The Poem of Tarafa

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

THE mansion of Khaula is desolate, and the traces of it on the stony hills of Tahmed faintly shine, like the remains of blue figures painted on the back of a hand."

2. While I spoke thus to myself, my companions stopped their coursers by my side, and said, "Perish not through despair, but act with fortitude."

3. Ah, said I, the vehicles which bore away my fair one on the morning when the tribe of Malec departed, and their camels were traversing the banks of Deda, resembled large ships

4. Sailing from Aduli; or vessels of the merchant Ibn Yamin, which the mariner now turns obliquely, and now steers in a direct course;

5. Ships, which cleave the foaming waves with their prows, as a boy at his play divides with his hand the collected earth.

6. In that tribe was a lovely antelope, with black eyes, dark ruddy lips, and a beautiful neck, gracefully raised to crop the fresh berries of erac—a neck adorned with two strings of pearls and topazes.

7. She strays from her young, and feeds with the herd of roes in the tangled thicket, where she browses the edges of the wild fruit, and covers herself with a mantle of leaves.

8. She smiles, and displays her bright teeth, rising from their dark-coloured bases, like a privet-plant in full bloom, which pierces a bank of pure sand moistened with dew:

9. To her teeth the sun has imparted his brilliant water; but not to the part where they grow, which is sprinkled with lead-ore, while the ivory remains unspotted.

10. Her face appears to be wrapped in a veil of sunbeams; unblemished is her complexion, and her skin is without a wrinkle.

11. Such cares as this, whenever they oppress my soul, I dispel by taking adventurous journeys on a lean yet brisk camel, who runs with a quick pace both morning and evening;

12. Sure-footed, firm, and thin as the planks of a bier; whose course I hasten over long-trodden paths, variegated like a striped vest.

13. She rivals the swiftest camels, even of the noblest breed, and her hind-feet rapidly follow her fore-feet on the beaten way.

14. In the vernal season, she grazes on yon two hills among others of her race, whose teats are not yet filled with milk, and depastures the lawns, whose finest grass the gentle showers have made luxuriantly green.

15. She turns back at the sound of her rider's voice; and repels the caresses of a thick-haired russet stallion with the lash of her bushy tail,

16. Which appears as if the two wings of a large white eagle were transfixed by an awl to the bone, and hung waving round both her sides:

17. One while it lashes the place of him who rides hindmost on her; another while it plays round her teats, which are become wrinkled and flaccid like a leathern bag, their milk no longer distending them.

18. Her two haunches are plump, and compact as the two smooth valves of a lofty castle-gate.

19. Supple is her backbone: her ribs are like the strongest bows; and her neck is firmly raised on the well-connected vertebres.

20. The two cavities under her shoulders are spacious as two dens of beasts among the wild lotus plants; and stiff bows appear to be bent under her sinewy loins.

21. Her two thighs are exceedingly strong, and, when she moves, they diverge like two buckets carried from a well in the hands of a robust drawer of water.

22. Her joints are well knit, and her bones are solid, like a bridge of Grecian architecture, whose builder had vowed that he would enclose it with well-cemented bricks.

23. The hair under her chin is of a reddish hue: her back is muscular: she takes long yet quick steps with her hind-feet, and moves her fore-feet with agility;

24. She tosses them from her chest with the strength and swiftness of cables firmly pulled by a nervous arm; and her shoulders are bent like the rafters of a lofty dome:

25. She turns rapidly from the path: exceedingly swift is her pace; long is her head; and her shoulder-bones are strongly united to her sides.

26. The white and hollow marks of the cords, with which her burdens have been tied to her back, resemble pools of water on the smooth brow of a solid rock;

27. Marks which sometimes unite, and sometimes are distinct, like the gores of fine linen, which are sewed under the arms of a well-cut robe.

28. Long is her neck; and when she raises it with celerity, it resembles the stern of a ship floating aloft on the billowy Tigris.

29. Her skull is firm as an anvil; and the bones, which the sutures unite, are indented, and sharp as a file.

30. Her cheek is smooth and white as paper of Syria; and her lips, as soft as dyed leather of Yemen, exactly and smoothly cut.

3r. Her two eyes, like two polished mirrors, have found a hiding-place in the caverns of their orbits, the bones of which are like rocks, in whose cavities the water is collected:

32. Thou beholdest them free from blemish or spot, and resembling in beauty those of a wild-cow, the mother of playful young, when the voice of the hunter has filled her with fear.

