SHORT ARAB POEMS
A Friend's Birthday
When born, in tears we saw thee drowned,
While thine assembled friends around,
With smiles their joy confessed;
So live, that at thy parting hour,
They may the flood of sorrow pour,
And thou in smiles be dressed!
Whoever has recourse to thee
Can hope for health no more,
He's launched into perdition's sea,
A sea without a shore.
Where'er admission thou canst gain,
Where'er thy phiz can pierce,
At once the Doctor they retain,
The mourners and the hearse.
Lines to Haroun and Yahia
Th' affrighted sun ere while he fled,
And hid his radiant face in night;
A cheerless gloom the world o'erspread—
But Haroun came and all was bright.
Again the sun shoots forth his rays,
Nature is decked in beauty's robe—
For mighty Haroun's scepter sways,
And Yahia's arm sustains the globe.
—Isaac Al Mouseli
The Ruin of the Barmecides
No, Barmec! Time hath never shown
So sad a change of wayward fate;
Nor sorrowing mortals ever known
A grief so true, a loss so great.
Spouse of the world! Thy soothing breast
Did balm to every woe afford;
And now no more by thee caressed,
The widowed world bewails her lord.
To Taher Ben Hosien
A pair of right hands and a single dim eye
Must form not a man, but a monster, they cry:
Change a hand to an eye, good Taher, if you can,
And a monster perhaps may be chang'd to man.
Websites and Resources: Islamic, Arabic and Persian Literature Islamic and Arabic Literature at Cornell University guides.library.cornell.edu/ArabicLiterature ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook ; Wikipedia article on Islamic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Arabic Literature Wikipedia ; Wikipedia article on Persian Literature Wikipedia ; Persian literature at Encyclopædia Britannica britannica.com ; Persian Literature & Poetry at parstimes.com /www.parstimes.com ; Arabic Poetry web.archive.org ; Arabic Poetry from Princeton princeton.edu/~arabic/poetry ; Thousand and One Nights wollamshram.ca/1001 ; 1001 Nights fairytalez.com ; Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Burton, gutenberg.org ; Islamic Stories islamicstories.com
On A Little Man With A Very Large Beard
How can thy chin that burden bear?
Is it all gravity to shock?
Is it to make the people stare?
And be thyself a laughing stock?
When I behold thy little feet
After thy beard obsequious run,
I always fancy that I meet
Some father followed by his son.
A man like thee scarce e'er appeared—
A beard like thine—where shall we find it?
Surely thou cherishest thy beard
In hopes to hide thyself behind it.
—Isaac Ben Khalif
Poems by Caliphs
Charles F. Horne wrote: “Many of the Arab caliphs inclined to the gaieties of life rather than to their religious duties, and kept many poets around them. Indeed some of the caliphs themselves were poets: The Caliph Walid composed music as well as verse; and was hailed by his immediate companions as a great artist. His neglect of religion, however, was so reckless as to rouse the resentment of his people, and he lost his throne and life.” [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., “The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East”, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 205-234]
To A Lady Blushing
Leila, whene'er I gaze on thee
My altered cheek turns pale,
While upon thine, sweet maid, I see
A deep'ning blush prevail.
Leila, shall I the cause impart
Why such a change takes place?
The crimson stream deserts my heart,
To mantle on thy face.
—The Caliph Radhi Billah
To the Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid
Religion's gems can ne'er adorn
The flimsy robe by pleasure worn;
Its feeble texture soon would tear,
And give those jewels to the air.
Thrice happy they who seek th' abode
Of peace and pleasure in their God!
Who spurn the world, its joys despise,
And grasp at bliss beyond the skies.
—Prince Ibrahim Ben Adham
To My Father by Caliph Yazid
Must then my failings from the shaft
Of anger ne'er escape?
And dost thou storm because I've quaff'd
The water of the grape?
That I can thus from wine be driv'n
Thou surely ne'er canst think—
Another reason thou hast giv'n
Why I resolve to drink.
'Twas sweet the flowing cup to seize,
'Tis sweet thy rage to see;
And first I drink myself to please;
And next—to anger thee.
—The Caliph Yazid
On The Vicissitudes Of Life
Mortal joys, however pure,
Soon their turbid source betray;
Mortal bliss, however sure,
Soon must totter and decay.
Ye who now, with footsteps keen,
Range through hope's delusive field,
Tell us what the smiling scene
To your ardent grasp can yield?
Other youths have oft before
Deemed their joys would never fade,
Till themselves were seen no more
Swept into oblivion's shade.
Who, with health and pleasure gay,
E'er his fragile state could know,
Were not age and pain to say
Man is but the child of woe?
—The Caliph Radhi Billah
Song of Maisuna
The russet suit of camel's hair,
With spirits light, and eye serene,
Is dearer to my bosom far
Than all the trappings of a queen.
The humble tent and murmuring breeze
That whistles thro' its fluttering wall,
My unaspiring fancy please
Better than towers and splendid halls.
