/ No. 3 January 2014 / Ibrahim Mumayiz – Imru’ al-Qays

Ibrahim Mumayiz – Imru’ al-Qays

Administrator on 13/02/2014 - 01:46 in No. 3 January 2014

Imru’ al-Qays
Dr. Ibrahim Mumayiz

Imru’al-Qays was born c. 500 C.E, the youngest son of Hujr, King of Kinda and ruler- by their consent – of the Assad and Ghatafan tribes. The tribe of Kinda originated in southern Arabia, in Hadhramaut, where texts show that a ‘Kingdom of Kinda’ had been formed by the second half of the first century B.C.E. After their defeat and subjugation by the Shebans, the Kindites emigrated to north and central Arabia where it became prominent in the late and early sixth century C.E. “Imru’ al-Qays” is a laudatory sobriquet, popular among pre-Islamic Arab kings, meaning ‘man of hard deeds’. The poet’s real name was ‘Hunduj’ – rich, fertile ground. He was brought up in the manner of Arab princes of that age, and was taught codes of chivalry, equestrian skills, archery and swordsmanship. He frequented his maternal uncles, the Taghlib tribe, where he learnt poetry from his uncle, al-Muhalhal. But, to his father’s consternation, a lewd streak developed with his accelerating poetic proficiency. His lustful, amorous verses, anathema to the conduct codes of princes, continually distressed his stern, over-righteous father, who eventually banished his incorrigible son who, with a band of vagrants, wandered about Arabia, drinking, hunting and womanizing.

The central event of Imru’al-Qays’s life was the slaying of his father,Hujr, by the rebellious vassal tribe of Beni Assad. This tribe, leaderless, had agreed to accept Hujr as their suzerain. But his heavy handed treatment of the Beni Assad, and his tax-collectors beating them for delayed payments of taxes drove the tribe to mutinous rebellion. A force of Beni Assad horsemen and camel riders assaulted Hujr’s pavilion and fell upon him while his servants tried to shield him with their bodies. Imru’ al-Qays dedicated his life to avenge his father’s death, soliciting various tribes for aid. Some tribes gave him reluctant support by providing him with armed horsemen, but such aid soon dried up. The Kindite avenger found himself alone and friendless. He wandered, distraught and helpless, from tribe to tribe in vain. A glimmer of hope finally appeared. One ‘Amr b. Jaber, of the Fazara tribe with whom he was staying suggested to Imru’ al-Qays that he seek the support and guidance of the prominent Jewish poet al-Samaw’al (Samuel), famous for his hospitality and proverbial for his loyalty to those who place their trust in him. At his mansion al-Ablaq (The Piebald) al-Samaw’al agreed to help the Kindite poet by writing to his friend Arethas the Ghassanid, (al-Harith al-Ghassani) to intercede for Imru’al-Qays with his close friend and ally, the emperor Justinian (527-565). This intercession took place in 541 during Arethas’s state visit to Constantinople. Arethas spoke well to Justinian of the Kindite poet, suggesting that he might well be, with Constantinople’s help, the future king of a re-established kingdom of Kinda.

Imru’al-Qays received an invitation from Justinian to visit him in Constantinople. He was graciously and hospitably received by the emperor. In his verse the Kindite poet mentions that “A boon companion was I to Caesar in his realm,/ he conferred on me precedence/ so I rode the State Post”. The State-Post was a stable of powerful swift horses used to transport high ranking dignitaries, and urgent mail, throughout the Byzantine empire. It is certain that Justinian fully endorsed Imru’al-Qays as the future King of Kinda first, so that a re-established Kinda would bolster the hard-pressed Ghassanids in their defense of the Byzantine empire’s eastern limes (borders) against the Persian enemy and its Lakhmid allies; and second, because the present Kindite ruler, Qays b. Salameh, a cousin of Imru’al- Qays, was deemed grossly unsuitable and needs to be replaced. But the future King of Kinda was never to be. He was infected with the bubonic plague which ran its course in the triennium (541-544) which hit Constantinople and Ankyra (modern Ankara). Imru’al-Qays died of the plague in Ankyra on his way home from Constantinople c. 542.