33. Her ears truly distinguish every sound, to which she listens attentively in her nightly journeys, whether it be a gentle whisper or a loud noise;

34. Sharp ears, by which the excellence of her breed is known!—ears like those of a solitary wild-bull in the groves of Haumel.

35. Her heart, easily susceptible of terror, palpitates with a quick motion, yet remains firm in her chest as a round solid stone striking a broad floor of marble.

36. If I please, she raises her head to the middle of her trappings, and swims with her fore-legs as swift as a young ostrich.

37. If I please, she moves more slowly; if not, she gallops, through fear of the strong lash formed of twisted thongs.

38. Her upper-lip is divided, and the softer part of her nose is bored: when she bends them towards the ground her pace is greatly accelerated.

39. On a camel like this I continue my course, when the companion of my adventure exclaims: "Oh, that I could redeem thee, and redeem myself from the impending danger!"

40. While his soul flutters through fear, and, imagining that he has lost the way, he supposes himself on the brink of perdition.

41. When the people say aloud: "Who is the man to deliver us from calamity?" I believe they call upon me, and I disgrace not their commission by supineness or folly.

42. I shake the lash over my camel, and she quickens her pace, while the sultry vapour rolls in waves over the burning cliffs.

43. She floats proudly along with her flowing tail, as the dancing-girl floats in the banquet of her lord, and spreads the long white skirts of her trailing vest.

44. I inhabit not the lofty hills through fear of enemies or of guests; but when the tribe or the traveller demand my assistance, I give it eagerly.

45. If you seek me in the circle of the assembled nation, there you find me; and if you hunt me in the bowers of the vintner, there too you discover your game.

46. When you visit me in the morning, I offer you a flowing goblet; and, if you make excuses, I bid you drink it with pleasure, and repeat your draught.

47. When all the clan are met to state their pretensions to nobility, you will perceive me raised to the summit of an illustrious house, the refuge of the distressed.

48. My companions in the feast are youths, bright as stars, and singing-girls, who advance towards us, clad in striped robes and saffron-coloured mantles:

49. Large is the opening of their vests above their delicate bosoms, through which the inflamed youth touches their uncovered breasts of exquisite softness.

50. When we say to one of them, "Let us hear a song," she steps before us with easy grace, and begins with gentle notes, in a voice not forced:

51. When she warbles in a higher strain, you would believe her notes to be those of camels lamenting their lost young.

52. Thus I drink old wine, without ceasing, and enjoy the delights of life; selling and dissipating my property, both newly acquired and inherited;

53. Until the whole clan reject me, and leave me solitary, like a diseased camel smeared with pitch:

54. Yet even now I perceive that the sons of earth (the most indigent men) acknowledge my bounty, and the rich inhabitants of yon extended camp confess my glory.

55. Oh, thou, who censurest me for engaging in combats and pursuing pleasures, wilt thou, if I avoid them, insure my immortality?

56, If thou art unable to repel the stroke of death, allow me, before it comes, to enjoy the good which I possess.

57. Were it not for three enjoyments which youth affords, I swear by thy prosperity, that I should not be solicitous how soon my friends visited me on my death-bed:

58. First, to rise before the censurers awake, and to drink tawny wine, which sparkles and froths when the clear stream is poured into it.

59. Next, when a warrior, encircled by foes, implores my aid, to bend towards him my prancing charger, fierce as a wolf among the gadha-trees, whom the sound of human steps has awakened, and who runs to quench his thirst at the brook.

60. Thirdly, to shorten a cloudy day, a day astonishingly dark, by toying with a lovely delicate girl under a tent supported by pillars,—

61. A girl, whose bracelets and garters seem hung on the stems of oshar-trees, or of ricinus, not stripped of their soft leaves.

62. Suffer me, whilst I live, to drench my head with wine, lest, having drunk too little in my life-time, I should be thirsty in another state.

63. A man of my generous spirit drinks his full draught to-day, and to-morrow, when we are dead, it will be known which of us has not quenched his thirst.

64. I see no difference between the tomb of an anxious miser, gasping over his hoard, and the tomb of the libertine, lost in the maze of voluptuousness.

65. You behold the sepulchres of them both raised in two heaps of earth, on which are elevated two broad piles of solid marble among the tombs closely connected.

66. Death, I observe, selects the noblest heroes for her victims, and reserves as her property the choicest possessions of the sordid hoarder.

67. I consider time as a treasure decreasing every night; and that which every day diminishes soon perishes for ever.

68. By thy life, my friend, when Death inflicts not her wound, she resembles a camel-driver who relaxes the cord which remains twisted in his hand.

