Home  »  library  »  poem  »  al-Hariri: The Words of Hareth ibn-Hammam

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

al-Hariri: The Words of Hareth ibn-Hammam

By Arabic Literature

From the ‘Makamat’ of al-Hariri of Barra: Translation of Theodore Preston

ON a night whose aspect displayed both light and shade,

And whose moon was like a magic circlet of silver,

I was engaged in evening conversation at Koufa

With companions who had been nourished on the milk of eloquence,

So the charms of conversation fascinated us,

While wakefulness still prevailed among us,

Until the moon had at length disappeared in the West.

But when the gloom of night had thus drawn its curtain,

And nothing but slumber remained abroad,

We heard from the door the low call of a benighted traveler,

And then followed the knock of one seeking admission;

And we answered, “Who comes here this darksome night?”

And the stranger replied:—

“Listen ye who here are dwelling!

May you so be kept from ill!

So may mischief ne’er befall you,

Long as life your breast shall fill!

Gloom of dismal night and dreary

Drives a wretch to seek your door,

Whose disheveled hoary tresses

All with dust are sprinkled o’er;

Who, though destitute and lonely,

Far has roamed on hill and dale,

Till his form became thus crooked,

And his cheek thus deadly pale;

Who, though faint as slender crescent,

Ventures here for aid to sue,

Hospitable meal and shelter

Claiming first of all from you.

Welcome then to food and dwelling

One so worthy both to share,

Sure to prove content and thankful,

Sure to laud your friendly care.”

Fascinated then by the sweetness of his language and delivery,

And readily inferring what this prelude betokened,

We hasted to open the door, and received him with welcome,

Saying to the servant, “Hie! Hie! Bring whatever is ready!”

But the stranger said, “By Him who brought me to your abode,

I will not taste of your hospitality, unless you pledge to me

That you will not permit me to be an incumbrance to you,

Nor impose on yourselves necessity of eating on my account.”


Now it was just as if he had been informed of our wishes,

Or had shot from the same bow as our sentiments;

So we gratified him by acceding to the condition,

And highly commended him for his accommodating disposition.

But when the servant had produced what was ready,

And the candle was lighted up in the midst of us,

I regarded him attentively, and lo! it was Abu-Zeid;

Whereupon I addressed my companions in these words:—

“May you have joy of the guest who has repaired to you:

For though the moon of the heavens has set,

The full moon of poetry has arisen;

And though the moon of the eclipse has disappeared,

The full moon of eloquence has shone forth.”

So the wine of joy infused itself into them,

And sleep flew away from the corners of their eyes,

And they rejected the slumber which they had contemplated,

And began to resume the pleasantry which they had laid aside,

While Abu-Zeid remained intent on the business in hand.

But as soon as he desired the removal of what was before him,

I said to him, “Entertain us with one of thy strange anecdotes,

Or with an account of one of thy wonderful journeys.”

And he said:—“The result of long journeys brought me to this land,

Myself being in a state of hunger and distress,

And my wallet light as the heart of the mother of Moses;

So I arose, when dark night had settled on the world,

Though with weary feet, to seek a lodging, or obtain a loaf;

Till, being driven on by the instigation of hunger,

And by fate, so justly called ‘the parent of adventures,’

I stood at the door of a house and improvised these words:—

“‘Inmates of this abode, all hail! all hail!

Long may you live in plenty’s verdant vale.

Oh, grant your aid to one by toil opprest,

Way-worn, benighted, destitute, distrest;

Whose tortured entrails only hunger hold

(For since he tasted food two days are told);

A wretch who finds not where to lay his head,

Though brooding night her weary wing hath spread,

But roams in anxious hope a friend to meet,

Whose bounty, like a spring of water sweet,

May heal his woes; a friend who straight will say,

“Come in! ’Tis time thy staff aside to lay.”’

“But there came out to me a boy in a short tunic, who said:—

“‘By Him who hospitable rites ordained,

And first of all, and best, those rites maintained,

I swear that friendly converse and a home

Is all we have for those who nightly roam.”

“And I replied, ‘What can I do with an empty house,

And a host who is himself thus utterly destitute?

But what is thy name, boy? for thy intelligence charms me.’

He replied, ‘My name is Zeid, and I was reared at Faid;

And my mother Barrah (who is such as her name implies),

Told me she married one of the nobles of Serong and Ghassân,

Who deserted her stealthily, and there was an end of him.’

Now I knew by these distinct signs that he was my child,

But my poverty deterred me from discovering myself to him.”

Then we asked if he wished to take his son to live with him;

And he replied, “If only my purse were heavy enough,

It would be easy for me to undertake the charge of him.”

So we severally undertook to contribute a portion of it,

Whereupon he returned thanks for this our bounty,

And was so profusely lavish in his acknowledgments,

That we thought his expression of gratitude excessive.

And as soon as he had collected the coin into his scrip,

He looked at me as the deceiver looks at the deceived,

And laughed heartily, and then indited these lines:—

“O thou who, deceived

By a tale, hast believed

A mirage to be truly a lake,

Though I ne’er had expected

My fraud undetected,

Or doubtful my meaning to make!

I confess that I lied

When I said that my bride

And my first-born were Barrah and Zeid;

But guile is my part,

And deception my art,

And by these are my gains ever made.

Such schemes I devise

That the cunning and wise

Never practiced the like or conceived;

Nor Asmai nor Komait

Any wonders relate

Like those that my wiles have achieved.

But if these I disdain,

I abandon my gain,

And by fortune at once am refused:

Then pardon their use,

And accept my excuse,

Nor of guilt let my guile be accused.”

Then he took leave of me, and went away from me,

Leaving in my heart the embers of lasting regret.