Imru’al-Qays is almost universally acknowledged by literary critics, classical and modern, as the greatest of the pre-Islamic poets. The Prophet himself, notwithstanding his disapproval of poets, admitted Imru’al-Qays’s poetical excellence, describing him as leading poets into hell-fire. The Prophet’s Companions, the Caliphs ‘Umar and ‘Ali extolled his genius and originality. As to his Mu’allaqa classical European critics, writes Nicholson ‘have vied with each other in praising its exquisite diction and splendid images, the sweet flow of the verse, the charm and variety of the painting and above all, the feeling by which it is inspired of the joy and glory of youth’. Of Arabic classical sources al-‘Asma’says that Imru’al-Qays’s descriptive powers are unsurpassable, especially when describing rainfall, citing his magnificent account of a rainstorm and the ensuing flash floods at the end of his Mu’allaqa (vide infra, verses 70-81). A modern western critic writes of the Kindite poet’s paramount stature among pre-Islamic poets as exemplified in his Mu’allaqa which she describes as ‘arguably the most widely quoted, plagiarized, imitated, parodied poem in Arabic’; that his verses are the touchstones of the ancestral voice of the Arabic poetic tradition…’he was a prestigious and formidable inspiration and influence’. So much so that even Tarafa, acknowledged to hold second place after Imru’al-Qays in the scale of poetic excellence, is alleged to have stolen verses from the Kindite.

Selected Bibliography:

General R.A Nicholson Literary History of the Arabs (New York: Charles Scribner, 1907, reissued by Kessinger Publishing, undated). Some of Nicholson’s account is dated and draws on legendary information given by classical Arabic sources which have now been proven to be unhistorical. On his life and poetry see Ibrahim Mumayiz The Vagabond King/The Life and Poetry of Imru’al-Qays (Amman: Jordan University Press, 2002) passim and Ibrahim Mumayiz Arabesques/ Selections of Biography and Poetry from Classical Arabic Literature (Antwerp: Garant, 2006) pp.22-26; On his birth, Gunnar Olinder The Kings of Kinda (Lundt: Lundt Universitets Arsskrift, 1927) p.95; On his death, Irfan Shahid “The Last Days of Imru’ al-Qays” in Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Literature (Fayettville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997) p. 217; On Imru’al-Qays,al-Samaw’al, Arethas the Ghassanid and Justinian see Ibrahim Mumayiz “Imru’ al-Qays and Byzantium” Journal of Arabic Literature Vol.36.2, 2006 passim ; and al-Isfahani Al-Aghani (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al Ilmiyya, 1992) Vol.IX, p.117; on modern western critics praise of Imru’al-Qays, Julie Scott Meisami “Imru’al-Qays Praises the Prophet” in Tradition and Modernity (supra) p.223; on Tarafa plagiarizing Imru’al-Qays, Amidu Sanni “ Did Tarafa Actually Steal from Imru’ al-Qays? On Coincidence of Thought and Expression (Tawarrud) in Arabic Literary Theory” Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures Vol.4, July 2001 pp. 117-136.


The Mu’allaqa of Imru’ al-Qays
1- قِـفا نبكِ من ذِكرى حَبيبٍ ومنزلِ بسِـقطِ اللِّوى بينَ الدَّخولِ فحَوْمَلِ
1. Let’s halt! And on the abode of loved ones weep
Where, twixt “Dukhool” and “Hawmal”, sands pile deep.

2- فتُوضِحَ فالمِقراةِ لم يَعْفُ رَسْمُها لما نَسَجَـتْها من جَنوبٍ وشَمْالِ
2. “Towdah” and “al-Miqrat” e’er there will lay
Sands northern winds pile, southern blow away (1)

3- ترى بَعَرَ الأرْآمِ في عَرَصاتِـها وقـيعانـها كأنّهُ حَبُّ فُـلْـفُلِ
3. Oryx droppings in its spaces you’ll see
Like pepper-corns scattered so wide and free.

4- كأني غَداةَ البَـينِ يَوْمَ تَحَمّـلوا لدى سَمُراتِ الحيّ ناقِفُ حَـنظلِ
4. Now that they’ve gone, I feel that I will lead
The life of pickers of bitter apple seed (2)

5- وُقفاً بها صَحْبي عَـليّ مَطِـيَّهُمْ، يقولونَ لا تهلِـكْ أسىً و تَـجَمّـلِ
5. My mounted friends call out, in cheer, to me
“Die not of grief! Well armed with patience be.

