The Poem of Antara
HAVE the bards who preceded me left any theme unsung? What, therefore, shall be my subject? Love only must supply my lay. Dost thou then recollect, after long consideration, the mansion of thy beloved?
2. O bower of Abla, in the valley of Jiwaa, give me tidings of my love! O bower of Abla, may the morning rise on thee with prosperity and health!
3. There I stopped my camel, large as a tower, the anguish of my passion having delayed the accomplishment of my bold enterprise,
4. Whilst Abla was dwelling in Jiwaa, and our tribe were stationed in Hazn, and Samaan, and Motathallem.
5. Hail, dear ruins! with whose possessors I had old engagements; more dreary and more desolate are you become, after the departure of my beloved Omm Alheitham!
6. She dwells in the land of my foes, like roaring lions: oh, how painful has been my search after thee, fair daughter of Makhrem!
7. I felt myself attached to her at our first interview, although I had slain her countrymen in battle: I assure thee, by the life of thy father, that of my attachment there can be no doubt.
8. Thou hast possessed thyself of my heart; thou hast fixed thy abode in it (imagine not that I delude thee), and art settled there as a beloved and cherished inhabitant.
9. Yet how can I visit my fair one, whilst her family have their vernal mansion in Oneizatain, and mine are stationed in Ghailem?
10. Surely thou hast firmly resolved to depart from me, since the camels of thy tribe are bridled even in so dark a night.
11. Nothing so much alarms me with a signal of her destined removal as my seeing the camels of burden, which belong to her tribe, grazing on khimkhim-berries in the midst of their tents:
12. Among them are forty-two milch-camels, dark as the plumes of a coal-black raven.
13. Then, Antara, she pierced thee to the heart with her well-pointed teeth exquisitely white, the kiss of which is delicious, and the taste ravishingly sweet!
14. From the mouth of this lovely damsel, when you kiss her lips, proceeds the fragrance of musk, as from the vase of a perfumer;
15. Or like the scent of a blooming bower, whose plants the gentle rains have kept in continual verdure, which no filth has sullied, and to which there has been no resort:
16. Every morning-cloud, clear of hail, has drenched it with a plentiful shower, and has left all the little cavities in the earth both round and bright as coins of silver:
17. Profusely and copiously it descends; and every evening the stream, which nothing intercepts, gushes rapidly through it.
18. The flies remain in it with incessant buzzing, and their murmurs are like the song of a man exhilarated with wine:
19. Their sound, when they strike their slender legs against each other, is like the sound of a flint, from which the sparks are forced by a man with one arm, intent upon his labour.
20. While thou, fair Abla, reclinest both evening and morning on the lap of a soft couch, I pāss whole nights on the back of a dark-coloured horse well caparisoned:
21. My only cushion is the saddle of a charger with firm thick feet, strong-sided, and large in the place of his girths.
22. Shall a camel of Shaden bear me to thy tent, a camel, far removed from her country, destitute of milk, and separated from the herd?
23. She waves her tail in her playful mood, and proudly moves her body from side to side, even at the end of her nightly excursion: she strikes the hills with her quickly-moving and firmly-trampling hoofs.
24. Thus the bird without ears, between whose feet there is but a small space, the swift ostrich beats the ground in his evening course.
25. The young ostriches gather themselves around him, as a multitude of black Yemenian camels assemble round their Abyssinian herdman, who is unable to express himself in the language of Arabia.
26. They follow him, guided by the loftiness of his head, which resembles the carriage of travelling damsels, raised on high, and covered like a tent.
27. His head, though lofty, is small: when he is going to visit the eggs, which his female left in Dhulasheira, he looks like an Ethiop with short ears in a trailing garment of furred hides.
28. My camel drinks the water of Dehradhain, but starts aside with disdain from the hostile rivulets of Dailem.
29. She turns her right side, as if she were in fear of some large-headed screamer of the night,—
30. Of a hideous wild-cat fixed to her body, who, as often as she bent herself towards him in her wrath, assailed her with his claws and his teeth.
31. I continue all day on the well-cemented tower of her back, strongly raised, and firm as the pillars of him who pitches a tent.
32. When she rests, she crouches on the soft bank of Ridaa, and groans through fatigue, like the soft sounding reed, which she presses with her weight.
33. Her sweat resembles thick rob or tenacious pitch, which the kindled fire causes to bubble in the sides of a caldron;
34. It gushes from behind her ears, when she boils with rage, exults in her strength, and struts in her pride, like the stallion of her herd, when his rivals assail him.
35. O Abla, although thou droppest thy veil before me, yet know, that by my agility I have made captive many a knight clad in complete armour.
36. Bestow on me the commendation which thou knowest to be due; since my nature is gentle and mild, when my rights are not invaded;
37. But, when I am injured, my resentment is firm, and bitter as coloquinteda to the taste of the aggressor.
38. I quaff; when the noontide heat is abated, old wine, purchased with bright and well-stamped coin;
39. I quaff it in a goblet of yellow glass variegated with white streaks, whose companion is a glittering flagon, well secured by its lid from the blasts of the north:
40. When I drink it, my wealth is dissipated, but my fame remains abundant and unimpaired;
41. And when I return to sobriety, the dew of my liberality continues as fresh as before: give due honour, therefore, to those qualities which thou knowest me to possess.
