A shot at translating Al-Mutanabbi

I recently came across some poetry by Al-Mutanabbi, considered one of the greatest Arabic language poets of all time. The fact that his subject matter is often very lowbrow and churlish (boasting about his awesomeness, mocking his former employers, sucking up to his new employers etc…) just makes his poetry even more powerful. In a sense, it is poetry at its purest, because the artistry lies solely in his use of words and rhymes, regardless of the subject matter. The same can be said of Abu Nuwas, whose works consisted almost entirely of poems about drinking and sex (Abu Nuwas swung both ways, BTW).

I attempted to translate a few of his verses, in a feeble attempt to convey the beauty of his use of language. I’ve taken some license in my choice of words, since I want to convey the feel of the verses more so than the literal meaning. Don’t worry, the overall message stays untouched.

 

أنا الذي نظر الأعمى إلى أدبي * و أسمعت كلماتي من به صمم”
“أنام ملء جفوني عن شواردها * ويسهر الخلق جراها ويختصم

“I am the one whose prose the blind can see

and whose eloquence the deaf can hear

I sleep soundly once my words leave me,

while people bicker about them and despair “

 

إذا غامَرْتَ في شَرَفٍ مَرُومِ * فَلا تَقنَعْ بما دونَ النّجومِ”
فطَعْمُ المَوْتِ في أمْرٍ حَقِيرٍ * كطَعْمِ المَوْتِ في أمْرٍ عَظيمِ
“يرَى الجُبَناءُ أنّ العَجزَ عَقْلٌ * وتِلكَ خَديعَةُ الطّبعِ اللّئيمِ

“If you venture after the highest honor,

then don’t settle for less than the stars

Death in shame

and death in glory taste the same

The weak see wisdom in their failures

but that is the deception of the base and the lame”

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Categories: Language, Philosophy

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  1. A shot at translating Al-Mutanabbi | Imen Elloumi Hannachi, Ph.D

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