6- وإنّ شِـفائي عَبْرَةٌ مُهَراقَةٌ فهلْ عندَ رَسمٍ دارِسٍ مِـن مُعوَّلِ
6. My cure lies in a hot downpour of tear
Are there, at ruins, ones that me could cheer?

7- كدأبكَ من أمّ الحُوَيْـرِثِ قبْـلها وجارَتِها أمّ الرَّبابِ بمَـأسَـلِ
7. For “Umm al -Huwayrith”, and her neighbor
“Umm al-Rabab”; love’s gone, now as before.

8- أذا قامَـتا تَضَوّعَ المِسْـكُ مِـنْهُما نسيمَ الصَّبا جاءتْ بريّـا القَرَنفُـلِ
8. When belles rise, there musk is so sweet and true.
Like carnations o’er which morning breezes blew.

9- ففاضَتْ دُموعُ العَينِ مني صَبابَةً على النّحرِ حتى بلّ دمعيَ مِحْملي
9. My streaming tears, the pangs of love they felt
Bedrenching me full, even my sword-belt! (3)

10- ألا رُبّ يوْمٍ لكَ مِـنْهُنّ صالِـحٍ ولا سيّـما يومٍ بدارَةِ جُـلْجُلِ
10. O for a day as that I once had spent,
When maids to “Juljul” for an outing went.

11- ويَوْمَ عَـقَرْتُ للعَـذارى مَطيّـتي، فيا عَجَباً من كوارِها المُـتَحَمَّـلِ
11. That day I slew my mount for th’virgins’ sake
They each some things of mine back home did take (4)

12- فظلَّ العذارى يرتمينَ بلَحْـمِـها وشحْمٍ كهُـدّابِ الدّمَـقْسِ المُفـتَّـلِ
12. Each claimed that the mount was slain for her alone
Its white o’er- flesh like silks that on them shone (5)

13- ويومَ دخلتُ الخِدرَ خدرَ عُـنَيزَةٍ فقالتْ لك الوَيلاتُ إنّـكَ مُرجِـلي
13. I slipped in ‘Unayzah’s howdah. She cried
“Damn you! You’ll maim my mount. I’ll walk alongside!”(6)

14- تقولُ وقد مالَ الغَبيطُ بنا معاً عقَرْتَ بعيري يا امرأَ القَيْس فانزِلِ
14. Her howdah, with our weight, tilted aside.
“My camel! Down quick, Imru’ al-Qays!” she cried.

15- فقُـلتُ لها سيري وأرْخي زِمامَهُ ولا تُبْعديني منْ جنَاكَ المُعَـلَّلِ
15. “Let go the reins!” said I “Be calm and still.
Let me of your kisses have what I will”

16- فمِثلِـكِ حُبْلى قد طَرَقْتُ ومُرْضع ِ فألهَيتُـها عن ذي تمائمَ مُحْوِلِ
16. Pregnant, nursing mothers I’ve loved, through tact
And did, through wiles, from their own babes, distract.

17- إذا ما بكى من خَلْفها انْصَرفَتْ لهُ بشِـقٍّ وتحتي شِـقُّها لم يُحَـوَّلِ
17. When, from behind, wailed loud her tiny tot
She nursed it but forgot to love me not (7)

18- ويَوْماً على ظَهرِ الكَثيبِ تَعَذّرتْ عَـليّ وآلتْ حَـلْفَةً لم تَحَـلَّـلِ
18. Over a dune, me she once resisted.
In vowing, loudest oaths, she protested

19- أفاطِمِ مَهْلاً بَعْضَ هذا التّدلّـلِ وإن كنتِ قد أزمعتِ صَرْمي فأجملي
19. Do from your coyness, Fatima, desist (8)
Or leave me, and on being coy, insist.

20- أغَرّكِ مني أنّ حبّـكِ قاتِـلي وَ أنّـكِ مهما تأمري القلبَ يَفْعَـلِ
20. You’ve turned vain, now that by your love I’m slain
Command my heart. Servant it shall remain.

21- وَإنْ تَكُ قد ساءَتكِ مني خَـليقةٌ فسُـلّي ثيابي من ثيابِك تَـنْسُـلِ
21. If I gave you offence, then you may
My heart take out from yours; free let it stay (9)

22- وَما ذَرَفَتْ عَيْـناكِ إلاّ لتَضْرِبي بسَهمَيكِ في اعشارِ قَـلبٍ مُـقَـتَّلِ
22. Your eyes drop tears, only for you to start
to shoot two arrows at my dying heart.

