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Elia Abu Madi: Tholasim

Elia Abu Madi

Elia Abu Madi or Elia D. Madey (1889-1957) was a Lebanese-American poet with numerous notable published works. The following is a translation of the first 8 stanzas from his famous work, Al-Tholasim (The Mysteries). The full poem comprises 405 lines.

I have translated (at least, attempted to) the following for your convenience.

الطلاسم
The Mysteries

جئت، لا أعلم من أين، ولكنّي أتيت
ولقد أبصرت قدّامي طريقا فمشيت
وسأبقى ماشيا إن شئت هذا أم أبيت
كيف جئت؟ كيف أبصرت طريقي؟
لست أدري!

I came, I know not from whence, but I arrived,
And before my feet a path lay under my stride,
And I continue to walk be it my will or not,
Whence did I come? And where do I go?
I do not know!

أجديد أم قديم أنا في هذا الوجود
هل أنا حرّ طليق أم أسير في قيود
هل أنا قائد نفسي في حياتي أم مقود
أتمنّى أنّني أدري ولكن…
لست أدري!

Is my part of existence new or old?
Do I walk free or am I shackled?
Am I controlled or do I control?
I wish I knew, but..
… I don’t!”

وطريقي، ما طريقي؟ أطويل أم قصير؟
هل أنا أصعد أم أهبط فيه وأغور
أأنا السّائر في الدّرب أم الدّرب يسير
أم كلاّنا واقف والدّهر يجري؟
لست أدري!

And my path, what is it? Is it long or is it short?
Do I ascend, or am I falling?
Does the path move under me or am I the one moving?
Are we standing still in Time’s flow?
I do not know!

ليت شعري وأنا عالم الغيب الأمين
أتراني كنت أدري أنّني فيه دفين
وبأنّي سوف أبدو وبأنّي سأكون
أم تراني كنت لا أدرك شيئا؟
لست أدري!

If only I knew the secrets of the Unseen,
Do you think I’d know if I was buried within?
And that I will emerge one day and be,
Or do you see nothing but ignorance in me?
I do not know!

أتراني قبلما أصبحت إنسانا سويّا
أتراني كنت محوا أم تراني كنت شيّا
ألهذا اللّغو حلّ أم سيبقى أبديّا
لست أدري… ولماذا لست أدري؟
لست أدري!

What was I, before I became a man so fashioned?
Was I something else or was I nothing of mention?
Is there a conclusion to this folly, am I eternally caught?
I do not know… and why do I know not?
I do not know!

البحر:
قد سألت البحر يوما هل أنا يا بحر منكا؟
هل صحيح ما رواه بعضهم عني وعنكا؟
أم ترى ما زعموا زوار وبهتانا وإفكا؟
ضحكت أمواجه مني وقالت:
لست أدري!

I asked the ocean one day: O Ocean, am I from you?
Is it true what they say about me and about you, too?
Or are their claims all but false and dead?
She laughed her gleeful waves at me and said,
“I don’t know!”

أيّها البحر، أتدري كم مضت ألف عليكا
وهل الشّاطىء يدري أنّه جاث لديكا
وهل الأنهار تدري أنّها منك إليكا
ما الذّي الأمواج قالت حين ثارت؟
لست أدري!

O Ocean, do you know not how many have passed over you?
And do the shores know that they kneel before you?
And do the rivers know they come to you, from you?
The waves stirred, what did they say?
I don’t know!

أنت يا بحر أسير آه ما أعظم أسرك
أنت مثلي أيّها الجبار لا تملك أمرك
أشبهت حالك حالي وحكى عذري عذرك
فمتى أنجو من الأسر وتنجو؟ ..
لست أدري!

O majestic ocean, majestic still your captivity,
You are like me, O great one. You own no ability,
My condition is like yours, and your limits tell of mine,
When will you and I be free of this bind?
I do not know!

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2014 in Poetry, Spirituality

 

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Imam ash-Shafi’ee on Travel

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Al-Imam ash-Shafi’ee (r.a) (150 H/766 M – 204 H/820 M) is known as the establisher of the shafi’ee school of jurisprudence, or mazhab of Fiqh, widely used by Muslims in South East Asia. He was one of the ahlul bayt – his lineage can be traced back to ‘abd Manaf ibn Qusay, who is also in the Prophet’s (pbuh) ancestral line. He was known as the Mujaddid (one who renews the religion) of his time, and was the first scholar to lay the foundations of the field of Usul al Fiqh (the origins of jurisprudence). He was the first to write a book on this field of study and it was named al-Risalah.

Like most other scholars of Islam, Imam ash-Shafi’ee was well-versed in Arabic linguistics and literature, for such is the requirements for one to understand the Qur’an and Hadith. Besides being a scholar of various religious fields (including Hadith and Quranic sciences), he was also a brilliant poet in his own right. The following is taken from his famous (and only) poetry collection, Diwan Ash-Shafi’ee.