Th' attendant colts that bounding fly
And frolic by the litter's side,
Are dearer in Maisuna's eye
Than gorgeous mules in all their pride.
The watch-dog's voice that bays whene'er
A stranger seeks his master's cot,
Sounds sweeter in Maisuna's ear
Than yonder trumpet's long-drawn note.
The rustic youth unspoilt by art,
Son of my kindred, poor but free,
Will ever to Maisuna's heart
Be dearer, pamper'd fool, than thee.
—Maisuna, Wife to the Caliph Mowiah
Love and Women Poems
To My Mistress maid
To scorn me thus because I'm poor!
Canst thou a liberal hand upbraid
For dealing round some worthless ore ?
To spare's the wish of little souls,
The great but gather to bestow;
Yon current down the mountain rolls,
And stagnates in the swamp below. —Abu Tammam Habib
To a Female Cup-Bearer
Come, Leila, fill the goblet up,
Reach round the rosy wine,
Think not that we will take the cup
From any hand but thine.
A draught like this 'twere vain to seek,
No grape can such supply;
It steals its tint from Leila's cheek,
Its brightness from her eye.
—Abu Al Salam
Ah! I mourn no fancied wound,
Pangs too true this heart have wrung,
Since the snakes which curl around
Selim's brows my bosom stung.
Destined now to keener woes,
I must see the youth depart,
He must go, and as he goes
Rend at once my bursting heart.
Slumber may desert my bed,
'Tis not slumber's charms I seek—
'Tis the robe of beauty spread
O'er my Selim's rosy cheek.
To A Lady
No, Abla, no—when Selim tells
Of many an unknown grace that dwells
In Abla's face and mien,
When he describes the sense refined,
That lights thine eye and fills thy mind,
By thee alone unseen.
'Tis not that drunk with love he sees
Ideal charms, which only please
Through passion's partial veil,
'Tis not that flattery's glozing tongue
Hath basely framed an idle song,
But truth that breathed the tale.
Thine eyes unaided ne'er could trace
Each opening charm, each varied grace,
That round thy person plays;
Some must remain concealed from thee,
For Selim's watchful eye to see,
For Selim's tongue to praise.
One polished mirror can declare
That eye so bright, that face so fair,
That cheek which shames the rose;
But how thy mantle waves behind,
How float thy tresses on the wind,
Another only shows.
To My Favorite Mistress
I saw their jealous eyeballs roll,
I saw them mark each glance of mine,
I saw thy terrors, and my soul
Shared ev'ry pang that tortured thine.
In vain to wean my constant heart,
Or quench my glowing flame, they strove;
Each deep-laid scheme, each envious art,
But waked my fears for her I love.
'Twas this compelled the stern decree,
That forced thee to those distant towers,
And left me naught but love for thee,
To cheer my solitary hours.
Yet let not Abla sink deprest,
Nor separation's pangs deplore;
We meet not—'tis to meet more blest;
We parted—'tis to part no more.
—Saif Addaulet, Sultan of Aleppo
To His Female Companions
Though the peevish tongues upbraid,
Though the brows of wisdom scowl,
Fair ones here on roses laid,
Careless will we quaff the bowl.
Let the cup, with nectar crowned,
Through the grove its beams display,
It can shed a luster round,
Brighter than the torch of day.
Let it pass from hand to hand,
Circling still with ceaseless flight,
Till the streaks of gray expand
O'er the fleeting robe of night.
As night flits, she does but cry,
"Seize the moments that remain"—
Thus our joys with yours shall vie,
Tenants of .yon hallowed fane! —Rakeek
Poems on Mortality, Religion, and the Human Condition
Hail, chastening friend Adversity ! 'Tis thine
The mental ore to temper and refine,
To cast in virtue's mold the yielding heart,
And honor's polish to the mind impart.
Without thy wakening touch, thy plastic aid,
I'd lain the shapeless mass that nature made;
But formed, great artist, by thy magic hand,
I gleam a sword to conquer and command. —Abu Menbaa Carawash
Not always wealth, not always force
A splendid destiny commands;
The lordly vulture gnaws the corpse
That rots upon yon barren sands.
Nor want, nor weakness still conspires
To bind us to a sordid state;
The fly that with a touch expires
Sips honey from the royal plate.
—The Holy Imam Shafay
On Moderation In Our Pleasures
How oft does passion's grasp destroy
The pleasure that it strives to gain?
How soon the thoughtless course of joy
Is doomed to terminate in pain?
When prudence would thy steps delay,
She but restrains to make thee blest;
Whate'er from joy she lops away,
But heightens and secures the rest.
Wouldst thou a trembling flame expand,
That hastens in the lamp to die?
With careful touch, with sparing hand,
The feeding stream of life supply.
But if thy flask profusely sheds
A rushing torrent o'er the blaze,
Swift round the sinking flame it spreads,
And kills the fire it fain would raise.
—Abu Alcassim Ebn Tabataba
On The Incompatibility Of Pride And True Glory
Think not, Abdallah, pride and fame
Can ever travel hand in hand;
With breast opposed, and adverse aim,
On the same narrow path they stand.