23- وَبَيْضَةِ خِدْرٍ لا يُرامُ خِـباؤُها تَمَـتّعْتُ من لَهْوٍ بها غيرَ مُعجَـلِ
23. She’ a howdah-egg, unbroken, unsoiled.
In howdah-nest, I broke and her enjoyed.

24- تجاوَزْتُ أحْراساً إلَيْها ومَعْشَراً عليّ حِـراصا لوْ يُسرّونَ مقتَلي
24. To visit her, her guards in stealth I braved (10)
If me they’d caught, they’d gladly me have slayed.

25- إذا ما الثّرَيّـا في السّماء تَعرّضَتْ تَعَرُّضَ أثْناء الوِشاح ِ المُـفَصَّـلِ
25. To her I went when night, o’er stars, unfurled
As dark nightgown is broidered and impearled.

26- فجِئْتُ وقد نَضّتْ لنَومٍ ثيابَها لدى السّـترِ إلا لِبْسَةَ المُـتَفَضِّـلِ
26. Behind curtains, she’s clad in bed attire
To let all see she’s ready to retire.

27- فقالتْ: يَمينَ الله ما لكَ حيلَـةٌ وما إنْ أرى عنكَ الغَـوايةَ تَـنْجلي
27. “By God!” said she “no means have I at hand
To keep away what you from me demand” (11)

28- خَرَجْتُ بها أمشي تَجُرّ وَراءَنا على أثَريْـنا ذَيْـلَ مِرْطٍ مُرَحَّـلِ
28. With her I walked, and she, without delay
With her gown’s train our footprints wiped away
29- فلمّا أجزْنا ساحَةَ الحيّ وانْتَحَى بنا بطنُ خَبْتٍ ذي حِـقافٍ عقَـنقَلِ
29. The tents were still. We left them far behind.
Quiet we stood, in pleasure to unwind.

30- هَصَرْتُ بفَوْدَيْ رأسها فتَمايَـلَتْ عليّ هَضيمَ الكَشح ِ ريَّـا المُخلخَلِ
30. To me I drew her temples, then she swayed
With ankles fine, full thighs, slim waist – she laid.

31- مُهَـفْهَـفَةٌ بَيْضاءُ غيرُ مُـفاضةٍ ترائـبُها مَصْـقولَةٌ كالسَّجَنجَـلِ
31. Her waist and belly, smooth they were and tight
Her chest: glitt’ring mirror e’er shining bright.

32- كَبِـكْرِ المُـقاناةِ البَياضَ بصُفْرَةٍ غذاها نَميرُ غيرُ المُحَـلَّـلِ
32. In depths of seas lie precious white pearls
In love’s fluids, my pearl from clam unfurls.

33- تصُدّ و تُبْـدي عن أسيلٍ و تَـتّقي بناظرَةٍ من وَحشِ وَجْرَةَ مُطفِـلٍ
33. When shying off, she turns the softest cheek
Like hind with fawn, her welc’ming eyes are meek.

34- وجِيدٍ كجِيدِ الرّئْمِ ليسَ بفاحشٍ إذا هي نَصّـتْهُ و لا بمُعَطَّلِ
34. No jewels does her fine slender neck bear
Its oryx-like; its beauty white and bare.

35- وَفَرْعٍ يَزينُ المَتنَ أسْوَدَ فاحِـمٍ أثيثٍ كَـقِـنْوِ النْخلةِ المُـتَعَـثْـكِـلِ
35. Her back is cov’red with coal-black hair, well-dressed
Her plaits, like palmy shoots, are wound and pressed.

36- غدائرُه مُسْـتَشزِراتٌ إلى العُلا تَضِـلّ العِقاصُ في مُـثَنـَّى و مُرْسَـلِ
36. Her locks, her plaits; with care they all are dressed.
Some flow straight down; some on her crown do rest.

37- وكَشْحٍ لطيفٍ كالجديلِ مُخَصَّرٍ وساق ٍ كأنْبوبِ السّـقيّ المُذلَّّـلِ
37. That waist! Slim-round, as if by craftsman made
Legs! Lush as shoots in laden palms cool shade

38- وتُضْحي فتيتُ المِسكِ فوق فراشها نؤومُ الضّحى لم تَنْتطِـقْ عن تفضّـلِ
38. She rises late from bed, scented with musk.
Pampered, well-served is she, from dawn till dusk.

