lamented is a ṣuˁlūk. (The word is usually translated as "outlaw" though the term "desperado" conveys more of the Arabic word's flavor.) A ṣuˁlūk was a man who had been exiled by his tribe and was forced to eke out a painful, empty-bellied and often short life on his own. If one is to believe the sources (and here the general picture seems to me more likely to have some truth to it than any specific instances), despite the terrible consequences of exile, it was not infrequent. Sometimes the man in question may have simply been an obnoxious and intolerable person too maladjusted for communitarian tribal life. In most cases, though, it would have been for serious crimes which made the man impossible to trust or a liability to retain, acts which might would bring shame upon, or even incur outside aggression against, the entire tribe if the individual responsible was not cast out. If, for example, a man were to kill a member of another tribe in a way that his community could not support, then he might have to be exiled. To keep him around would be to condone his action and therefore essentially an act of war.
 A word on meter and rhyme is now in order, if only because it bears on how this poem is to be dated. Arab commentators take each rhyme to be a verse-end, with each verse so defined consisting of two hemistichs each with the metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃−. This already falls outside of the canonical khalīlian metrical scheme, although this poem is traditionally reckoned as being in a rare form of madīd. (It would in fact be unique, not rare, as it is the only Early Arabic specimen of this peculiar meter.)
 However, one need not even assume that the rhymes mark verse-ends. They could just as easily mark the boundary between hemistichs, and the rhymes could be a form of taṣrīˁ  whose scope covers the entirety of the poem. A number of syntactic parallelisms do suggest to me that this was the division according to which this poem was composed. If one classifies the lines this way, then the end-rhyme need not necessarily be scanned as the pausal form -ak but as -aka and the lines could therefore have a metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃⋃⋃, which is at an even greater remove from classical Arab metrical theory. The rhyming lines can be divided into internal hemistichs (as I do in my romanization and in my spacing of the translation), which to my mind gives it a very tense, disjointed and discombobulated texture.
 Poems whose meter falls outside traditional Khalīlian classification are usually quite early, and consistent rhyme across hemistichs seems to have been the norm in archaic Arabic as well as old south Arabian verse, as in the recently discovered rhymed Qānya inscription dating to the 1st century AD. This seems to me good reason to at least argue for an early composition, despite its late and - as with the rest of the Ḥamāsa - rather suspicious attestation.
 I have included Friedrich Rückert's German translation of this poem after my romanization of the original. Rückert's translations of Arabic poetry are impressive. Though not as celebrated as his translations from Persian, they deserve appreciation by anyone who enjoys poetry and can read German.

Lament for a Man Dear to Her
By an Unknown Woman (5th-6th century AD?)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the Arabic

 He roamed in search of refuge
 From death and now has died  
 I want to know what happened,
 What wrongly took your life 

 Were you sick with none to tend you,
 Or slain asleep at night?
 Or was your stroke of chance
 The desert's lethal strike?

 Wherever a young man roams
 The Fates in ambush lie
 Long did your every gain
 Come at hardship's price

 All things are murderous
 When you come to your Time
 What good that young men have 
 Did you lack in your life? 

 Disaster deafens you
 To questions that I cry
10 I must steel myself for you
 Will never again reply 

11 Would that my heart could face
 Your death for a moment's time
12 Would that the Fates had spared
 Your life instead of mine 


L4: The word sulak in the original is only attested with the meaning "young partridge", which makes its presence in this context rather puzzling. Rückert in the commentary following his German translation of this poem admits that it is a word "that I don't know how to explain" (das ich nicht erklären weiß.) My reading takes sulak as a word derived from the root s-l-k (c.f. salaka "he traveled by road, made his way") with the hypothetical sense "wanderer, trekker" and assumes that the line refers to woes befalling a traveler in the desert.

The Original:

طافَ يَبغي نَجْوَةً مَن هَلَاكٍ فهَلَك
لَيتَ شِعْري ضَلَّةً أيّ شيءٍ قَتَلَك
أَمريضٌ لم تُعَدْ أَم عدوٌّ خَتَلَك
أم تَوَلّى بِكَ ما غالَ في الدهْرِ السُّلَك
والمنايا رَصَدٌ للفَتىً حيثُ سَلَك
طالَ ما قد نِلتَ في غَيرِ كَدٍّ أمَلَك
كلُّ شَيءٍ قاتلٌ حينَ تلقَى أجَلَك
أيّ شيء حَسَنٍ لفتىً لم يَكُ لَك
إِنَّ أمراً فادِحاً عَنْ جوابي شَغَلَك
سأُعَزِّي النفْسَ إذ لم تُجِبْ مَن سأَلَك
ليتَ قلبي ساعةً صَبْرَهُ عَنكَ مَلَك
ليتَ نَفْسي قُدِّمَت للمَنايا بَدَلَك


Ṭāfa yabɣī najwatan  
 min halākin fahalak
Layta šiˁrī ḍallatan  
 ayyu šay'in qatalak

Amarīḍun lam tuˁad   
 am ˁaduwwun xatalak
Am tawallâ bika mā  
 ɣāla fī al-dahri al-sulak

Wal-manāyā raṣadun  
 lil-fatâ ḥayθu salak
Ṭāla mā qad nilta fī  
 ɣayri kaddin amalak

Kullu šay'in qātilun  
 ħīna talqâ ajalak
Ayyu šay'in ħasanin  
 lifatân lam yaku lak

Inna amran fādiħan  
 ˁan jawābī šaɣalak
Sa'uˁazzī al-nafsa ið  
 lam tujib man sa'alak

Layta qalbī sāˁatan  
 ṣabrahū ˁanka malak
Layta nafsī quddimat  
 lil-manāyā badalak 

Die Mutter des Ta'abbata Scharran

Rettung suchend schweift' er um

vor dem Tod, dem nichts entflieht.
Wüßt ich, was den Untergang
dir gebracht, und welch Gebiet!
Ob du Kranker unbesucht
starbtest; ob dich Feind verriet;
Oder dich ein Unfall traf,
der die Bente stets ersieht.
Schicksal lauert überall
auf den Mann, wohin er zieht.
Was ist schön an einem Mann,
welches Gott nicht dir beschied!
Doch den Tod bringt Alles dir,
wo dich dein Verhängnis zieht.
Lange Zeit genoßest du
deinen Wunsch durch nichts bemüht.
Schwere Hindrung ist's, die nun
deine Antwort mir entzieht.
Dein entschlagen will ich mich,
weil weil mich deine Antwort flieht.
Ich das einen Augenblick
Ich des Grams um dich entriet'!
Ich daß dich vom Tod mein Leben
löste, des ich gerne biet'

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