Thus youth and age together meet,
And life's divided moments share;
This can't advance >till that retreat,
What's here increased is lessened there.
And thus the falling shades of night
Still struggle with the lucid ray,
And e'er they stretch their gloomy flight
Must win the lengthened space from day.
Caprices Of Fortune
Why should I blush that Fortune's frown
Dooms me life's humble paths to tread?
To live unheeded, and unknown?
To sink forgotten to the dead?
'Tis not the good, the wise, the brave,
That surest shine, or highest rise;
The feather sports upon the wave,
The pearl in ocean's cavern lies.
Each lesser star that studs the sphere
Sparkles with undiminish'd light;
Dark and eclipsed alone appear
The lord of day, the queen of night.
—Shems Almaali Cabus
On the Monks of Khabbet
Tenants of yon hallowed fane!
Let me your devotions share,
There increasing raptures reign—
None are ever sober there.
Crowded gardens, festive bowers
Ne'er shall claim a thought of mine;
You can give in Khabbet's towers—
Purer joys and brighter wine.
Though your pallid faces prove
How you nightly vigils keep,
'Tis but that you ever love
Flowing goblets more than sleep.
Though your eye-balls dim and sunk
Stream in penitential guise,
'Tis but that the wine you've drunk
Bubbles over from your eyes.
Life and Death
Maid of sorrow, tell us why
Sad and drooping hangs thy head?
Is it grief that bids thee sigh?
Is it sleep that fles thy bed? — Rais
Like sheep, we're doomed to travel o'er
The fated track to all assigned,
These follow those that went before,
And leave the world to those behind.
As the flock seeks the pasturing shade,
Man presses to the future day,
While death, amidst the tufted glade,
Like the dun robber, waits his prey.
On The Death Of A Son
Tyrant of man! Imperious Fate!
I bow before thy dread decree,
Nor hope in this uncertain state
To find a seat secure from thee.
Life is a dark, tumultuous stream,
With many a care and sorrow foul,
Yet thoughtless mortals vainly deem
That it can yield a limpid bowl.
Think not that stream will backward flow,
Or cease its destined course to keep;
As soon the blazing spark shall glow
Beneath the surface of the deep.
Believe not Fate at thy command
Will grant a meed she never gave;
As soon the airy tower shall stand,
That's built upon a passing wave.
Life is a sleep of threescore years,
Death bids us wake and hail the light,
And man, with all his hopes and fears,
Is but a phantom of the night.
—Ali Ben Muhammad Altahmany
Death Of Nedham Almolk
Thy virtues famed through every land,
Thy spotless life, in age and youth,
Prove thee a pearl, by nature's hand,
Formed out of purity and truth.
Too long its beams of Orient light
Upon a thankless world were shed;
Allah has now revenged the slight,
And called it to its native bed.
Crucifixion of Ebn Bakiah
Whate'er thy fate, in life and death,
Thou'rt doomed above us still to rise,
Whilst at a distance far beneath
We view thee with admiring eyes.
The gazing crowds still round thee throng,
Still to thy well-known voice repair,
As when erewhile thy hallow'd tongue
Poured in the mosque the solemn prayer.
Still, generous Vizier, we survey
Thine arms extended o'er our head,
As lately, in the festive day,
When they were stretched thy gifts to shed.
Earth's narrow boundaries strove in vain
To limit thy aspiring mind,
And now we see thy dust disdain
Within her breast to be confin'd.
The earth's too small for one so great,
Another mansion thou shalt have—
The clouds shall be thy winding sheet,
The spacious vault of heaven thy grave. —Abu Hassan Alanbary
To Cassim Obio Allah
Poor Cassim! thou art doomed to mourn
By destiny's decree;
Whatever happens it must turn
To misery for thee.
Two sons hadst thou, the one thy pride,
The other was thy pest;
Ah, why did cruel death decide
To snatch away the best?
No wonder thou shouldst droop with woe,
Of such a child bereft;
But now thy tears must doubly flow,
For, ah! the other's left.
—Ali Ibn Ahmed
Nature and Animals
Fire: A Riddle
The loftiest cedars I can eat,
Yet neither paunch nor mouth have I,
I storm whene'er you give me meat,
Whene'er you give me drink I die.
Lowering as Barkaidy's face
The wintry night came in,
Cold as the music of his bass,
And lengthened as his chin.
Sleep from my aching eyes had fed,
And kept as far apart,
As sense from Ebn Fahdi's head,
Or virtue from his heart.
The dubious paths my footsteps balked,
I slipp'd along the sod,
As if on Jaber's faith I'd walked,
Or on his truth had trod.
At length the rising King of day
Burst on the gloomy wood,
Like Carawash's eye, whose ray
Dispenses every good.
To A Cat
Poor puss is gone! 'Tis fate's decree—
Yet I must still her loss deplore,
For dearer than a child was she,
And ne'er shall I behold her more.