39- وتَعطو برَخْصٍ غيرِ شَثْنٍ كأنّهُ أساريعُ ظبْي ٍ أوْ مساويكُ إسْحِـلِ
39. She picks with fingers long, rounded and soft
Like worms, (12) or straight “Is-hil” shoots high aloft (13)

40- تُضيءُ الظّلامَ بالعِشاء كأنّها مَـنارَةُ مُـمْسَى راهِبٍ مُـتَبَـتِّـلِ
40. In darkest nights her face is clear as light
A praying monk’s lit lantern glowing bright.

41- إلى مِثلها يَرنْو الحَـليمُ صَبابَةً إذا ما اسبكَرّتْ بين درْع ٍ ومِـجْولِ
41. To her, gallants, in love, wisely behaved.
Her clothes are between those of child, and maid (14)

42- تَسَـلّتْ عَماياتُ الرّجالِ عَنِ الصِّـبا وليسَ فؤادي عن هواكِ بمُـنْسَـلِ
42. Gallants’ attentions fore’er do not last
But my love for her, spite time, stands fast.

43- ألا رُبّ خَصْم فيكِ ألْوَى رَدَدتُه نصيح ٍ على تَعذالهِ غيرِ مُـؤتَـلِ
43. For loving you, reproached I’ve been and reviled
Yet I love, ‘spite those who me have defiled

44- وليلٍ كمَوْجِ البَحرِ أرْخَى سُدولَهُ عليّ بأنْواع ِ الهُـمومِ ليَـبْـتَـلي
44. Like heavy waves, long nights ‘pon me descend
I’m weighed with cares that longer nights extend.

45- فَـقُـلْتُ لَهُ لما تَمَطّى بصُـلْبِهِ وأرْدَفَ أعْجازاً وناءَ بكَـلْـكَـلِ
45. I to the night’s darkness, with grief, complained.
The carefree find it brief; the care-worn, strained.

46- ألا أيّـها اللّيلُ الطّويلُ ألا انْجَـلي بصُبْح ٍ وما الإصْباحُ مِـنكَ بأمثَـلِ
46. O longest night! I so await your morn
Though my thorny cares won’t by morn be shorn.

47- فيا لكَ من لَـيْـلٍ كأنّ نُجومَهُ بأمْراسِ كتَّـانٍ إلى صُـمِّ جَندَلِ
47. What kind of night are you! Your stars ne’er fade!
As if rock-tied with strongest rope e’er made.(15)

48- وَقِـرْبةِ أقْوامٍ جَـعَـلتُ عِـصامَها على كاهلٍ منّي ذَلُولٍ مُرَحَّـلِ
48. A full water-skin is e’er there to stay
On my camel that always drifts away (16)

49- وَوَادٍ كَجَوْفِ العَيرِ قَفْرٍ قطعتُهُ بِهِ الذئبُ يَعوي كالخَـليع ِ المُعَـيَّـلِ
49. I’ve crossed dry wastelands, where starved wolves prowl
Like gamblers’ starving young, with hunger howl

50- فقُـلتُ لَهُ لما عَوى: إنّ شأنَنا قليلُ الغِـنى إنْ كنتَ لمّـا تَمَوّلِ
50. To howling wolf said I “We’re of a kind.
We seek, but is sought we never find”.

51- كِلانا إذا ما نالَ شيْـئاً أفاتَهُ ومَن يحترِث حَرْثي وحَرْثك يهزُلِ
51. “Each looks for what he in hunger devours.
Lean is the wretch whose living is like ours” (17)

52- وقد أغتدِي والطَّيرُ في وُكنَاتِـها بِمُـنْجَرِدٍ قَـيدِ الأوابِدِ هَـيْـكلِ
52. I rise before the birds in nests awake
To mount a steed that none can overtake.

53- مِـكَـرٍّ مِفَرٍّ مُـقْبِلٍ مُدْبِرٍ مَعاً كجلمودِ صَخرٍ حطّه السيلُ من عَلِ
53. To charge, retreat, and wheel – he’s strong and fast
As boulder, by floods, down from high, is cast.

