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


vv. 1-6.

Stay! let us weep, while memory tries to trace
The long-lost fair one's sand-girt dwelling-place;
Though the rude winds have swept the sandy plain,
Still some faint traces of that spot remain.
My comrades reined their coursers by my side,
And "Yield not—yield not to despair!" they cried.
(Tears were my sole reply; yet what avail
Tears shed on sands, or sighs upon the gale?)
"The same thy fortune, and thy tears the same,
When bright Howaira and Rebaba came
To say farewell on Mosel's swelling brow,
And left thee mourning, as thou mournest now!"
"Think ye—ah, think ye I forget the day
That tore those damsels from my soul away,
Who breathed a farewell, as they left these bowers,
Sweet as an eastern gale on fields of flowers?"—Ret. Rev.

v. 18. The word thiyáb (clothes) in this couplet is taken by some commentators to mean "heart"; and in this sense it is used in the Kur’ān: "thy clothes [i.e. heart] cleanse." Among the pagan Arabs a divorce consisted in the man's withdrawing his clothes from his wife, and the wife's withdrawing her clothes from him. The poet therefore, in effect, says: "If there be aught in me that offends thee, then withdraw thy clothes from my clothes—thy heart from mine."

v. 23. The Pleiads.—It is very usual in all countries to make frequent allusions to the brightness of the celestial luminaries, which give their light to all; but the metaphors taken from them have an additional beauty if we consider them as made by a nation

p. 374

who pass most of their nights in the open air, or in tents, and consequently see the moon and the stars in their greatest splendour.—Sir W. Jones: Essay on the Poetry of Eastern Nations.

v. 31. Wejrah is a stage on the road from Mecca to El-Basrah, 40 miles, or 3 stages, from the former, and much frequented by wild-kine. The mention of the look which a wild cow or deer casts on her young one, at which time her eyes are most beautiful and tender, as a comparison for the eyes of a beautiful woman, is common in old Arab poetry.—Lyall. (See Lebīd's. Mo‘all. v. 14, and Tarafa's Mo‘all. v. 32.)

vv. 22-33.

Once through the ranks, at midnight's gloomy hour,
Of hostile tribes, I sought the maiden's bower,
When shone the Pleiads in the starry globe,
Like golden spangles on an azure robe.
Soon as I came, I saw her figure bent
In eager gazing from the opening tent.
"By heaven!" she whispered, as her hand she gave,
"Secure I'll trust me to a heart so brave;"
We rose, and gliding o’er the silent plain,
She swept our footsteps with her flowing train.
A plain we reached beneath the cloud of night,
Whose sandy hillocks hid our onward flight
Safe from the foeman. By her waving hair
To my fond heart I drew the trembling fair:
Raptured I gazed upon her polished breast,
Smooth as a mirror set within her vest;
Or like an ostrich-egg, of pearly white,
Left in the sands and half exposed to sight.
The timid maiden turned away her face,
With eyes averted shunned my rude embrace,
Raised her arched neck in conscious virtue's pride,
Then like the wild fawn gazed from side to side.
Her jet-black tresses down her shoulder strayed,
Like clustering dates amid the palm-trees’ shade.—R. R.

p. 375

v. 33. "Her hair, like bunches of dates clustering on the palm-tree"—a favourite comparison of the old poets of Arabia; also that of a pretty girl's tresses to the branches of the vine: see verses from the Romance of Antar, p. 191 of the present volume.

v. 56. "Like hennà on gray flowing locks"—see v. 15 of El-Būsīrī's Poem of the Mantle, where the poet says that had he known that his gray hairs would reproach him he would have dyed them with woad.—The leaves of the hennà-tree (Lawsonia inermis, also called the Egyptian privet) are used by the women of Cairo to stain certain parts of the hands and feet.—Lane.

v. 58. The commentary of Zauzanî says that wild heifers are compared to bead-pearls of Yemen because their extremities are black, while the rest of them is white. The onyxes on the neck of a youth. who had many uncles on both sides of his family to caress and bedeck him would be of a superior quality.

v. 73. The comparison of a cloud unloading its freight on the desert to a merchant displaying his rich bales, must be considered as peculiarly appropriate in a climate where rain falls like a blessing on the parched soil.

v. 74. "Early draught of generous wine." The morning draught of wine is praised above all others by the ancient poets. In the work entitled El-Marj-en-nadir ("the green meadow") Mohammed ibn Abi Bekr el-Usyûtî says of the sabûh or morning potation: "The poets make mention of the morning draught in preference to wine drunk at other times, because in ancient times Kings and others used to prefer drinking in the morning, and because of the freedom of the heart at that time from care or thought of the obstacles and calamities of Fortune; also because those that arose early to drink anticipated those who blamed their wantonnesss: for it is the custom of the blamer to blame a reveller in the morning for what he has done the night before, because that is the time when he becomes sober and recovers from his drunken fit."—Lyall: Notes on Lebīd's Mo‘all. (quoted from Kosegarten: Mo‘all. of ‘Amr Kulth. p. 49).—See Tarafa, vv. 46 and 58; Lebīd, vv. 60, 61; and Note on Amru, v. 1.

Next: Notes on the Poem of Tarafa