With many a sad presaging tear
This morn I saw her steal away,
While she went on without a fear
Except that she should miss her prey.
I saw her to the dove-house climb,
With cautious feet and slow she stept
Resolved to balance loss of time
By eating faster than she crept.
Her subtle foes were on the watch,
And marked her course, with fury fraught,
And while she hoped the birds to catch,
An arrow's point the huntress caught.
In fancy she had got them all,
And drunk their blood and sucked their breath;
Alas! she only got a fall,
And only drank the draught of death.
Why, why was pigeons' flesh so nice,
That thoughtless cats should love it thus?
Hadst thou but lived on rats and mice,
Thou hadst been living still, poor puss.
Curst be the taste, howe'er refined,
That prompts us for such joys to wish,
And curst the dainty where we find
Destruction lurking in the dish.
—Ibn Alalaf Alnaharwany
To A Dove
The dove to ease an aching breast,
In piteous murmurs vents her cares;
Like me she sorrows, for opprest,
Like me, a load of grief she bears.
Her plaints are heard in every wood,
While I would fain conceal my woes;
But vain's my wish, the briny flood,
The more I strive, the faster flows.
Sure, gentle bird, my drooping heart
Divides the pangs of love with thine,
And plaintive murm'rings are thy part,
And silent grief and tears are mine.
On A Thunderstorm
Bright smiled the morn, 'till o'er its head
The clouds in thicken'd foldings spread
A robe of sable hue;
Then, gathering round day's golden king,
They stretched their wide o'ershadowing wing,
And hid him from our view.
The rain his absent beams deplored,
And, soften'd into weeping, poured
Its tears in many a flood;
The lightning laughed with horrid glare;
The thunder growled, in rage; the air
In silent sorrow stood.
—Ibrahim Ben Khiret Abou Isaac
Vale of Bozaa
The intertwining boughs for thee
Have wove, sweet dell, a verdant vest,
And thou in turn shalt give to me
A verdant couch upon thy breast.
To shield me from day's fervid glare
Thine oaks their fostering arms extend,
As anxious o'er her infant care
I've seen a watchful mother bend.
A brighter cup, a sweeter draught,
I gather from that rill of thine,
Than maddening drunkards ever quaff'd,
Than all the treasures of the vine.
So smooth the pebbles on its shore,
That not a maid can thither stray,
But counts her strings of jewels o'er,
And thinks the pearls have slipped away.
—Ahmed Ben Yusuf Almenazy
Poem of Imru-Ul-Quais; A Pre-Islamic Early Hanging Poem
Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.
The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now;
For when the Sonth wind blows the sand over them the North wind sweeps it away.
The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.
On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart
from the bursting pods of colocynth.
As I lament thus in the place made desolate, my friends stop their camels;
They cry to me "Do not die of grief; bear this sorrow patiently."
Nay, the cure of my sorrow must come from gushing tears.
Yet, is there any hope that this desolation can bring me solace ?
So, before ever I met Unaizah, did I mourn for two others;
My fate had been the same with Ummul-Huwairith and her
neighbor Ummul-Rahab in Masal.
Fair were they also, diffusing the odor of musk as they moved,
Like the soft zephyr bringing with it the scent of the clove.
Thus the tears flowed down on my breast, remembering days of love;
The tears wetted even my sword-belt, so tender was my love.
Behold how many pleasant days have I spent with fair women;
Especially do I remember the day at the pool of Darat-i-Julju1.
On that day I killed my riding camel for food for the maidens:
How merry was their dividing my camel's trappings to be carried on their camels.
It is a wonder, a riddle, that the camel being saddled was yet unsaddled!
A wonder also was the slaughterer, so heedless of self in his costly gift!
Then the maidens commenced throwing the camel's fesh into the kettle;
The fat was woven with the lean like loose fringes of white twisted silk.
On that day I entered the howdah, the camel's howdah of Unaizah!
And she protested, saying, "Woe to you, you will force me to travel on foot."
She repulsed me, while the howdah was swaying with us;
She said, "You are galling my camel, Oh Imru-ul-Quais, so dismount."
Then I said, "Drive him on! Let his reins go loose, while you turn to me.
Think not of the camel and our weight on him. Let us be happy.
"Many a beautiful woman like you, Oh Unaizah, have I visited at night;
I have won her thought to me, even from her children have I won her."
There was another day when I walked with her behind the sandhills,
But she put aside my entreaties and swore an oath of virginity.
Oh, Unaizah, gently, put aside some of this coquetry.
If you have, indeed, made up your mind to cut off friendship with me, then do it kindly or gently.
Has anything deceived you about me, that your love is killing, me,
And that verily as often as you order my heart, it will do what you order?
And if any one of my habits has caused you annoyance,
Then put away my heart from your heart, and it will be put away.
And your two eyes do not flow with tears, except to strike me with arrows in my broken heart.
Many a fair one, whose tent can not be sought by others, have I enjoyed playing with.
