The Poem of Lebeid

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The Poem of Lebeid  (1881) 
by Labid, translated by W. A. Clouston
One of seven poems hanged in the Islamic Kaaba, predating the birth of Muhammad. Translated in 1881.

DESOLATE are the mansions of the fair, the stations in Minia, where they rested, and those where they fixed their abodes! Wild are the hills of Goul, and deserted is the summit of Rijaam.

2. The canals of Rayaan are destroyed: the remains of them are laid bare and smoothed by the floods, like characters engraved on the solid rocks.

3. Dear ruins! Many a year has been closed, many a month, holy and unhallowed, has elapsed, since I exchanged tender vows with their fair inhabitants!

4. The rainy constellations of spring have made their hills green and luxuriant: the drops from the thunder-clouds have drenched them with profuse as well as with gentle showers:

5. Showers, from every nightly cloud, from every cloud veiling the horizon at day-break, and from every evening cloud, responsive with hoarse murmurs.

6. Here the wild eringo-plants raise their tops: here the antelopes bring forth their young, by the sides of the valley: and here the ostriches drop their eggs.

7. The large-eyed wild-cows lie suckling their young, a few days old—their young, who will soon become a herd on the plain.

8. The torrents have cleared the rubbish, and disclosed the traces of habitations, as the reeds of a writer restore effaced letters in a book;

9. Or as the black dust, sprinkled over the varied marks on a fair hand, brings to view with a brighter tint the blue stains of woad.

10. I stood asking news of the ruins concerning their lovely habitants; but what avail my questions to dreary rocks, who answer them only by their echo?

11. In the plains, which now are naked, a populous tribe once dwelled; but they decamped at early dawn, and nothing of them remains, but the canals which encircled their tents, and the thumaam-plants, with which they were repaired.

12. How were thy tender affections raised, when the damsels of the tribe departed; when they hid themselves in carriages of cotton, like antelopes in their lair; and the tents, as they were struck, gave a piercing sound!

13. They were concealed in vehicles whose sides were well covered with awnings and carpets, with fine-spun curtains, and pictured veils:

14. A company of maidens were seated in them, with black eyes and graceful motions, like the wild heifers of Tudah, or the roes of Wegera tenderly gazing on their young.

15. They hastened their camels, till the sultry vapour gradually stole them from thy sight; and they seemed to pass through a vale, wild with tamarisks and rough with large stones, like the valley of Beihsa.

16. Ah, what remains in thy remembrance of the beautiful Nawara, since now she dwells at a distance, and all the bonds of union between her and thee, both strong and weak, are torn asunder?

17. A damsel, who sometimes has her abode in Faid, and sometimes is a neighbour to the people of Hejaaz!—how can she be an object of thy desire?

18. She alights at the eastern side of the two mountains, Aja and Salma, and then stops on the hills of Mohajjer; Rokhaam also and Ferda receive her with joy.

19. When she travels towards Yemen, we may suppose that she rests at Sawayik; and baits at the stations of Wahaaf and Telkhaam.

20. Break then so vain a connection with a mistress whose regard has ceased; for hapless is a union with a maid who has broken her vow!

21. When a damsel is kind and complacent, love her with ardent affection; but when her faith staggers and her constancy is shaken, let your disunion be unalterably fixed.

22. Execute thy purpose, O Lebeid, on a camel, wearied by long journeys, which have left but little of her former strength;—a camel whose sides are emaciated, and on whose back the bunch is diminished;

23. Yet even in this condition, when her flesh is extenuated, and her hair thin, when, after many a toilsome day, the thong of her shoes is broken,—

24. Even now she has a spirit so brisk, that she flies with the rein, like a dun cloud driven by the south wind, after it has discharged its shower;

25. Or like a female wild-ass, whose teats are distended with milk, while the male, by whom she is with foal, is grown lean with driving his rivals from her, with biting and kicking them in his rage.