54- كُمَيتٍ يَزِلُّ الـلّـبْدَ عن حالِ متنه كما زَلّتِ الصّـفْواءُ بالمُـتَنزّلِ
54. Much sweat from its rock-like back downward goes
Like rain o’er polished stone so swiftly flows.

55- على الذَّبْـلِ جَـيّاشٍ كأنّ اهتزامَهُ إذا جاشَ فيه حميُهُ غَليُ مِـرْجَـلِ
55. Though lean, its work-power e’er is at toil
Its neighs so like a cauldron brought to boil.

56- مِسَحٍّ اذا ما السّابحاتُ على الوَنَى أثَـرْنَ الغُبارَ بالكَديدِ المُركَّـلِ
56. Onward it flies, when swiftest steeds do tire
They, heavy-hoofed, bedusted, soon retire.

57- يُزِلّ الغُلامَ الخِفَّ عَن صَهَواتِهِ ويُـلْوي بأثْوابِ العَـنيفِ المُثَـقَّـلِ
57. Weightless boys cannot, for long, on it stay
At speed, its rider’s clothes are blown away.

58- دَريرٍ كَخُذْروفِ الوليدِ أمَـرَّهُ تتابُعُ كَـفَّـيهِ بِخَيْطٍ مُوَصَّـلِ
58. Like “stone-and-string”(18)that boys o’erhead entwirl
My steed, its stone-hard frame fast forward hurls.

59- لَهُ أيْطَلا ظَبيٍ وَساقـا نَعامةٍ وَإرْخاءُ سِـرْحانٍ وتَـقْريبُ تَتْفُـلِ
59. With waist of deer, ostrich pace, wolfish core
And fox-cub hind legs o’er-leaping it’s fore.

60- ضليع ٍ إذا استَدْبَرتَهُ سَـدّ فَرْجَهُ بضافٍ فُوَيق الأرْض ليس بأعزَلِ
60. Its ribs and flanks well-curved, its rear will show
Its thick tail blocking its hind legs from view.

61- كأنّ على المَتنَـينِ منه إذا انْـتَحى مداكَ عروسٍ أو صَلايةَ حنظلِ
61. Its withers are like grindstones, hard and sound
where bride’s incense and bitter-seed (19) are ground.

62- كأنّ دِماءَ الهـادياتِ بنَـحْرِهِ عُصارَةَ حِـنّاءٍ بِـشَيبِ مُرَجَّـل
62. Its neck smeared with blood of hunted prey
So like ‘henna” that, over gray-hairs, lay (20)

63- فَعَنّ لنا لنا سِـرْبٌ كأنّ نِـعاجَهُ عَـذارى دَوارٍ في مُلاءٍ مُذَيَّـلِ
63. A herd whose ewes far ahead appeared (21)
So like virgins unsunned, by sin unsmeared.

64- فأدْبَرْنَ كالجِزْعِ المُفَصَّـلِ بَـيْـنَهُ بجيدِ مُعَمٍّ في العَـشيرَةِ مُخْولِ
64. Their like Yemen beads that well-born boys wear
Their necks and cheeks are black, their bodies fair.

65- فالحَـقَنا بالهادياتِ ودُونَهُ جَواحِـرُها في صَرّةٍ لم تُزَيَّـلِ
65. My steed did soon the herd’s vanguard o’ertake
The slow were left their slow way on to make (22)

66- فَعادى عِـداءً بَينَ ثَوْرٍ ونَعْجَةٍ دِراكاً ولم يَـنْضَحْ بماءٍ فيُغسَـلِ
66. A ram and ewe were felled in the chase
sweatless was the steed throughout th’hectic race.

67- فظلّ طُهاةُ اللّحمِ من بَينِ مُـنْضِجٍ صَـفيفَ شِـواءٍ أوْ قَديرٍ مُعَجَّـلِ
67. The copious hunt cooks set out to prepare
Some boiled some on hot stones roasted the fare.

68- وَرُحْـنا يكادُ الطَّرْفُ يقصُرُ دونَهُ متى ما تَرَقَّ العَينُ فيه تَـسَـفَّلِ
68. In splendid form was this my splendid steed
Upon its perfection eyes greed’ly feed

69- فَباتَ عَـلَيهِ سَرْجُهُ ولجامُهُ وباتَ بعَـيني قائِماً غَيرَ مُرْسَـلِ
69. Saddled and bridled it I e’er keep
And ne’er to pasture let it happ’ly leap.