I passed by the sentries on watch near her, and a people desirous of killing me;
If they could conceal my murder, being unable to assail me openly.
I passed by these people at a time, when the Pleiades appeared in the heavens,
As the appearance of the gems in the spaces in the ornamented girdle, set with pearls and gems.
Then she said to me, "I swear by God, you have no excuse for your wild life;
I cannot expect that your erring habits will ever be removed from your nature."
I went out with her; she walking, and drawing behind us, over our footmarks,
The skirts of an embroidered woolen garment, to erase the footprints.
Then when we had crossed the enclosure of the tribe,
The middle of the open plain, with its sandy undulations and sandllills, we sought.
I drew the tow side-locks of her head toward me; and she leant toward me;
She was slender of waist, and full in the ankle.
Thin-waisted, white-skinned, slender of body,
Her breast shining polished like a mirror.
In complexion she is like the first egg of the ostrich—white, mixed with yellow.
Pure water, unsullied by the descent of many people in it, has nourished her.
She turns away, and shows her smooth cheek, forbidding with a glancing eye,
Like that of a wild animal, with young, in the desert of Wajrah.
And she shows a neck like the neck of a white deer;
It is neither disproportionate when she raises it, nor unornamented.
And a perfect head of hair which, when loosened, adorns her back,
Black, very dark-colored, thick like a date-cluster on a heavily laden date-tree.
Her curls creep upward to the top of her head;
And the plaits are lost in the twisted hair, and the hair falling loose.
And she meets me with a slender waist, thin as the twisted leathern nose-rein of a camel.
Her form is like the stem of a palm-tree bending over from the weight of its fruit.
In the morning, when she wakes, the particles of musk are lying over her bed.
She sleeps much in the morning; she does not need to gird her waist with a working dress.
She gives with thin fingers, not thick, as if they were the worms of the desert of Zabi,
In the evening she brightens the darkness, as if she were the light-tower of a monk.
Toward one like her, the wise man gazes incessantly, lovingly.
She is well proportioned in height between the wearer of a long dress and of a short frock.
The follies of men cease with youth, but my heart does not cease to love you.
Many bitter counselors have warned me of the disaster of your love, but I turned away from them.
Many a night has let down its curtains around me amid deep grief,
It has whelmed me as a wave of the sea to try me with sorrow.
Then I said to the night, as slowly his huge bulk passed over me,
As his breast, his loins, his buttocks weighed on me and then passed afar,
"Oh long night, dawn will come, but will be no brighter without my love.
You are a wonder, with stars held up as by ropes of hemp to a solid rock."
At other times, I have filled a leather water-bag of my people and entered the desert,
And trod its empty wastes while the wolf howled like a gambler whose family starves.
I said to the wolf, "You gather as little wealth, as little prosperity as I.
What either of us gains he gives away. So do we remain thin."
Early in the morning, while the birds were still nesting, I mounted my steed.
Well-bred was he, long-bodied, outstripping the wild beasts in speed,
Swift to attack, to flee, to turn, yet firm as a rock swept down by the torrent,
Bay-colored, and so smooth the saddle slips from him, as the rain from a smooth stone,
Thin but full of life, fire boils within him like the snorting of a boiling kettle;
He continues at full gallop when other horses are dragging their feet in the dust for weariness.
A boy would be blown from his back, and even the strong rider loses his garments.
Fast is my steed as a top when a child has spun it well.
He has the flanks of a buck, the legs of an ostrich, and the gallop of a wolf.
From behind, his thick tail hides the space between his thighs, and almost sweeps the ground.
When he stands before the house, his back looks like the huge grinding-stone there.
The blood of many leaders of herds is in him, thick as the juice of henna in combed white hair.
As I rode him we saw a flock of wild sheep, the ewes like maidens in long-trailing robes;
They turned for flight, but already he had passed the leaders before they could scatter.
He outran a bull and a cow and killed them both, and they were made ready for cooking;
Yet he did not even sweat so as to need washing.
We returned at evening, and the eye could scarcely realize his beauty
For, when gazing at one part, the eye was drawn away by the perfection of another part.
He stood all night with his saddle and bridle on him,
He stood all night while I gazed at him admiring, and did not rest in his stable.
But come, my friends, as we stand here mourning, do you see the lightning ?
See its glittering, like the flash of two moving hands, amid the thick gathering clouds.
Its glory shines like the lamps of a monk when he has dipped their wicks thick in oil.
I sat down with my companions and watched the lightning and the coming storm.
So wide-spread was the rain that its right end seemed over Quatan,
Yet we could see its left end pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.
So mighty was the storm that it hurled upon their faces the huge kanahbul trees,
The spray of it drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.
In the gardens of Taimaa not a date-tree was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.
The mountain, at the first downpour of the rain, looked like a
giant of our people draped in a striped cloak.
The peak of Mujaimir in the flood and rush of debris looked
like a whirling spindle.
The clouds poured forth their gift on the desert of Ghabeet, >till it blossomed
As though a Yemani merchant were spreading out all the rich clothes from his trunks,
As though the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa awakened in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning draught of old, pure, spiced wine.
