Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Arabic poetry in translation, by Tarif Khalidi

From comrade Tarif Khalidi:  "I attach two poems (by al-Buhturi & Abu'l `Ala'). They are from an anthology of Arabic literature, ancient & modern, verse & prose, all my own translations, which should be completed in a couple of years or so."

Al-Buhturi (d.897)

The Poet and the Wolf

What a night!
Dawn at its tail-end
Like an inch of gleaming steel,
When a sword is drawn from its sheath.

I wrapped myself in its gloom,
While wolves were still in slumber,
My eyes like a night thief’s, a stranger to sleep,
Stirring up the grouse where they squatted,
The fox and the viper my only companions.

Suddenly, a grey wolf!
Eye-catching, forepart and ribs upturned,
Limbs at his sides lanky, spindly,
Dragging behind him a rope-like tail,
His spine crooked, bent like a bow. 

Creased by hunger, his resolve had hardened:
Nothing but bones, spirit and hide.
He crunched his fangs, in whose rows lurked death,
Like the crunching of one shivering from the cold,
Teeth chattering.

He rose to view.
As famished was I as he,
In a wilderness that never knew a life of ease.
There, both of us were wolves,
Each scheming against his mate:
My luck against his.

He growled then sat on his haunches;
My war chant enraged him;
He charged, like lightning followed by thunder.
I let fly an arrow that missed its mark,
Its feathers, you would imagine, like the tail of a shooting star,
In a night of blackest darkness.

But he merely grew in daring and resolution,
And I knew for sure he was in earnest.

So I followed with another, burying the arrowhead
Where heart, terror and malice are lodged. 

He collapsed, for I had led him to the fountain of death,
Thirsty still. If only that fountain had been sweet!

I rose, gathered some pebbles and roasted him thereat,
The fire beneath him of glowing embers.
Mean was the meal I made of him,
And I left him, covered in dust, forlorn.


Abu al-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri ( d. 1057) (Saqt al-Zand, p. 243)

 A rain cloud

A rain cloud:
The sea had given its caravans to drink.
Once quenched, it took wing to high ground, jubilant.
But the king of the winds rose up to it with his troops,
And scattered it, unwilling, unfulfilled.

I wept for that cloud, having missed its quest,
Though neither its longing nor its passion was mine.

So too the nights:
They’re never generous when a creature pleads,
Never faithful to their promise."