70- أصاحِ تَرَى بَـرْقاً أُريكَ ومَيضَهُ كَـلَمْعِ اليَدَينِ في حَبيٍّ مكلَّـلِ
70. Look up, my friend, and see those lightning streaks!
So like the wildly flailing arms of freaks.

71- يُضيءُ سَـناهُ أوْ مَصابيحُ راهِـبِ أمالَ السّـليطَ بالذُّبالِ المُفَـتَّلِ
71. It flash lights all, like monk’s lantern; well built
As oil rushes to soak its wick at tilt.

72- قَعَدْتُ لَهُ وَصُحْبَـتي بينَ ضارِجٍ وبينَ العُذَيبِ بَعْدَ ما مُـتَـأمَّـلي
72. ‘Twixt “ Dharj” and “’Uthayb” cloud-watching sat we
Amazed I was how far my eyes could see.

73- على قَطَنٍ بالشَّـيْمِ أيمَنُ صَوبِهِ وأيْسرُهُ على السّـتارِ فَـيذْبُـلِ
73. Cloud-topped mount “Qatan” was there on our right
To left, “Sitar” and “Yethbel” were in sight.(23)

74- فأضْحَى يَسُحّ الماءَ حَوْلَ كُـتَيفةٍ يكُبّ على الأذقانِ دَوْحَ الكَـنَهبلِ
74. Torrential rain over “Kutayfah” poured
Uprooting trees that once up high had soared.

75- ومَرّ عَـلى القَـنّانِ مِـنْ نَفَيانِهِ فأنْزلَ منه العُصْمَ من كلّ منزِلِ
75. “Qinan”’s high mount was struck by that deluge
It’s frightened elk scurried for safe refuge.

76- وَتَـيْماءَ لم يَـتْرُك بها جِذْعَ نخلَةٍ ولا أُطُـــماً إلا مَشيداً بجَنْدلِ
76. “Taymaa’”s date palms were swiftly overthrown.
The floods swept all but mansions built of stone

77- كأنّ ثَبيراً في عَرانينِ وَبْـلَهُ كَبيرُ أُناسٍ في بِجادٍ مُزَمَّـلِ
77. “Thebeer”’s high mount was braced for that onslaught
As a cloaked lord, storm shelter would have sought (24)

78- كأنّ ذُرى رَأسِ المُجَيْمِـرِ غُدوَةً من السّيلِ و الأغْثاء فَـلكةُ مِـغزلِ
78. The loaded floods around “Mujaymir” swirled
And spun as swiftly as a spindle twirled (25)

79- وألقى بصَحراءِ الغَبيطِ بَعاعَهُ نزُولَ اليماني ذي العيابِ المحمَّـلِ
79. “Ghabeet”’s desert was then with color laid
Like wares Yemen merchants in full displayed (26)

80- كَـأنّ مَـكاكيّ الجِواءِ غُديّـةً صُبحنَ سُلافاً مِـن رَحيـق ٍ مُـفَلفَـلِ
80. “Mikak” bird-song throughout the valley rang (27)
‘S if peppered wine had drunk, they happ’ly sang.

81- كأنّ السّباعَ فِـيهِ غَرْقَى عَشيَّـةً بِأرجائِهِ القُصْوى أنابيشُ عُنْصُـلِ
81. The beasts that were in floods beswept and drowned,
Like flooded crops, in mud were fully bound.