As though all the wild beasts had been covered with sand and mud, like the onion's root-bulbs.
They were drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.
Poem of Zuhair: Another Hanging Poem
"Does the blackened ruin, situated in the stony ground
between Durraj and Mutathallam, which did not speak to me,
when addressed, belong to the abode of Ummi Awfa?
"And is it her dwelling at the two stony meadows, seeming
as though they were the renewed tattoo marks in the sinews
of the wrist?
"The wild cows and the white deer are wandering about
there, one herd behind the other, while their young are spring-
ing up from every lying-down place.
"I stood again near it, (the encampment of the tribe of
Awfa,) after an absence of twenty years, and with some efforts,
I know her abode again after thinking awhile.
"I recognized the three stones blackened by fire at the
place where the kettle used to be placed at night, and the
trench round the encampment, which had not burst, like the source of a pool.
"And when I recognized the encampment I said to its site,
'Now good morning, oh spot;
may you be safe from dangers.'
"Look, oh my friend! do you see any women traveling on
camels, going over the high ground above the stream of
"They have covered their howdahs with coverlets of high
value, and with a thin screen, the fringes of which are red,
"And they inclined toward the valley of Sooban, ascending
the center of it, and in their faces were the fascinating
looks of a soft-bodied person brought up in easy circumstances.
"They arose early in the morning and got up at dawn, and
they went straight to the valley of Rass as the hand goes
unswervingly to the mouth, when eating.
"And amongst them is a place of amusement for the farsighted one,
and a pleasant sight for the eye of the looker who
"As if the pieces of dyed wool which they left in every
place in which they halted, were the seeds of night-shade
which have not been crushed.
"When they arrived at the water, the mass of which was
blue from intense purity, they laid down their walking sticks,
like the dweller who has pitched his tents.
"They kept the hill of Qanan and the rough ground about
it on their hand; while there are many, dwelling in Qanan,
the shedding of whose blood is lawful and unlawful.
"They came out from the valley of Sooban, then they
crossed it, riding in every Qainian howdah
new and widened.
"Then I swear by the temple, round which walk the men
who built it from the tribes
of Quraysh and Turhum.
"An oath, that you are verily two excellent chiefs, who
are found worthy of honor in every condition, between ease
"The two endeavorers from the tribe of Ghaiz bin Murrah
strove in making peace after the connection between the
tribes had become broken, on account of the shedding of blood.
"You repaired with peace the condition of the tribes of
'Abs and Zubyan, after they had fought with one another, and
ground up the perfume of Manshim between them.
"And indeed you said, 'if we bring about peace perfectly by the spending
of money and the conferring of benefits, and by good words,
we shall be safe from the danger of the two tribes, destroying each other.'
"You occupied by reason of this the best of positions, and
became far from the reproach of being
undutiful and sinful.
"And you became great in the high nobility of Ma'add;
may you be guided in the right way; and he who spends his
treasure of glory will become great.
"The memory of the wounds is obliterated by the hundreds
of camels, and he, who commenced paying off the blood money
by instalments, was not guilty of it (i.e., of making war).
"One tribe pays it to another tribe as an indemnity, while
they who gave the indemnity did not shed blood sufficient for
the filling of a cupping glass.
"Then there was being driven to them from the property
you inherited, a booty of various sorts from young camels
with slit ears.
"Now, convey from me to the tribe of Zubyan and their
allies a message,— 'verily you have sworn by every sort of
oath to keep the peace.'
"Do not conceal from God what is in your breast that it
may be hidden; whatever is concealed,
God knows all about it.
"Either it will be put off and placed recorded in a book,
and preserved there until the judgment day;
or the punishment be hastened and so he will take revenge.
"And war is not but what you have learnt it to be, and
what you have experienced, and what is said concerning it,
is not a story based on suppositions.
"When you stir it up, you will stir it up as an accursed
thing, and it will become greedy when you excite its greed
and it will rage fiercely.
"Then it will grind you as the grinding of the upper millstone
against the lower, and it will conceive immediately after
one birth and it will produce twins.
"By my life I swear, how good a tribe it is upon whom
Husain Bin Zamzam brought an injury by committing a
crime which did not please them.
"And he had concealed his hatred, and did not display it,
and did not proceed to carry out his intention until he got a
"And he said, 'I will perform my object of avenging myself,
and I will guard myself from my enemy with a thousand
bridled horses behind me.'
"Then he attacked his victim from 'Abs, but did not cause
fear to the people of the many houses, near which death had
thrown down his baggage.
"They allowed their animals to graze until when the interval
between the hours of drinking was finished, they took them to the deep pool,
which is divided by weapons and by shedding of blood.
"They accomplished their object amongst themselves, then
they led the animals back to the pasture of unwholesome
"I have grown weary of the troubles of life; and he,
who lives eighty years will, may you have no father
if you doubt grow weary.
