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Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, [1881], at


THE beautiful elegiac verses with which this masterpiece of ancient Arabic poetry opens have been compared, by Dr. Carlyle, to Goldsmith's Deserted Village. "But the Arab,"

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remarks Burton, "with equal simplicity and pathos, has a fire, a force of language, and a depth of feeling, which the Irishman, admirable as his verse is, could never rival." (Pilgrimage, vol. iii., p. 54.) Carlyle's translation, as follows, of these verses, however inadequately it may represent the beauties of the original, can hardly fail of pleasing the English reader, from the grace and smoothness of the rhythm:

THOSE dear abodes which once contained the fair
  Amidst Mitata's wilds I seek in vain;
Nor towers, nor tents, nor cottages are there,
  But scattered ruins and a silent plain!

The proud canals that once Rayana graced,
  Their course neglected and their waters gone,
Among the levelled sands are dimly traced,
  Like moss-grown letters on a mouldering stone.

Rayana, say, how many a tedious year
  Its hallowed circle o’er our heads hath rolled,
Since to my vows thy tender maids gave ear,
  And fondly listened to the tale I told?

How oft, since then, the star of spring, that pours
  A never-failing stream, hath drenched thy head?
How oft, the summer-cloud, in copious showers,
  Or gentle drops, its genial influence shed?

How oft, since then, the hovering mist of morn
  Hath caused thy locks with glittering gems to glow?
How oft hath eve her dewy treasures borne
  To fall responsive to the breeze below?

The matted thistles, bending to the gale,
  Now clothe those meadows once with verdure gay;
Amidst the windings of that lonely vale
  The teeming antelope and ostrich stray:

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The large-eyed mother of the herd, that flies
  Man's noisy haunts, here finds a sure retreat,
Here watches o’er her young, till age supplies
  Strength to their limbs and swiftness to their feet.

Save where the swelling stream hath swept those walls
  And given their deep foundations to the light
(As the retouching pencil that recalls
  A long-lost picture to the raptured sight);—

Save where the rains have washed the gathered sand,
  And bared the scanty fragments to our view
(As the dust sprinkled on a punctured hand
  Bids the faint tints resume their azure hue);—

No mossy record of those once-loved seats
  Points out the mansion to inquiring eyes:
No tottering wall, in echoing sounds, repeats
  Our mournful questions and our bursting sighs.

Yet, midst those ruined heaps, that naked plain,
  Can faithful memory former scenes restore—
Recall the busy throng, the jocund train,
  And picture all that charmed us there before.

Ne’er shall my heart the fatal morn forget
  That bore the fair ones from these seats so dear—
I see—I see the crowding litters yet,
  And yet the tent-poles rattle in my ear.

I see the maids with timid steps ascend,
  The streamers wave in all their painted pride,
The floating curtains every fold extend,
  And vainly strive the charms within to hide.

What graceful forms those envious folds enclose!
  What melting glances through those curtains play!
Sure Weira's antelopes or Tudah's roes
  Through yonder veils their sportive young survey!

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The band moved on—to trace their steps I strove;
  I saw them urge the camels’ hastening flight,
Till the white vapour, like a rising grove,
  Snatched them for ever from my aching sight!

Nor since that morn have I Nawara seen—
  The bands are burst which held us once so fast:
Memory but tells me that such things have been,
  And sad Reflection adds, that they are past!

This is Mr. Lyall's rendering of the same passage, from his translation of Lebīd's Mo‘allaqah, previously mentioned:

1. Effaced are her resting-places—where she stayed but a while and where she dwelt long
    in Mina: desolate are her camps in Ghaul and er-Rijâm,

2. And by the torrents of er-Rayyân: the traces thereof are laid bare
    and old and worn, as the rocks still keep their graving:

3. Tent-traces over which have passed, since the time that one dwelt there,
    long years, with their rolling months of war and peace.

4. The showers of the signs of Spring have fallen on them, and there have swept
    over them the rains of the thundering clouds, torrents and drizzle both—

5. The clouds that came by night, those of the morning that hid the sky,
    and the clouds of even-tide, with their antiphons of thunder;

6. There have sprung up over them the shoots of the rocket, and in the sides
    of the valley the deer and the ostriches rear their young;

7. The large-eyed wild-kine lie down there by their young ones
    just born, and their calves roam in herds over the plain.

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8. The torrents have scored afresh the traces of the tents, as though
    they were lines of writing in a book which the pens make new again,

9. Or the tracery which a woman draws afresh as she sprinkles the blue
    over the rings, and the lines shine forth anew thereon.

10. And I stood there asking them for tidings—and wherefore did I ask
    aught of deaf stones that have no voice to answer?

11. Bare was the place where the whole tribe had rested: they passed away
    therefrom at dawn, leaving behind them the tent-trenches and the thatch.