Again, each bayt (verse in Arabic poetry, consisting of two sub-verses) is followed by my own inadequate translation.

ما في المقام لـذي عقـلٍ وذي أدبٍ
من راحة فـدع الأوطـان واغتـرب

There is no rest for the one of intellect and refinement in his locality, so leave your homeland and emigrate

سافر تجـد عوضـاً عمـن تفارقـه
وانصب فإن لذيذ العيش في النصـب

Travel, and you will find a replacement for that which you left, and exhaust yourself for therein is the sweetness of life

إني رأيـت وقـوف المـاء يفسـده
إن ساح طاب وإن لم يجر لم يطـب

Verily I saw water become putrid in its stagnation, and become sweet when it flows.

والأسد لولا فراق الأرض ما افترست
والسهم لولا فراق القوس لم يصـب

And the lions would not be fierce if they didn’t leave their grounds, and the arrow would not strike if it didn’t leave the bow

والشمس لو وقفت في الفلك دائمـه
ًلملها الناس من عجـم ومـن عـرب

And if the sun stayed in its place in the universe, people would have grown tired of it

والبدر لولا أفول منه ما نظرت
إليه في كل حين عين مرتقب

And if the moon did not disappear every now and then, the anticipating eye would never spare a glance at it

والتبر كالترب ملقـي فـي أماكنـه
والعود في أرضه نوع من الحطـب

And raw gold is as good as the dust that covers it, and the staff covered in dust is mere firewood.

فـإن تغـرب هـذا عـز مطلـبـه
وإن تغـرب ذلـك عـز كالـذهـب

In leaving your destiny will change, and in emigration you will become precious, like gold.

And Allah knows.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Arabic, Poetry

 

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The requirements of being an Educator

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This is one of the most notable works by Abu al-Aswad ad-Du’ali (16-69 H), one of the greatest forefathers of Arab grammar. He is of the tabi’in (the generation after the Prophet pbuh) and played a major role in assigning the markings (shakl) in the Holy Qur’an. Much reference has been made to this (especially the last line) in studies of Arabic literature and grammar.

Each line is followed by my own inadequate translation.

يا أيها الرجل المعلم غيره | هلا لنفسك كان ذا التعليم
O ye who teaches others, why haven’t you educated yourself?

تصف الدواء لذي السقا و ذي الضنا | كيما يصح و أنت سقيم
You prescribe remedies to the thirsty and the one in hardship, as if it cures – while you remain sick,

و نراك تصلح بالرشاد عقولنا | و أبدا و أنت من الرشاد عديم
You attempt to solve our problems by guiding our discretion, yet you are most obviously in need for guidance,

ابدأ بنفسك فانهها عن غيرها | فإذا انتهت عنه فأنت حكيم
Begin with yourself and restrain it from others, and once (your training) is complete, then you are wise.

و هناك يقبل ما تقول و يشتفى | بالقول منك و ينفع التعليم
Thereafter will there be acceptance of your words and a cure (that comes from it), and your teaching will be of benefit,

لا تنه عن خلق و تأتي مثله | عار عليك إذا فعلت عظيم
Do not condemn an action and then behave in that same manner, it is a terrible disgrace upon you.

Here Du’ali has made an explicit reference to undesirable characteristics in the transmitters of knowledge. He uses a firm, reprimanding tone against the self (the word used here being nafs) – an adequate warning universally applicable then and now.

And Allah Knows.

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2012 in Arabic, Poetry

 

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Some Rhymes and a Lot of Nonsense

The following are some of my unremarkable attempts at wordplay and alliteration.

The sultry Sunday slipped secretively
Through my fingers, sandlike and slippery,
Surreal it was, point- blank, serenity,
Slithering silently into eternity.

It was apparent poison in plain perception
As I beheld the pain in pale apprehension,
Panic erupted and pelted my vision,
and drew perfect parallels with my discretion.

Unhappily he handed, hurried and haughty
A handsome horse, hitched and gaudy,
Held up and hesitant, his face did show,
Cast here, high on his worried brow.

-Z

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Poetry, Rants

 

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Woven.

Bismillaahirrahmaanirraheem.

Such is the incomprehensible Wisdom and Beauty of God, that no paths cross except for a reason, each a thread carefully woven into the intricate, seamless cloth of life.

Little do we realize that we remain in each other’s lives only for as long as we have to, until our role in each other’s development is complete, and then we move on to the next set of threads, and the next, and the next.

For some, the process is quick, while others prefer to take their time. Sometimes we see the same faces over and over again, and others, we only meet once.

Perhaps the only established reality of life is that it changes, constantly and relentlessly, whether we like it or not.

I was waiting by that lone, frosty street,

Hands clasped in misery,

It was sweet.

Just a thought,

Zaf.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Rants, Spirituality

 

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