42. Many a consort of a fair one, whose beauty required no ornaments, have I left prostrate on the ground; and the life-blood has run sounding from his veins, opened by my javelin, like the mouth of a camel with a divided lip:
43. With a nimble and double-handed stroke, I prevented his attack; and the stream that gushed from the penetrating wound bore the colour of anemones.
44. Go, ask the warriors, O daughter of Malec, if thou art ignorant of my valour, ask them that which thou knowest not;
45. Ask how I act, when I am constantly fixed to the saddle of an elegant horse, swimming in his course, whom my bold antagonists alternately wound;
46. Yet sometimes he advances alone to the conflict, and sometimes he stands collected in a multitudinous throng of heroes with strong bows:
47. Ask, and whoever has been witness to the combat will inform thee that I am impetuous in battle, but regardless of the spoils.
48. Many a warrior, clad in a suit of mail, at whose violent assault the boldest men have trembled, who neither had saved himself by swift flight nor by abject submission,
49. Has this arm laid prone with a rapid blow from a well-straightened javelin, firm between the knots:
50. Broad were the lips of the wound; and the noise of the rushing blood called forth the wolves, prowling in the night, and pinched with hunger:
51. With my swift lance did I pierce his coat of mail; and no warrior, however brave, is secure from its point.
52. I left him, like a sacrificed victim, to the lions of the forest, who feasted on him between the crown of his head and his wrists.
53. Often have I burst the interior folds of a well-wrought habergeon, worn by a famed warrior appointed to maintain his post;
54. Whose hands were brisk in casting lots, when winter demands such recreation: a man censured for his disregard of wealth, and for causing the wine-merchant to strike his flag, by purchasing all his store.
55. When he saw me descend from my steed, and rush towards him, he grinned with horror, but with no smile of joy.
56. My engagement with him lasted the whole day, until his head and fingers, covered with clotted gore, appeared to be stained with the juice of idhlim.
57. Then I fixed him with my lance; I struck him to the heart with an Indian scimitar, the blade of which was of a bright water, and rapid was the stroke it gave:
58. A warrior, whose armour seemed to be braced on a lofty tree; a chief, who, like a king, wore sandals of leather stained with Egyptian thorn: a hero, without an equal.
59. O lovely heifer! what a sweet prey was she to a hunter permitted to chase her! To me she was wholly denied: oh, would to heaven that she had not been forbidden me!
60. I sent forth my handmaid, and said to her: "Go, ask tidings inquisitively of my beloved, and bring me intelligence."
61. She said: "I have seen the hostile guards negligent of their watch, and the wild heifer may be smitten by any archer who desires to shoot her."
62. Then she turned towards me with the neck of a young roe, well grown, of an exquisite breed among the gazals of the wood: a roe with a milk-white face.
63. I have been informed of a man ungrateful for my kindness; but ingratitude turns the mind of a benefactor from any more beneficence.
64. The instructions which my valiant uncle gave me I have diligently observed; at the time when the lips are drawn away from the bright teeth,
65. In the struggle of the fight, into whose deepest gulfs the warriors plunge themselves without complaint or murmur.
66. When my tribe has placed me as a shield between them and the hostile spears, I have not ignobly declined the danger, although the place where I fixed my foot was too narrow to admit a companion.
67. When I heard the din of Morra raised in the field, and the sons of Rabeia in the thick dust;
68. And the shouts of Dhohol at the moment of assault, when they rush in troops to the conflict with all their sharp-biting lions;
69. When even the mildest of the tribes saw the skirmish under their standards (and Death spreads havoc under the standard of the mildest nation),
70. Then I knew with certainty, that, in so fierce a contest with them, many a heavy blow would make the perched birds of the brain fly quickly from every skull:
71. As soon as I beheld the legions of our enemies advancing, and animating one another to battle, I too rushed forward, and acted without reproach.
72. The troops called out "Antara!" while javelins, long as the cords of a well, were forcibly thrust against the chest of my dark steed.
73. I ceased not to charge the foe with the neck and breast of my horse, until he was mantled in blood.
74. My steed, bent aside with the stroke of the lances in his forehead, complained to me with gushing tears and tender sobbing:
75. Had he known the art of discourse, he would have addressed me in a plaintive strain; and had he possessed the faculty of speech, he would have spoken to me distinctly.
76. In the midst of the black dust, the horses were impetuously rushing with disfigured countenances; every robust stallion and every strong-limbed short-haired male.
77. Then my soul was healed, and all my anguish was dispersed by the cry of the warriors, saying, "Well done, Antara: charge again!"
78. My camels too are obedient to my will, as often as I desire to kindle the ardour of my heart, and press it on to some arduous enterprise.
79. Yet I fear lest death should seize me before the adverse turn of war has overtaken the two sons of Demdem:
80. Men who attacked my reputation, when I had given them no offence, and vowed, when I had never assailed them, to shed my blood;—
81. Yes, they injured me: but I have left their father, like a victim, to be mangled by the lions of the wood, and by the eagles advanced in years.