12. The camel-litters of the tribe stirred thy longing, what time they moved away
    and crept into the litters hung with cotton, as the wooden framework creaked—

13. The litters hung all round, over their frame of wood,
    with hangings, thin veils and pictured curtains of wool.

14. They began their journey in bands, wide-eyed as the wild-cows of Tûdih,
    or deer of Wejrah as they watch their fawns lying around.

15. They were started on their way, and the sun-mist fell off them, as though
    they were low rocky ridges of Bîsheh, its tamarisks, and its boulders.

16. Nay—why dost thou dwell on the thought of Nawâr? for she is gone,
    and severed is all that bound her to thee, whether strong or weak.


*** The subjoined notes on Lebīd's Poem are, for the most part, adapted from those appended to Mr. Lyall's translation.

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vv. 1, 2. Minia [Mina], a place in Dariyyeh, a province of Nejd, on the route from Mecca to el-Basrah. There is a valley of the same name near Mecca. Ghaul, er-Rijâm, and er-Rayyân, hills in the neighbourhood. [Captain Burton renders these couplets as follows:

Deserted is the village—waste the halting-place and home
At Mina, o’er Rijam and Ghul wild beasts unheeded roam;
On Rayyan hill the channel lines have left a naked trace,
Time-worn, as primal writ that dints the mountain's flinty face.

[paragraph continues] "This passage," he remarks in a foot-note, "made me suspect that inscriptions would be found among the rocks, as the scholiast informs us that 'men used to write upon rocks in order that their writing might remain.' (De Sacy's Moallaka de Lebid, p. 289.) I neither saw nor heard of any. But some months afterwards I was delighted to hear from the Abbé Hamilton that he had discovered in one of the rock-monuments a 'lithographed proof' of the presence of Sesostres (Rhameses II.)."—Pilgrimage, vol. iii., pp. 136, 137.]

v. 3. "Many a month, holy and unhallowed." Four months of the year—the first, Muharrem; the seventh, Rejeb; the eleventh, Dhulkaadé and the twelfth, Dhulhajjé—were esteemed sacred in Arabia from the oldest times; and, excepting by one or two tribes, were so religiously observed, that if a man met during that time the murderer of his father, he durst not offer him any violence. The history or traditions of the old Arabs do not mention above six transgressions of this law; and these are styled "impious wars."—Richardson.

vv. 4, 5. "The rainy constellations of Spring:" marâbîu-n-nujūm. Mirbâ’ is rain that comes in the beginning of the season called Rabî‘ or Spring; en-Nujûm are the constellations called anwâ’, that is, the twenty-eight Mansions of the Moon, which, by their rising or setting at dawn, were supposed to bring rain or wind, heat or cold.—Lane. Rabî‘ is not strictly Spring; for it includes the whole time from September to March, during which rain falls in Arabia: it is that season when the pastures

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are fresh and grazing abundant. The commentator on verse 5 divides the year into three seasons, viz., Shitâ’, Rabî‘, and Seyf, or Winter, Spring, and Summer; and he says that in the different words used for clouds in verse 5 the rains of the whole year are described: those of Winter fall generally by night, those of spring in the morning, and those of Summer in the evening.

v. 8. The comparison of the almost effaced traces of a spring encampment, washed by the rain and worn by the winds, to lines of writing which have faded by long use is common in old Arabic poetry. Zuheyr says (the lines are quoted in the notice of him in the Aghânî)—

Worn are they: thou wouldst think their lines
    over which two years have passed were a parchment old and faded.

[paragraph continues] From this it is evident that writing and books were not so strange to the Arabs of the time immediately preceding el-Islâm as has sometimes been asserted.

v. 9. The reference here is to the weshm or tracery pricked into the skin of a woman's hands and arms. The pattern is pricked out with a needle, and there is sprinkled over the skin and rubbed into it a preparation called na’ûr, which may either mean powdered indigo or powdered lamp-black. As the rains which deepened and broadened the traces of the tents are in v. 8 compared to a writer who goes over lines of writing again with a pen, so in v. 9 they are likened to a woman who renews the tattooing by sprinkling fresh pigment over the old lines; which being rubbed in, the lines appear afresh. [Lane ("Modern Egyptians") states that the females of the lower orders in Cairo tattoo upon the face, front of the chin, back of right hand, and arms. The operation is generally performed at the age of about five or six years, by gipsy women.]

v. 11. ["Canals" see rite on v. 5, Zuheyr's Mo‘all.] "Thumâm," i.e. panic grass. Forskal (p. 20) says that the name is used for Panicum Dichotomum; but it is applied by the

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[paragraph continues] Arabs to many species of panicum. The grass is used for thatching and for stuffing holes in the tents so as to keep out the weather.

v. 12. "Hid themselves in carriages": the word used (takannus) is appropriate to the action of a hare or a fox creeping into its hole (kinâs).

v. 14. "Roes of Wegera" (Wejrah): see note on v. 31, Amriolkais.

v. 15. Beisha (Bîsheh) is the name of a valley in el-Yemen which is thickly populated; also of a village in Tihâmeh: so the Marâsid; the commentary says that it is a valley on the road to el-Yemâmeh. The long line of camels with their litters in which the ladies ride is compared to the ridges of rock of this valley in the part where its ridges are low and sink into the plain. These, in the noon-tide, stand out from the midst of the mirage, with their rocks and tamarisks (athl, Tamarix Orientalis), even as the tall camel-litters make their way through the mists of morn which cling round them like a skirt.

