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The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: I was in one of the regions of the Fazára 6 tribe riding one noble mount and leading another which in turn coursed along with me. And I was making for my native land so that the night with its terrors did not divert me, nor did distance with its deserts turn me from my purpose.

I struck off the leaves of day 7 with the staff of travel, and with the horse's hoofs I penetrated into the maw of night. Meanwhile, in a night so dark that the Qaṭáṭ would lose its way, 8 and the bat could not see 9 in it, I was going swiftly and

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smoothly along, 1 nothing passing from the right but a lion and nought from the left save a hyena, when suddenly there appeared to my view a rider fully armed; he was making for some tamarisk trees and traversing towards me the intervening stretches of desert. So there seized me because of him what seizes the unarmed in the presence of one bristling with weapons. But I put on a bold front and said: 'Perish thy father, stand! Before thou canst attain thy object thou wilt have to endure wounds of steel, 2 strip the tragacanth 3 of its leaves, and face a stout foeman with the pride of an Azdite. I am for peace, if thou wilt, or for war, if thou desirest. Tell me, who art thou?' He replied: 'Peace hast thou found.' I said: 'Thou hast answered well, but who art thou?' He answered: 'A counsellor, if thou seekest counsel, an orator if thou desirest converse, but before my name is a veil which the mentioning of no proper name can remove.' I then said: 'What is thy trade?' He replied: 'I roam about the interiors of the countries, in order that I may light upon the dish of a generous man. I have a mind served by a tongue, and rhetoric which my own fingers record. My utmost desire is a generous person who will lower me one of his saddlebags and give me his wallet, like the free-born youth that met me yesterday as the rising sun and vanished from my sight with the going down of the same. But although he has disappeared, the memory of him remaineth, and, though he has taken leave of me, the marks of his favour accompany me still.' Pointing to what he had on, he continued: 'None can acquaint you of them 4 better than they themselves.' I exclaimed to myself, 'by the Lord of the Ka‘ba an importunate, grasping beggar, experienced in the craft, nay but a past master 5 of the art: Thou wilt have

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to give him something and pay liberally,' 1 so I said: 'Young man, thou hast manifested thy diction; how does thy poetry compare with thy prose?' He replied: 'There is no comparison between my prose and my verse.' Then he summoned aid from his natural ability, raised his voice to such a pitch that it filled the valley, and recited saying:--

'A pure-minded one presented to me by the night, and by the desert,
And by the five so swift that they barely touched the ground. 2
I applied to his timber 3 the test of the fire of generous deeds.
And he proved to be, both on the paternal and the maternal sides, of high degree.
I sought to cajole him into parting with his property and I succeeded in cajoling him.
I endeavoured to facilitate his giving, and it was made easy to him.
And when we had revealed ourselves to each other, and he found my prose praiseworthy,
He tested me in my versification with what he was disposed to test me.
But, when he shook me, he shook none other than a keen blade,
And he found me not but the first in the race,
While I discovered him to be ever bright and beaming, 4
And there was beneath him none other than a showy steed, blazed on forehead and feet.'

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Then I said to him: 'Gently, O youth, and thou canst command what I have with me.'

He said: 'The provision bag with its contents.' I replied: 'Aye and its bearer too.' Then I clasped him with my hands and said: 'By Him who hath endowed them with the sense of touch, and from one split them into five, thou shalt not leave me, unless I learn thy state.' Then he lowered his veil from his face and lo! by heavens! it was our Sheikh, al-Iskanderí! Without further waiting I said:

'Abú’l-Fatḥ, 1 in pride hast thou girt on this blade,
But what doest thou with the sword when thou art no warrior?
So melt down into an anklet the gold with which thou hast bedecked this sword of thine.'



67:6 Fazára: The name of an Arab tribe.

67:7 The leaves of day: Figure for the hours of the day.

67:8 The Qaṭáṭ would lose its way: Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 260, The bird called () Qaṭá, is a species of sandgrouse. It is related of this bird that it will leave its young at dawn and go to drink at a place a night's journey off and will return in the morning bringing water to its chicks, that again in the early afternoon it will fly to the place once more returning to bring water a second time without losing its way.

67:9 In which the bat could not see: See Arab Proverbs, i, 194,

68:1 I was going swiftly and smoothly along: Literally, I flowed with the flowing of water.

68:2 The wounds of steel: The scarifying of sharp edges or points. Cf. the expression sharp tongues.

68:3 Strip the tragacanth: Meidání, Arab Proverbs, i, 233. (Bulak edition A.H. 1284). Before one can attain it one has to strip the tragacanth, a species of tree with short curved thorns, by grasping each branch and drawing one's hand down it i.e. one has to perform what will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Literally, less difficult than that would be the stripping of the tragacanth.

68:4 Of them: i.e. the marks of favour.

68:5 Master: Arabicised from the Persian a master, or teacher.

69:1 Pay him liberally: Literally, pour upon him.

69:2 The five (toes) that barely touched the ground: Literally, while one says 'No, No.'

69:3 His timber: figurative for disposition.

69:4 Bright and beaming: is primarily applied to a horse with a white forehead and to a horse with white feet, both figuratively mean, bright and cheerful or distinct and clearly marked.

Cf. The lines by Samau’al, Ḥamasa (Freytag). p. 53. 'And our days of victory over our enemies are as conspicuous and remarkable as the blaze on the forehead and feet of a horse.'

is from an anklet as the white on the foot is where the anklet is worn. Another reading most honourable and dignified. Metre, tawíl.

70:1 Abú’l-Fatḥ: in pride hast thou girt on this blade: Metre, hezej. The MS. in the Bibliotheque Nationale has the first two lines only. The thought introduced here is taken from the following lines of another poet (See footnote on Text, p. 69).

'Thou hast heard what he said but thou carest not for his speech.
Leave the sword for him who oppresses therewith, the valiant in war.
And melt down into an anklet the sword with which thou hast bedecked thyself,
For what doest thou with a sword when thou art not a fighter?'

Cf. Scott, Bridal of Triermain, xxvii.

Next: XV. The Maqáma of Jáḥiz