69. What causes the variance, which I perceive, between me and my cousin Malec, who, whenever I approach him, retires and flees to a distance?

70. He censures me, whilst I know not the ground of his censure; just as Karth, the son of Aabed, reproved me in the assembly of the tribe.

71. He bids me wholly despair of all the good which I seek, as if we had buried it in a gloomy grave;

7 2. And this for no defamatory words which I have uttered, but only because I sought, without remissness, for the camels of my brother Mabed.

73. I have drawn closer the ties of our relation, and I swear by thy prosperity, that in all times of extreme distress, my succour is at hand.

74. Whenever I am summoned on momentous enterprises, I am prepared to encounter peril; and whenever the foe assails thee impetuously, I defend thee with equal vehemence.

75. If any base defamers injure thy good name by their calumnies, I force them, without previous menace, to drain a cup from the pool of death;

76. Yet, without having committed any offence, I am treated like the worst offender—am censured, insulted, upbraided, rejected.

77. When any other man but Malec my cousin, he would have dispelled my cares, or have left me at liberty for a season.

78. But my kinsman strangles me with cruelty, even at the very time when I am giving thanks for past, and requesting new favours; even when I am seeking from him the redemption of my soul!

79. The unkindness of relations gives keener anguish to every noble breast than the stroke of an Indian scimitar.

80. Permit me then to follow the bent of my nature, and I will be grateful for thy indulgence, although my abode should be fixed at such a distance as the mountains of Darghed.

81. Had it pleased the Author of my being, I might have been as illustrious as Kais, the son of Khaled; had it pleased my Creator, I might have been as eminent as Amru, the son of Morthed:

82. Then should I have abounded in wealth; and the noblest chiefs would have visited me, as a chieftain equally noble.

83. I am light, as you know me all, and am nimble; following my own inclinations, and briskly moving as the head of a serpent with flaming eyes.

84. I have sworn that my side should never cease to line a bright Indian blade with two well-polished and well-sharpened edges:

85. A penetrating scimitar! When I advance with it in my defence against a fierce attack, the first stroke makes a second unnecessary: it is not a mere pruning-sickle,

86. But the genuine brother of confidence, not bent by the most impetuous blow; and when they say to me, "Gently," I restrain its rage, and exclaim, "It is enough!"

87. When the whole clan are bracing on their armour with eager haste, thou mayst find me victorious in the conflict, as soon as my hand can touch the hilt of this scimitar.

88. Many a herd of slumbering camels have I approached with my drawn sabre, when the foremost of them, awakening, have fled through fear of me:

89. But one of them has passed before me, strong-limbed, full-breasted, and well-fed, the highly-valued property of a morose old churl, dry and thin as a fuller's club.

90. He said to me, when the camel's hoof and thigh were dismembered, "Seest thou not how great an injury thou hast done me?"

91. Then he turned to his attendants, saying, "What opinion do you form of that young wine-drinker, who assails us impetuously, whose violence is preconcerted?

92. "Leave him," he added, "and let this camel be his perquisite; but, unless you drive off the hindmost of the herd, he will reiterate his mischief."

93. Then our damsels were busy in dressing the camel's foal, and eagerly served up the luscious bunch.

94. O daughter of Mabed, sing my praises, if I am slain, according to my desert, and rend thy vest with sincere affliction!

95. Compare me not with any man, whose courage equals not my courage; whose exploits are not like mine; who has not been engaged in combats, in which I have been distinguished:

96. With a man slow in noble enterprises, but quick in base pursuits; dishonoured in the assembly of the tribe, and a vile outcast.

97. Had I been ignoble among my countrymen, the enmity of the befriended and the friendless might have been injurious to me;

98. But their malevolence is repelled by my firm defiance of them, by my boldness in attack, by my solid integrity, and my exalted birth.

99. By thy life, the hardest enterprises neither fill my day with solicitude, nor lengthen the duration of my night:

100. But many a day have I fixed my station immoveably in the close conflict, and defended a pass, regardless of hostile menaces,

101. On my native field of combat, where even the boldest hero might be apprehensive of destruction; where the muscles of our chargers quake, as soon as they mingle in battle;

102. And many an arrow for drawing lots have I seen well hardened and made yellow by fire, and then have delivered it into the hand of the gamester noted for ill fortune.

103. Too much wisdom is folly; for time will produce events, of which thou canst have no idea; and he, to whom thou gayest no commission, will bring thee unexpected news.