[The vapour here alluded to, called by the Arabians Serab, is not unlike in appearance (and probably proceeding from a similar cause) to those white mists which we often see hovering over the surface of a river in a summer's evening after a hot day. They are very frequent in the sultry plains of Arabia, and, when seen at a distance, resemble an expanded lake; but upon a nearer approach, the thirsty traveller perceives the deception. Hence the Serab in Arabian poetry is a common emblem of disappointed expectation.—Carlyle.]

v. 23. "The thong of her shoe is broken:" camels frequently have their soft feet protected by a leather shoe, which is tied by a strap round the pastern. [See Mr. Redhouse's translation of Ka‘b's Poem of the Mantle, v. 27.]

v. 43. Mr. Lyall renders this couplet:

And she shone in the face of the mirk with a white glimmering light
    like a pearl born in a sea-shell that has dropped from its string,

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The restless roaming of the cow is compared to the pearl rolling about on the ground.

v. 50. "Javelins made by the skilful hand of Samhar." According to the commentary and other authorities quoted by Lane, Semhar was the name of a famous maker of spears, who dwelt in the town of el-Khatt, in el-Bahreyn, where the best bamboos from India were landed and fashioned into lances, which are thence frequently called khattiy. [See Amru, v. 40: "our dark javelins, exquisitely wrought of Khathaian reeds;" also El-Būsīrī, v. 130: "brown lances of Khatt."] Semhar is said to have been the husband of Rudeyneh, who also used to straighten spears. ["Spears of Khatt," and "Rudeyhnian lances" are often mentioned in the Romance of Antar.] Other authorities say that Semhar was the name of a town in Abyssinia, where good spears were made.

vv. 57-61. Sir W. Jones gives the following imitation of these verses in his "Essay on the Poetry of Eastern Nations":

But ah! thou know’st not in what youthful play
Our nights, beguiled with pleasure, swam away:
Gay songs and cheerful tales deceived the time,
And circling goblets made a tuneful chime.
Sweet was the draught, and sweet the blooming maid,
Who touched her lyre beneath the fragrant shade.
We sipped till morning purpled every plain,
The damsels slumbered, but we sipped again.
The waking birds, that sung on every tree,
Their early notes were not so blithe as we.

v. 58. "The flag of the wine-merchant." Wine-shops were distinguished by flags hung outside of them: when the wine was all sold, or the shop was closed, the flag was taken down. [See Antara's Mo‘all., v. 54.] In this verse and the next Lebîd vaunts his liberality in buying wine for his fellows when it was at its dearest.

vv, 60, 61. Morning draught: singing-girls—see Amriolkais, v. 74; Tarafa, vv. 46, 48-51; Amru, v. 1, and Notes.

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v. 63. "A swift horse, whose girths resemble my sash adorned with gems." Mr. Lyall translates this hemistich: "a swift mare, my girdle its reins as I went forth at dawn;" and explains that the poet "threw the bridle over his shoulders so that it became a girdle to him, in order that he might have his hands free for his weapons."

v. 70-72. In these verses the poet refers to the controversy which took place between himself and er-Rabî‘ son of Ziyâd at the court of en-No‘man son of el-Munzir, king of el-Hîreh. (See the Argument prefixed to translation of Lebîd's Poem in this volume.)

v. 73. The custom of the Arabs in gambling with arrows was to require those who lost to pay for the camel which was the prize of those who won: Lebīd's liberality consisted in his furnishing the prize himself from his herds, and thus those who lost had not to pay.

v. 74. A barren camel, says the commentary, is the fattest, while one with young is the most delicate of flesh.

v. 76. "A camel doomed to die at her master's tomb." It was customary among the pagan Arabs when a warrior died, to tie his camel near his grave, where she was left to perish of hunger and thirst in order that she should accompany him to the next world, and that he should ride on her at the Resurrection: to go on foot on that occasion was considered very disgraceful.

v. 88. "An enlivening Spring." As the season of Spring was the pleasantest of the year, rich with fertilizing rains and green pasture, so men of bountiful and kindly nature were likewise called by that name. Lebīd's own father Rabî‘ah, as the Aghânî informs us, was known as Rabî‘at-el-Mo‘tarrîn—"a spring for those who came to seek his bounty." [See v. 77, Hareth's Mo‘all., where a certain chief is styled "a vernal season of beneficence."]

"The year of widowhood." A commentator says that in the time of Ignorance it was the custom for widows, on the death of

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their husbands, to undergo a period of separation (‘iddeh) extending to one year. During this period they could not marry again, nor go forth from their houses, and were thus "disconsolate."

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