"And I know what has happened to-day and yesterday,
before it, but verily, of the knowledge of what will happen
tomorrow; I am ignorant.
"I see death is like the blundering of a blind camel;—him
whom he meets he kills, and he whom he misses lives and will
"And he who does not act with kindness in many affairs
will be torn by teeth
and trampled under foot.
"And he, who makes benevolent acts intervene before
honor, increases his honor;
and he, who does not avoid abuse, will be abused.
"He, who is possessed of plenty, and is miserly with his
great wealth toward his people, will be dispensed with,
"He who keeps his word, will not be reviled;
and he whose heart is guided to self-satisfying benevolence
will not stammer.
"And he who dreads the causes of death, they will reach
him, even if he ascends the tracts of the heavens
with a ladder.
"And he, who shows kindness to one not deserving it, his
praise will be a reproach against him, and he will repent of
having shown kindness.
"And he who rebels against the butt ends of the spears,
then verily he will have to obey the spear points joined to
every long spear shaft.
"And he who does not repulse with his weapons from his
tank, will have it broken; and he who does not oppress the
people will be oppressed.
"And he who travels should consider his friend an enemy;
and he who does not respect himself
will not be respected.
"And he, who is always seeking to bear the burdens of
other people, and does not excuse himself from it,
will one day by reason of his abasement, repent.
"And whatever of character there is in a man, even though
he thinks it concealed from people,
it is known.
"He, who does not cease asking people to carry him, and
does not make himself independent of them even for one day
of the time, will be regarded with disgust.
"Many silent ones you see, pleasing to you,
but their excess in wisdom or deficiency
will appear at the time of talking.
"The tongue of a man is one half, and the other half is his
mind, and here is nothing besides these two, except the shape
of the blood and the flesh.
"And verily, as to the folly of an old man
there is no wisdom after it,
but the young man after his folly may become wise.
"We asked of you, and you gave, and we returned to the
asking and you returned to the giving, and he who increases
the asking, will one day be disappointed."
Lament Of The Vizier Abu Ismael
Charles F. Horne wrote: “One distinguished philosophical poem of some length is the well-known "Lament of the Vizier Abu Ismael." This we give in full at the conclusion of this section; but mainly we must illustrate the finest flowering of Arabic verse by selecting specimens of characteristic brevity.” [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., “The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East”, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 205-234]
No kind supporting hand I meet,
But Fortitude shall stay my feet;
No borrowed splendors round me shine,
But Virtue's luster all is mine;
A Fame unsullied still I boast,
Obscured, concealed, but never lost—
The same bright orb that led the day
Pours from the West his mellowed ray.
Zaura, farewell! No more I see
Within thy walls, a home for me;
Deserted, spurned, aside I'm tossed,
As an old sword whose scabbard's lost:
Around thy walls I seek in vain
Some bosom that will soothe my pain—
No friend is near to breathe relief,
Or brother to partake my grief.
For many a melancholy day
Through desert vales I've wound my way;
The faithful beast, whose back I press,
In groans laments her lord's distress;
In every quivering of my spear
A sympathetic sigh I hear;
The camel bending with his load,
And struggling through the thorny road,
'Midst the fatigues that bear him down,
In Hassan's woes forgets his own;
Yet cruel friends my wand'rings chide,
My sufferings slight, my toils deride.
Once wealth, I own, engrossed each thought,
There was a moment when I sought
The glitt'ring stores Ambition claims
To feed the wants his fancy frames;
But now 'tis past—the changing day
Has snatched my high-built hopes away,
And bade this wish my labors close—
Give me not riches, but repose.
'Tis he—that mien my friend declares,
That stature, like the lance he bears;
I see that breast which ne'er contained
A thought by fear or folly stained,
Whose powers can every change obey,
In business grave, in trifles gay,
And, formed each varying taste to please,
Can mingle dignity with ease.
What, though with magic influence, sleep,
O'er every closing eyelid creep:
Though drunk with its oblivious wine
Our comrades on their bales recline,
My Selim's trance I sure can break— S
elim, 'tis I, 'tis I who speak.
Dangers on every side impend,
And sleep'st thou, careless of thy friend
Thou sleep'st while every star on high,
Beholds me with a wakeful eye—
Thou changest, ere the changeful night
Hath streak'd her fleeting robe with white.
'Tis love that hurries me along—
I'm deaf to fear's repressive song—
The rocks of Idham I'll ascend,
Though adverse darts each path defend,
And hostile sabers glitter there,
To guard the tresses of the fair.
Come, Selim, let us pierce the grove,
While night befriends, to seek my love.
The clouds of fragrance as they rise
Shall mark the place where Abla lies.
Around her tent my jealous foes,
Like lions, spread their watchful rows;
Amidst their bands, her bow'r appears
Embosomed in a wood of spears—
A wood still nourished by the dews,
Which smiles, and softest looks diffuse.
Thrice happy youths! who midst yon shades
Sweet converse hold with Idham's maids,
What bliss, to view them gild the hours,
And brighten wit and fancy's powers,
While every foible they disclose
New transport gives, new graces shows.
