ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ: Lament for his People in Rawḥān (From Arabic)

The poetry attributed to the pre-Islamic poet ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ, like that attributed to Al-Muhalhil, is traditionally reckoned by medieval commentators to be among the very earliest to survive. Judging by the fact that his most famous of poems  (translated here) has an anomalous meter that falls outside the meters allowable in classical khalīlian prosody, as well as the fairly high frequency of anomalous syntactic constructions and unusual vocabulary of most of his work (anomalous and unusual, that is, from the point of view of the later and better-understood stages of Arabic) there is no reason to disagree with them on this point, at least with regard to the bulk of the material. 
Fortunately for the modern reader of Early Arabic (or, at least, fortunately for me) ˁAbīd's language is often as moving as it is difficult, the more so thanks to his most frequent subject: the disaster that befell his tribe, the Banū Asad. The nature of the disaster remains unspecified in the poems and therefore unknown to us, but judging by the evidence from the poems it would have involved some sort of attack by superior forces (presumably one of the sedentary Arab kingdoms) which left many of the Banū Asad dead, and forced most of the rest to flee much of their former territory.  
The historical reality underlying the poetry is murky and probably will never be cleared up, barring an extraordinary fortuitous discovery by Arabian archaeologists (we have inscriptional evidence attesting to Lakhmid action against the Banū Asad, but none that I know of dated to even remotely the right period.) The information on ˁAbīd's life accompanying the poetry in Islamic literary compendia does not help much, as it has every sign of being based more on the poems than anything else, though it may contain some refraction of general truth about conflict with Kindite royalty. 
Moreover, as is the case with most pre-Islamic poets, some (though by no means most) of the content which bears the poet's name seems (on linguistic grounds) to come from a much later period. Indeed, I have my own unshakable, yet unprovable, suspicions (as does Alan Jones, whose stimulating commentary I consulted) that the last verse of the poem translated here was either added or (more likely) somewhat altered in Islamic times. But it is a fine verse which adds to the poem, and I saw no reason not to include it in the translation, not least because it seemed completely unjustifiable to make excisions based on chronological doubt in translating pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, when I don't do so, and never have, in dealing with Biblical Hebrew poetry (where dating is much messier.)  
In any case, even admitting the qualifications which must attend any corpus which has gone through centuries of oral transmission, I see no substantive reason not to read the body of material attributed to ˁAbīd as basically genuine pre-Islamic poetry, as much of it can at the very least be securely dated quite early on lexical, syntactic or metrical grounds. That does not definitively prove, of course, that all such early work attributed to ˁAbīd is necessarily by him. In pre-Islamic poetry, proving a positive is often much harder than proving a negative. It may well be that only a few poems are genuinely his, and that ˁAbīd as we know him is a half-archetypal figure around whose name various early poems of disparate authorship, containing a particular species of tribal lamentation, coagulated. If true, this would account for some the toponymic discrepancies that perplexed the commentators. But there are other ways to solve those problems, and this is all idle, proofless speculation.
But I now digress unjustifiably, as questions of authenticity, attribution and dating, though of interest to historians, are rather beside the point for the lover of poetry. For the pain of displacement and deracination, and the anguish of surviving a tragedy that has gutted one's people, are universal topics that have animated poets throughout recorded history to produce some of the most enduringly memorable verse in such disparate languages as Arabic, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Sumerian, Greek, Cherokee, Nahuatl and many others.    

Lament for His People in Rawḥān
ˁAbīd ibn Al-Abraṣ
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Arabic

Were those my people's dwellings 
  that in the stoneland lie?
 They are now a dwindled vestige
   changed by the hands of Time. 

There did I halt my camel 
  to question what remained,
 But turned away with tears 
   gushing from my eyes 

In streams as though my lids 
  that moment had burst forth
  The downpour of a cloud  
   from winter-laden skies.

Oh mine was once the kindest 
  of ordinary peoples 
 To all who had fallen captive
   or ill, or on hard times,

Good when they drew lots  
  for camel-meat when winds
 Blew winter-hard, and neighbors
   united as a tribe. 

And when the moment called for spear-thrusts 
  they always did
 Color their spears from tip
   to shaft in the grim dye.

And when the moment called for blades  
  they always did 
 Beat back the foe as lions
   protective of their pride.

And when they heard the call "Dismount!" 
  they always rushed
 In coats of mail on foot
    headlong into the fight.

They are gone. I am still here

  but I am not forever.
 Change is the fate of things,
   the many shades of life. 

God knows what I know not
  about the end they met.
 What I have is remembrance
   of things lost in their time.  

The Original:

قال عبيد ابن الابرص في رثاء قومه

لِمَنِ الدِيارُ بِبُرقَةِ الرَوحانِ  دَرَسَت وَغَيَّرَها صُروفُ زَمانِ
فَوَقَفتُ فيها ناقَتي لِسُؤالِها  فَصَرَفتُ وَالعَينانِ تَبتَدِرانِ
سَجماً كَأَنَّ شُنانَةً رَجَبِيَّةً  سَبَقَت إِلَيَّ بِمائِها العَينانِ
أَيّامَ قَومي خَيرُ قَومٍ سوقَةٍ  لِمُعَصِّبٍ وَلِبائِسٍ وَلِعاني
وَلَنِعمَ أَيسارُ الجَزورِ إِذا زَهَت ريحُ الشِتاءِ وَمَألَفُ الجِيرانِ
أَمّا إِذا كانَ الطِعانُ فَإِنَّهُم  قَد يَخضِبونَ عَوالِيَ المُرّانِ
أَمّا إِذا كانَ الضِرابُ فَإِنَّهُم  أُسدٌ لَدى أَشبالِهِنَّ حَواني
أَمّا إِذا دُعِيَت نَزالِ فَإِنَّهُم  يَحبونَ لِلرُكَباتِ في الأَبدانِ
فَخَلَدتُ بَعدَهُمُ وَلَستُ بِخالِدٍ  فَالدَهرُ ذو غِيَرٍ وَذو أَلوانِ
اللَهُ يَعلَمُ ما جَهِلتُ بِعَقبِهِم  وَتَذَكُّري ما فاتَ أَيَّ أَوانِ 


Li-mani l-diyāru bi-burqati l-rawḥāni
Darasat wa-ġayyarahā ṣurūfu zamāni
Fa-waqaftu fīhā nāqatī li-su'ālihā
Fa-ṣaraftu wa-l-ˁaynāni tabtadirāni
Sajman ka'anna šunānatan rajabiyyatan
Sabaqat ilayya bi-mā'ihā l-ˁaynāni
Ayyāma qawmī ḫayru qawmin sūqatin
Li-muˁaṣṣibin wa-li-bā'isin wa-li-ˁānī
Wa-li-niˁma aysāru l-jazūri iḏā zahat
Rīḥu l-šitā'i wa-ma'lafu l-jīrāni
Ammā iḏā kāna l-ṭiˁānu fa-'innahum
Qad yaḫḍiˁūna ˁawāliya l-murrāni
Ammā iḏā kāna l-ḍirābu fa-'innahum
Usdun ladā ašbālihinna ḥawānī
Ammā iḏā duˁiyat nizāli fa-'innahum
Yamšūna li-l-rakabāti fī l-'abdāni
Fa-ḫaladtu baˁdahum wa-lastu bi-ḫālidin
Fa-l-dahru ḏū ġiyarin wa-ḏū alwāni
Allāhu yaˁlamu mā jahiltu bi-ˁaqbihim
Wa-taḏakkurī mā fāta ayya awāni

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