الخنساء, Al-Khansa, elegiacal poetess from the time of Mohammed

laylaessaydi

أعينيّ جودا ولا تجمُدا ألا تبكيانِ لصخرِ النّدى ؟

This is the first of a poetry series I intend to make online; there is a surprising dearth of bilingual anthologies of Arabic poetry, and when they do exist, they are either obscurely academic or free of any annotations whatsoever. So this may be helpful for a student of Arabic who’s not quite fluent but wants to start reading poetry!

Al-Khansa was a contemporary of Muhammed and eventually converted to Islam. Having lost all her close male relatives- her beloved brothers and sons-to warfare, her elegies are surprisingly sanguine. Rather than mourning a loss, she evokes a presence: of a sturdy heroic leader, who is not obliterated by death (the term itself is never used), but rather finds through it a higher glory. The theme is universal in times of war;  it is in fact eerily similar to Thetis and Achilles.

Why else does al-Khansa matter? She was (literally) one of the world’s first Muslims, and a feminist. When she was told by fellow poet al-Naghiba that she was the greatest poet amongst those with breasts, she answered ‘I’m also the greatest among those with testicles.’ Now that’s a riot grrrl. When googling for an image, I was saddened to find out that Daesh has an al-Khansa brigade, an all-women religious enforcement unit. Babes with burqas and bullets yo.

أعينيّ جودا ولا تجمُدا              ألا تبكيانِ لصخرِ النّدى ؟
Oh my eyes, be generous and do not freeze, / will you not weep for Sakhr of the dew?

ألا تبكيانِ الجريءَ الجميلَ                ألا تبكيانِ الفَتى السيّدا؟
Will you not weep for the audacious one, the handsome one, / will you not weep for the young commander?

إذا القوْمُ مَدّوا بأيديهِمِ                     إلى المَجدِ مدّ إلَيهِ يَدا
When the clan stretched its hands to glory, / he stretched his own hand to it,

فنالَ الذي فوْقَ أيديهِمِ              من المجدِ ثمّ مضَى مُصْعِدا
Then he obtained that which is above their hands in glory, / and then he moved on in ascension.

يُكَلّفُهُ القَوْمُ ما عالهُمْ                  وإنْ كانَ أصغرَهم موْلِدا
The clan tasked him with providing for them, / although he was the youngest amongst them

طَويلَ النِجادِ رَفيعَ العِمادِ                  قد سادَ عَشيرَتَهُ أَمرَدا
Long of height, high of poles, / he had mastered his clan when he was still beardless

تَرى المجدَ يهوي الَى بيتهِ          يَرى افضلَ الكسبِ انْ يحمدَا
You see the glory descending to his house, / he sees the best earning in being thanked.

وَانَ ذكرَ المجدُ الفيتهُ                    تَأزّرَ بالمَجدِ ثمّ ارْتَدَى
And if glory was mentioned and found, / he wore the glory below, he wore it above.

Grammar

أ: old form of ya, meaning oh, lo, behold
عينيّ: dual of عين eye + 1st person possessive
جودا: imp of جاد يجود  to be generous
لا تجمُدا: neg imp of جمد يجمد  to freeze, be immobilized
تبكيانِ:   dual of بكى يبكي  to cry. side note: the verb bakûm means ‘to cry’ in Akkadian, and we find it used elegiacally in the myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal
لصخرِ النّدى: l+Sakhr= for Sakhr. Sakhr + al-noun= idafa, possessive, hence: Sakhr of the dew
إذا: when
مَدّوا: plural of مَدّ to stretch
أيديهِمِ: their hands, plural of  يَد
فنالَ: f + verb= then he…
مُصْعِدا: ‘ascendingly’مُصْعِد (ascension) + ا
أصغرَهم موْلِدا: the youngest of them in terms of birth (from ولد)
رَفيعَ العِمادِ: high of poles (the tent), meaning he hosts many guests, and is honorable
أَمرَدا: boy with a mustache but without a beard
الكسبِ: masdar (verbal noun) of كسب, to earn
يحمدَا: passive حمد, to be thanked (same verb as in alhamdulilah)
تَأزّرَ: past of ارتدى، يرتدي ,  to wear clothes on the lower half of the body. presumably meaning glory on earth, in the battlefield.
ارْتَدَى: clothes for the upper half of the body: glory in heaven.

5 Comments

  1. So proud of your accomplishments with translation, I have been exposed to something I never would have been aware of. Thank you. Looking forward to the next one!

    Like

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