Unknown Woman: Lament for a Man Dear to Her (From Arabic)

 This short poem which seems to be pre-Islamic, is preserved in Abū Tammām's Ḥamāsa. The attribution found in the Ḥamāsa is probably false, and the only clues as to the poem's provenance would seem to be the features of the text itself. It is also an extremely short piece, and therefore one is faced with a more acute version of the same question one is always faced with in dealing with a piece that survives only in the Ḥamāsa: do we have the entire piece as Abū Tammām knew it?
 The answer, obviously, is that we don't know. It may well be that some material has fallen out after line 6. But the poem stands well as is.
 Earlier on, this text had minor adjustments to the ordering of lines based on what seemed to me to make good sense, and what made for the strongest poem. The lines were in the order 1,2,3,4,5,8,7,6,9,10,11,12. Hiba Krisht has now convinced me to restore the original line ordering.
 Like Arab commentators I find it difficult to shake the sense that the man being lamented is a ṣuˁlūk. (The word is usually translated as "outlaw" though the term "desperado" conveys more of the Arabic word's flavor.) A ṣuˁlūk was a man who had been exiled by his tribe and was forced to eke out a painful, empty-bellied and often short life on his own. If one is to believe the sources (and here the general picture seems to me more likely to have some truth to it than any specific instances), despite the terrible consequences of exile, it was not infrequent. Sometimes the man in question may have simply been an obnoxious and intolerable person too maladjusted for communitarian tribal life. In most cases, though, it would have been for serious crimes which made the man impossible to trust or a liability to retain, acts which might would bring shame upon, or even incur outside aggression against, the entire tribe if the individual responsible was not cast out. If, for example, a man were to kill a member of another tribe in a way that his community could not support, then he might have to be exiled. To keep him around would be to condone his action and therefore essentially an act of war.
 A word on meter and rhyme is now in order, if only because it bears on how this poem is to be dated. Arab commentators take each rhyme to be a verse-end, with each verse so defined consisting of two hemistichs each with the metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃−. This already falls outside of the canonical khalīlian metrical scheme, although this poem is traditionally reckoned as being in a rare form of madīd. (It would in fact be unique, not rare, as it is the only Early Arabic specimen of this peculiar meter.)
 However, one need not even assume that the rhymes mark verse-ends. They could just as easily mark the boundary between hemistichs, and the rhymes could be a form of taṣrīˁ  whose scope covers the entirety of the poem. A number of syntactic parallelisms do suggest to me that this was the division according to which this poem was composed. If one classifies the lines this way, then the end-rhyme need not necessarily be scanned as the pausal form -ak but as -aka and the lines could therefore have a metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃⋃⋃, which is at an even greater remove from classical Arab metrical theory. The rhyming lines can be divided into internal hemistichs (as I do in my romanization and in my spacing of the translation), which to my mind gives it a very tense, disjointed and discombobulated texture.
 Poems whose meter falls outside traditional Khalīlian classification are usually quite early, and consistent rhyme across hemistichs seems to have been the norm in archaic Arabic as well as old south Arabian verse, as in the recently discovered rhymed Qānya inscription dating to the 1st century AD. This seems to me good reason to at least argue for an early composition, despite its late and - as with the rest of the Ḥamāsa - rather suspicious attestation.
 I have included Friedrich Rückert's German translation of this poem after my romanization of the original. Rückert's translations of Arabic poetry are impressive. Though not as celebrated as his translations from Persian, they deserve appreciation by anyone who enjoys poetry and can read German.

Lament for a Man Dear to Her
By an Unknown Woman (5th-6th century AD?)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the Arabic

 He roamed in search of refuge
 From death and now has died  
 I want to know what happened,
 What wrongly took your life 

 Were you sick with none to tend you,
 Or slain asleep at night?
 Or was your stroke of chance
 The desert's lethal strike?

 Wherever a young man roams
 The Fates in ambush lie
 What good that young men have 
 Did you lack in your life? 

 All things are murderous
 When you come to your Time
 Long did your every gain
 Come at hardship's price

 Disaster deafens you
 To questions that I cry
10 I must steel myself for you
 Will never again reply 

11 Would that my heart could face
 Your death for a moment's time
12 Would that the Fates had spared
 Your life instead of mine 


L4: The word sulak in the original is only attested with the meaning "young partridge", which makes its presence in this context rather puzzling. Rückert in the commentary following his German translation of this poem admits that it is a word "that I don't know how to explain" (das ich nicht erklären weiß.) My reading takes sulak as a word derived from the root s-l-k (c.f. salaka "he traveled by road, made his way") with the hypothetical sense "wanderer, trekker" and assumes that the line refers to woes befalling a traveler in the desert.

The Original:

طافَ يَبغي نَجْوَةً مَن هَلَاكٍ فهَلَك
لَيتَ شِعْري ضَلَّةً أيّ شيءٍ قَتَلَك
أَمريضٌ لم تُعَدْ أَم عدوٌّ خَتَلَك
أم تَوَلّى بِكَ ما غالَ في الدهْرِ السُّلَك
والمنايا رَصَدٌ للفَتىً حيثُ سَلَك
طالَ ما قد نِلتَ في غَيرِ كَدٍّ أمَلَك
كلُّ شَيءٍ قاتلٌ حينَ تلقَى أجَلَك
أيّ شيء حَسَنٍ لفتىً لم يَكُ لَك
إِنَّ أمراً فادِحاً عَنْ جوابي شَغَلَك
سأُعَزِّي النفْسَ إذ لم تُجِبْ مَن سأَلَك
ليتَ قلبي ساعةً صَبْرَهُ عَنكَ مَلَك
ليتَ نَفْسي قُدِّمَت للمَنايا بَدَلَك


Ṭāfa yabɣī najwatan  
 min halākin fahalak
Layta šiˁrī ḍallatan  
 ayyu šay'in qatalak

Amarīḍun lam tuˁad   
 am ˁaduwwun xatalak
Am tawallâ bika mā  
 ɣāla fī al-dahri al-sulak

Wal-manāyā raṣadun  
 lil-fatâ ḥayθu salak
Ṭāla mā qad nilta fī  
 ɣayri kaddin amalak

Kullu šay'in qātilun  
 ħīna talqâ ajalak
Ayyu šay'in ħasanin  
 lifatân lam yaku lak

Inna amran fādiħan  
 ˁan jawābī šaɣalak
Sa'uˁazzī al-nafsa ið  
 lam tujib man sa'alak

Layta qalbī sāˁatan  
 ṣabrahū ˁanka malak
Layta nafsī quddimat  
 lil-manāyā badalak 

Die Mutter des Ta'abbata Scharran

Rettung suchend schweift' er um

vor dem Tod, dem nichts entflieht.
Wüßt ich, was den Untergang
dir gebracht, und welch Gebiet!
Ob du Kranker unbesucht
starbtest; ob dich Feind verriet;
Oder dich ein Unfall traf,
der die Bente stets ersieht.
Schicksal lauert überall
auf den Mann, wohin er zieht.
Was ist schön an einem Mann,
welches Gott nicht dir beschied!
Doch den Tod bringt Alles dir,
wo dich dein Verhängnis zieht.
Lange Zeit genoßest du
deinen Wunsch durch nichts bemüht.
Schwere Hindrung ist's, die nun
deine Antwort mir entzieht.
Dein entschlagen will ich mich,
weil weil mich deine Antwort flieht.
Ich das einen Augenblick
Ich des Grams um dich entriet'!
Ich daß dich vom Tod mein Leben
löste, des ich gerne biet'

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