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Arabic poetry in translation


Abu l-Hasan al-Husri (d. 1095)


If white is the colour
of mourning in Andalusia,
it is a proper custom.

Look at me,
I dress myself in the white
of white hair
in mourning for youth.

(translated by Emilio Garcia Gomez & Cola Franzen)

Yusuf ibn Harun al-Ramadi (d. 1022)


They shaved his head
to clothe him in ugliness
out of jealousy and fear
of his beauty.

They erased the night
and left him in dawn.

(translated by Emilio Garcia Gomez & Cola Franzen)

Ibn Jakh (11th century)


On the morning they left
we said goodbye
filled with sadness
for the absence to come.

Inside the palanquins
on the camels' backs
I saw their faces beautiful as moons
behind veils of golden cloth.

Beneath the veils
tears crept like scorpions
over the fragrant roses
of their cheeks.

These scorpions do not harm
the cheek they mark.
They save their sting
for the heart of the sorrowful lover.

(translated by Emilio Garcia Gomez & Cola Franzen)

Tarafah ibn al- Abd 


This is one of the seven mu'allaqat or "hung" poems of pre-Islamic times. Translated by A J Arberry.

A young gazelle there is in the tribe, dark-lipped, fruit-shaking, 
flaunting a double necklace of pearls and topazes, 
holding aloof, with the herd grazing in the lush thicket, 
nibbling the tips of the arak-fruit, wrapped in her cloak. 
Her dark lips part in a smile, teeth like a comomile 
on a moist hillock shining amid the virgin sands, 
whitened as it were by the sun's rays, all but her gums
that are smeared with colyrium - she gnaws not against them; 
a face as though the sun had loosed his mantle upon it, 
pure of hue, with not a wrinkle to mar it. 

Ah, but when grief assails me, straightway I ride it off 
mounted on my swift, lean-flanked camel, night and day racing, 
sure-footed, like the planks of a litter; I urge her on
down the bright highway, that back of a striped mantle; 
she vies with the noble, hot-paced she-camels, shank on shank
nimbly plying, over a path many feet have beaten. 
Along the rough slopes with the milkless shes she has pastured
in Spring, cropping the rich meadows green in the gentle rains;
to the voice of the caller she returns, and stands on guard 
with her bunchy tail, scared of some ruddy, tuft-haired stallion,
as though the wings of a white vulture enfolded the sides
of her tail, pierced even to the bone by a pricking awl; 
anon she strikes with it behind the rear-rider, anon
lashes her dry udders, withered like an old water-skin. 
Perfectly firm is the flesh of her two thighs -
they are the gates of a lofty, smooth-walled castle - 
and tightly knit are her spine-bones, the ribs like bows, her 
underneck stuck with the well-strung vertebrae, 
fenced about by the twin dens of a wild lote-tree; 
you might say bows were bent under a buttressed spine. 
Widely spaced are her elbows, as if she strode carrying the two 
buckets of a sturdy water-carier;
like the bridge of the Byzantine, whose builder swore
it should be all encased in bricks to be raised up true.
Reddish the bristles under her chin, very firm her back,
broad the span of her swift legs, smooth her swinging gait;
her legs are twined like rope untwisted; her forearms 
thrust slantwise up to the propped roof of her breast. 
Swiftly she rolls, her cranium huge, her shoulder-blades 
high-hoisted to frame her lofty, raised superstructure. 
The scores of her girths chafing her breast-ribs are water-courses 
furrowing a smooth rock in a rugged eminence, 
now meeting, anon parting, as though they were
white gores marking distinctly a slit shirt. 
Her long neck is very erect when she lifts it up 
calling to mind the rudder of a Tigris-bound vessel. 
Her skull is most like an anvil, the junction of its two halves
meeting together as it might be on the edge of a file. 
Her cheek is smooth as Syrian parchment, her split lip 
a tanned hide of Yemen, its slit not best crooked; 
her eyes are a pair of mirrors, sheltering 
in the caves of her brow-bones, the rock of a pool's hollow, 
ever expelling the white pus more-provoked, so they seem
like the dark-rimmed eyes of a scared wild-cow with calf.
Her ears are true, clearly detecting on the night journey
the fearful rustle of a whisper, the high-pitched cry, 
sharp-tipped, her noble pedigree plain in them,
pricked like the ears of a wild-cow of Haumal lone-pasturing.
Her trepid heart pulses strongly, quick, yet firm 
as a pounding-rock set in the midst of a solid boulder.
If you so wish, her head strains to the saddle's pommel 
and she swims with her forearms, fleet as a male ostrich, 
or if you wish her pace is slack, or swift to your fancy, 
fearing the curled whip fashioned of twisted hide. 
Slit is her upper lip, her nose bored and sensitive,
delicate, when she sweeps the ground with it, faster she runs. 
Such is the beast I ride, when my companion cries 
"Would I might ransom you, and be ransomed, from yonder 
His soul fluttters within him fearfully, he supposing
the blow fallen on him, though his path is no ambuscade.
When the people demand, "Who's the hero?" I suppose
myself intended, and am not sluggish, not dull of wit; 
I am at her with the whip, and my she-camel quickens pace 
what time the mirage of the burning stone-tract shimmers;
elegantly she steps, as a slave-girl at a party 
will sway, showing her master skirts of a trailing white gown.
I am not one that skulks fearfully among the hilltops, 
but when the folk seek my succour I gladly give it;
if yo look for me in the circle of the folk, you'll catch me.
Come to me when you will, I'll pour you a flowing cup, 
and if you don't need it, well, do without and good luck to 

Whenever the tribe is assembled you'll come upon me 
at the summit of the noble House, the oft-frequented; 
my boon-companions are white as stars, and a singing-wench
comes to us in her striped gown or her saffron robe,
wide the opening of her collar, delicate her skin
to my companions' fingers, tender her nakedness. 
When we say, "Let's hear from you," she advances to us 
chanting fluently, her glance languid, in effortless song." 

Anthology of Islamic Literature, James Kritzeck, ed., 1964 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, NY., p.58-60 with acknowledgements for "The Ode of Tarafah," from THE SEVEN ODES, translated by A.J.Arberry, copyright by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd. 


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Last revised on 04 August, 2015