(1) The locations “Towdah” and “al-Miqrat” are subjected to conflicting winds. Northern winds bury the two locations with sand which southern winds blow away again, revealing traces of deserted dwellings; distressing, says the poet for him to observe.
(2) Bitter-apple, or colocynth, the Arabic handhal is a small apple-like desert growth proverbial for its unbearable bitterness. It is gathered by professional pickers who roam the deserts to collect it; its seed used as medicine and incense. Slicing bitter-apple, like onions causes tear- flow. He likens himself, tearful and lonely at desolate locations, to pickers of bitter-apple.
(3) This hyperbolic downpour of tears is a standard poetic device showing depth of pained love for the beloved who once dwelt in the now deserted campsite.
(4) Having sacrificed his mount to feed the girls grilled meat, he is expressing his amazement at each girl taking some of his belongings home with her as a souvenir of this occasion.
(5) The metaphysical conceit here is that the white layer of fat on the slain camel’s flesh is likened to silk. The verse specifies ‘silk’ as twisted silk braid
(6) Imru’al-Qays loved his cousin ‘Unayzah (little goat). He asked for her hand but her family declined, due to his reputation as a womanizing libertine. A group of girls, including ‘Unayzah, went on a day’s outing to Juljul springs (vide supra, verse 10). Having dismissed their servants, they were bathing in the spring when Imru’ al-Qays came upon them. He collected their clothes, refusing to hand them over till each girl emerged from the spring to collect her clothes herself. The last one to do so, embarrassed and coy, was ‘Unayzah. Later that day the girls complained of hunger, so the poet killed his camel to feed them grilled meat. Late in the evening he mounted with ‘Unayzah on her howdah-camel and delivered her safely home. Verses 13-15 descibe the scene inside the howdah. Her criesto him to get down was part of her arch coyness which endeared her to him.((Mohammad Abu’l Fadhl Ibrahim Diwan Imru’al-Qays (Cairo: 1959 ed.) p.10))
(7) This and the following lines refer to other, married, and single women, excluding ‘Unayzah .
(8) Fatima is her proper name. ‘Unayza (little goat) is her nickname.
(9) The Arabic verse speaks of “clothes”, meaning the heart, as is usual in Arabic metaphorics. He says ‘If I’ve given offence and you mislike anything in me, give me back my heart and I then shall leave.’ In other words, take my heart out of yours so that it – my heart – would go its own separate, way.
(10) It is not clear if the nocturnal amorous rendezvous here was with his cousin Fatima or with someone else.
(11) Another version of this verse: “By God!” said she “your scandal comes so late/ No means have I your passions to abate”
(12) We have a metaphysical conceit in “worms”. The pre-Islamic Arabs usually compared women’s fingers, actively and nimbly at work, picking or weaving, to articulated, serpent-like worms burrowing their way energetically through damp soils.
(13) “Is-hil” is a species of oasis tree known for its dead-straight shoots growing higher up the foliage. In this verse he likens her fingers either to articulate, burrowing worms or to dead-straight “Is-hil” shoots.
(14) Her clothes being ‘between child and maid’ is related to her being pampered. Pre-Islamic Arabs considered part of the attractions of a young woman of prosperous, distinguished parents her being indolent, well-served, completely work-free, pampered, and her clothing as the poet is describing – ‘between child and maid.
(15) He sees long nights of care as never ending; their stars never fading with daylight as if they are secured firmly in place, tied to rocks with stoutest rope.
(16) The full water skin on his wayward camel that is always drifting away stands for his good deeds: bearing others’ burdens; feeding the weary and the thirsty; giving to those who ask; paying the blood-money of those who cannot afford to. He feels that all this is vain and wasteful like a wayward camel drifting away with water for those he does not know and who just happen to be thirsty.
(17) The translation of this line is based on that of Nicholson’s in Literary History p. 107
(18) “Stone-and-string” khudhroof is a flat circular stone pierced in the middle, with a length of string tied to it through the hole. Young boys, playing, twirl it over their head.
(19) “Bitter-seed” is the seed of the bitter-apple, colocynth (handhal) – vide supra verse 4n.
(20) “Henna” is an organic dark-red hair dye.
(21) The herd refers to a herd of oryx, specifically to the females in the herd.
(22) The swift steed soon overtakes the swiftest of the herd, leaving the slower ones behind.
(23) Watching clouds over distant heights, in expectation of rainfall, was a pastime in pre-Islamic times.
(24) Mount “Thabeer”, heavily enveloped by cloud, with rain falling on it in thick straight lines is likened, in its towering eminence, to a lord muffled in a white striped cloak; the rain-lines standing for the garment’s stripes.
(25) The high, swift and swirling floodwaters were loaded with debris.
(26) This desert, after heavy rainfall, burst with blooming vegetation; flowers of every hue. Sudden heavy rainfall is likened to the hectic descent of Yemeni merchants upon a market. The floral exuberance is like the merchants’ numerous colorful wares.
(27) ”Mikak” is a species of song-birds. They warble happily in celebration of the valley’s sudden, exuberant floral display after heavy rainfall.

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