26. He runs with her up the crooked hills, although he has been wounded in his battles; but her present coyness, compared with her late fondness, fills him with surprise.

27. He ascends the sandy hillock of Thalbut, and explores its deserted top, fearing lest an enemy should lurk behind the guide-stones.

28. There they remain till the close of the sixth month, till the frosty season is past; they subsist on herbage without water: their time of fasting and of retirement is long.

29. The thorns of the buhma-plant wound their hind-legs, and the sultry winds of summer drive them violently in their course.

30. At length they form in their minds a fixed resolution of seeking some cool rivulet, and the object of their settled purpose is nearly attained.

31. They alternately raise high clouds of dust with an extended shade, as the smoke rises from a pile of dry wood newly kindled and flaming,

32. When fresh arfadge-plants are mingled in the heap, and the north wind plays with the blazing fire.

33. He passes on, but makes her run before him; for such is his usual course, when he fears that she will linger behind.

34. They rush over the margin of the rivulet, they divide the waters of the full stream, whose banks are covered with the plants of kolaam,—

35. Banks, which a grove of reeds, part erect and part laid prostrate, overshades or clothes, as with a mantle.

36. Is this the swiftness of my camel? No; rather she resembles a wild-cow, whose calf has been devoured by ravenous beasts, when she has suffered him to graze apart, and relied for his protection on the leader of the herd;

37. A mother with flat nostrils; who, as soon as she misses her young one, ceases not to run hastily round the vales between the sand-hills, and to fill them with her mournful cries;

38. With cries for her white-haired young, who now lies rolled in dust, after the dun wolves—hunters of the desert—have divided his mangled limbs, and their feast has not been interrupted.

39. They met him in the moment of her neglect; they seized him with eagerness; for, oh, how unerring are the arrows of death!

40. She passes the night in agony; while the rain falls in a continued shower, and drenches the tangled groves with a profuse stream.

41. She shelters herself under the root of a tree, whose boughs are thick, apart from other trees, by the edge of a hill, whose fine sands are shaken by her motion;

42. Yet the successive drops fall on her striped hack, while the clouds of night veil the light of the stars.

43. Her white hair glimmers when the darkness is just coming on, and sparkles like the pearls of a merchant, when he scatters them from their string.

44. At length, when the clouds are dispersed, and the dawn appears, she rises early, and her hoofs glide on the slippery ground.

45. She grows impatient, and wild with grief: she lies frantic in the pool of Soayid for seven whole days with their twin-sisters, seven nights;

46. And now she is in total despair; her teats, which were full of milk, are grown flaccid and dry, though they are not worn by suckling and weaning her young.

47. She now hears the cry of the hunters; she hears it, but sees them not; she trembles with fear: for she knows that the hunters bring her destruction.

48. She sits quivering, and imagines that the cause of her dread will appear on one side and the other, before and behind her.

49. When the archers despair of reaching her with their shafts, they let slip their long-eared hounds, answering to their names, with bodies dry and thin.

50. They rush on: but she brandishes against them her extended horns, both long and sharp as javelins made by the skilful hand of Samhar,

51. Striving to repel them; for she knows that, if her effort be vain, the destined moment of her death must soon approach:

52. Then she drives the dog Casaab to his fate; she is stained with his blood; and Sokhaam is left prostrate on the field.

53. On a camel like this, when the flashes of the noontide vapour dance over the plain, and the sultry mist clothes the parched hills,

54. I accomplish my bold design, from which I am not deterred by any fear of reprehension from the most censorious man.

55. Knowest thou not, O Nawara, that I preserve the knot of affection entire, or cut it in two, as the objects of it are constant or faithless?

56. That I would leave without reluctance a country not congenial to my disposition, although death were instantly to overtake my soul?

57. Ah, thou knowest not how many serene nights, with sweet sport and mirthful revelry,

58. I pass in gay conversation; and often return to the flag of the wine-merchant, when he spreads it in the air, and sells his wine at a high price:

59. I purchase the old liquor at a dear rate, in dark leathern bottles long reposited, or in casks, black with pitch, whose seals I break, and then fill the cheerful goblet.