'Tis theirs to raise with conscious art
The flames of love in every heart;
'Tis yours to raise with festive glee
The flames of hospitality:
Smit by their glances lovers lie,
And helpless sink and hopeless die;
While slain by you the stately steed
To crown the feast, is doomed to bleed,
To crown the feast, where copious flows
The sparkling juice that soothes your woes,
That lulls each care and heals each wound,
As the enliv'ning bowl goes round.
Amidst those vales my eager feet
Shall trace my Abla's dear retreat,
A gale of health may hover there,
To breathe some solace to my care.
I fear not love—I bless the dart
Sent in a glance to pierce the heart:
With willing breast the sword I hail
That wounds me through an half-closed veil:
Though lions howling round the shade,
My footsteps haunt, my walks invade,
No fears shall drive me from the grove,
If Abla listen to my love.
Ah, Selim! shall the spells of ease
Thy friendship chain, thine ardor freeze!
Wilt thou enchanted thus, decline
Each gen'rous thought, each bold design?
Then far from men some cell prepare;
Or build a mansion in the air—
But yield to us, ambition's tide,
Who fearless on its waves can ride;
Enough for thee if thou receive
The scattered spray the billows leave.
Contempt and want the wretch await
Who slumbers in an abject state—
'Midst rushing crowds, by toil and pain
The meed of Honor we must gain;
At Honor's call, the camel hastes
Through trackless wilds and dreary wastes,
'Till in the glorious race she find
The fleetest coursers left behind:
By toils like these alone, he cries,
Th' adventurous youths to greatness rise;
If bloated indolence were fame,
And pompous ease our noblest aim,
The orb that regulates the day
Would ne'er from Aries' mansion stray.
I've bent at Fortune's shrine too long—
Too oft she heard my suppliant tongue—
Too oft has mocked my idle prayers,
While fools and knaves engrossed her cares,
Awake for them, asleep to me,
Heedless of worth she scorned each plea.
Ah! had her eyes more just surveyed
The diff'rent claims which each displayed,
Those eyes from partial fondness free
Had slept to them, and waked for me.
But, 'midst my sorrows and my toils,
Hope ever soothed my breast with smiles;
The hand removed each gathering ill,
And oped life's closing prospects still.
Yet spite of all her friendly art
The specious scene ne'er gained my heart;
I loved it not although the day
Met my approach, and cheered my way;
I loath it now the hours retreat,
And fly me with reverted feet.
My soul from every tarnish free
May boldly vaunt her purity,
But ah, how keen, however bright,
The saber glitter to the sight,
Its splendor's lost, its polish vain,
'Till some bold hand the steel sustain.
Why have my days been stretched by fate,
To see the vile and vicious great—
While I, who led the race so long,
Am last and meanest of the throng?
Ah, why has death so long delayed
To wrap me in his friendly shade,
Left me to wander thus alone,
When all my heart held dear is gone!
But let me check these fretful sighs—
Well may the base above me rise,
When yonder planets as they run
Mount in the sky above the sun.
Resigned I bow to Fate's decree,
Nor hope his laws will change for me;
Each shifting scene, each varying hour,
But proves the ruthless tyrant's power.
But though with ills unnumbered curst,
We owe to faithless man the worst;
For man can smile with specious art,
And plant a dagger in the heart.
He only's fitted for the strife
Which fills the boist'rous paths of life,
Who, as he treads the crowded scenes,
Upon no kindred bosom leans.
Too long my foolish heart had deemed
Mankind as virtuous as they seemed;
The spell is broke, their faults are bare,
And now I see them as they are;
Truth from each tainted breast has flown,
And falsehood marks them all her own.
Incredulous I listen now
To every tongue, and every vow,
For still there yawns a gulf between
Those honeyed words, and what they mean;
With honest pride elate, I see
The sons of falsehood shrink from me,
As from the right line's even way
The biassed curves deflecting stray—
But what avails it to complain?
With souls like theirs reproof is vain;
If honor e'er such bosoms share
The saber's point must fix it there.
But why exhaust life's rapid bowl,
And suck the dregs with sorrow foul,
When long ere this my mouth has drained
Whatever zest the cup contained?
Why should we mount upon the wave,
And ocean's yawning horrows brave,
When we may swallow from the flask
Whate'er the wants of mortals ask?
Contentment's realms no fears invade,
No cares annoy, no sorrows shade,
There placed secure, in peace we rest,
Nor aught demand to make us blest.
While pleasure's gay fantastic bower,
The splendid pageant of an hour,
Like yonder meteor in the skies,
Flits with a breath no more to rise.
As through life's various walks we're led,
May prudence hover o'er our head!
May she our words, our actions guide,
Our faults correct, our secrets hide!
May she, where'er our footsteps stray,
Direct our paths, and clear the way!
"Till, every scene of tumult past,
She bring us to repose at last,
Teach us to love that peaceful shore,
And roam through folly's wilds no more! —Abu Ismael
Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018