60. How often do I quaff pure wine in the morning, and draw towards me the fair lutanist, whose delicate fingers skilfully touch the strings!

61. I rise before the cock to take my morning draught, which I sip again and again, when the sleepers of the dawn awake.

62. On many a cold morning, when the freezing winds howl, and the hand of the North holds their reins, I turn aside their blast from the travellers, whom I receive in my tent.

63. When I rise early to defend my tribe, my arms are borne by a swift horse, whose girths resemble my sash adorned with gems.

64. I ascend a dusty hill to explore the situation of the foe, and our dust, flying in clouds, reaches the hostile standard.

65. At length, when the sun begins to sink into darkness, and the veil of night conceals the ambuscade and the stratagems of our enemy,

66. I descend into the vale; and my steed raises his neck like the smooth branch of a lofty palm, which he who wishes to cut it cannot reach:

67. I incite him to run like a fleet ostrich in his impetuous course, until, when he boils in his rage and his bones are light,

68. His trappings are strongly agitated; a shower flows down his neck; and his surcingle is bathed in the scalding foam.

69. He lifts his head: he flies at liberty with the loose rein; and hastens to his goal, as a dove hastens to the brook when her feverish thirst rages.

70. There is a mansion (the palace of Nomaan) filled with guests, unknown to each other; hoping for presents and fearing reproof:

71. It is inhabited by men, like strong-necked lions, who menace one another with malignant hate, like the demons of Badiya, with feet firmly riveted in the conflict.

72. I disputed their false pretensions, yet admitted their real merit, according to my judgment; nor could the noblest among them surpass me in renown.

73. Oft have I invited a numerous company to the death of a camel bought for slaughter, to be divided by lot with arrows of equal dimensions:

74. I invite them to draw lots for a camel without a foal, and for a camel with her young one, whose flesh I distribute to all the neighbours.

75. The guest and the stranger, admitted to my board, seem to have alighted in the sweet vale of Tebaala, luxuriant with vernal blossoms.

76. To the cords of my tent approaches every needy matron, worn with fatigue, like a camel doomed to die at her master's tomb, whose vesture is both scanty and ragged.

77. There they crown with meat, while the wintry winds contend with fierce blasts, a dish flowing like a rivulet, into which the famished orphans eagerly plunge.

78. When the nations are assembled, some hero of our tribe, firm in debate, never fails by superior powers to surmount the greatest difficulty.

79. He distributes equal shares; he dispenses justice to the tribes; he is indignant when their right is diminished; and, to establish their right, often relinquishes his own.

80. He acts with greatness of mind and with nobleness of heart: he sheds the dew of his liberality on those who need his assistance;—he scatters around his own gains and precious spoils, the prizes of his valour.

81. He belongs to a tribe whose ancestors have left them a perfect model; and every tribe that descends from us will have patterns of excellence, and objects of imitation.

82. If their succour be asked, they instantly brace on their helmets, while their lances and breast-plates glitter like stars.

83. Their actions are not sullied by the rust of time, or tarnished by disgrace; for their virtues are unshaken by any base desires.

84. He hath raised for us a fabric of glory with a lofty summit, to which all the aged and all the young men of our tribe aspire.

85. Be content, therefore, with the dispensations of the Supreme Ruler; for He, who best knows our nature, has dispensed justice among us.

86. When peace has been established by our tribe, we keep it inviolate; and He, who makes it, renders our prosperity complete.

87. Noble are the exertions of our heroes, when the tribe struggle with hardships: they are our leaders in war, and in peace the deciders of our claims:

88. They are an enlivening spring to their indigent neighbours, and to the disconsolate widows, whose year passes heavily away:

89. They are an illustrious race; although their enviers may be slow in commending them, and the malevolent censurer may incline to their foe.