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

Zuhéir: Lament for the Destruction of his Former Home

By Arabic Literature

From the ‘Mu ’allakât’ of Zuhéir; a lament for the desertion, through a war, of his former home and the haunts of his tribe: Translation of Sir Charles James Lyall

ARE they of Umm Aufà’s tents—these black lines that speak no word

in the stony plain of al-Mutathellam and al-Darraj?

Yea, and the place where his camp stood in ar-Rakmatan is now

like the tracery drawn afresh by the veins of the inner wrist.

The wild kine roam there large-eyed, and the deer pass to and fro,

and their younglings rise up to suck from the spots where they all lie round.

I stood there and gazed; since I saw it last twenty years had flown,

and much I pondered thereon: hard was it to know again—

The black stones in order laid in the place where the pot was set,

and the trench like a cistern’s root with its sides unbroken still.

And when I knew it, at last, for his resting-place, I cried,

“Good greeting to thee, O house! Fair peace in the morn to thee!”

Look forth, O friend! canst thou see aught of ladies, camel-borne,

that journey along the upland there, above Jurthum well?

Their litters are hung with precious stuffs, and their veils thereon

cast loosely, their borders rose, as though they were dyed in blood.

Sideways they sat as their beasts clomb the ridge of as-Sûbân:

in them were the sweetness and grace of one nourished in wealth and ease.

They went on their way at dawn—they started before sunrise;

straight did they make for the vale of ar-Rass, as hand for mouth.

Dainty and playful their mood to one who should try its worth,

and faces fair to an eye skilled to trace out loveliness.

And the tassels of scarlet wool, in the spots where they gat them down

glowed red, like to ’ishrik seeds, fresh-fallen, unbroken, bright.

And then they reached the wells where the deep-blue water lies,

they cast down their staves, and set them to pitch the tents for rest.

On their right hand rose al-Kanân, and the rugged skirts thereof—

(and in al-Kanân how many are foes and friends of mine!)

At eve they left as-Sûbân; then they crossed the ridge again,

borne on the fair-fashioned litters, all new and builded broad.

[Certain cantos, to the sixth one, reproach the author of the treachery and quarrel that led to the war and migration. Then follows a series of maxims as to human life and conduct.]

Aweary am I of life’s toil and travail: he who like me

has seen pass of years fourscore, well may he be sick of life!

I know what To-day unfolds, what before it was Yesterday;

but blind do I stand before the knowledge To-morrow brings.

I have seen the Dooms trample men as a blind beast at random treads:

whom they smote, he died; whom they missed, he lived on to strengthless eld.

Who gathers not friends by help, in many cases of need

is torn by the blind beast’s teeth, or trodden beneath its foot.

And he who his honor shields by the doing of a kindly deed

grows richer; who shuts not the mouth of reviling, it lights on him.

And he who is lord of wealth and niggardly with his hoard,

alone is he left by his kin; naught have they for him but blame.

Who keeps faith, no blame he earns, and that man whose heart is led

to goodness unmixed with guile gains freedom and peace of soul.

Who trembles before the Dooms, yea, him shall they surely seize,

albeit he set a ladder to climb the sky.

Who spends on unworthy men his kindness with lavish hand;

no praise doth he earn, but blame, and repentance the seed thereof.

Who will not yield to the spears, when their feet turn to him in peace,

shall yield to the points thereof, and the long flashing blades of steel.

Who holds not his foe away from his cistern with sword and spear,

it is broken and spoiled; who uses not roughness, him shall men wrong.

Who seeks far away from kin for housing, takes foe for friend;

who honors himself not well, no honor gains he from men.

Who makes of his soul a beast of burden to bear men’s loads,

nor shields it one day from shame, yea, sorrow shall be his lot.

Whatso be the shaping of mind that a man is born withal,

though he think it lies hid from men, it shall surely one day be known.

How many a man seemed goodly to thee while he held his peace,

whereof thou didst learn the more or less when he turned to speech.

The tongue is a man’s one-half, the other, the heart within;

besides these two naught is left but a semblance of flesh and blood.

If a man be old and a fool, his folly is past all cure;

but a young man may yet grow wise and cast off his foolishness.

We asked, and ye gave; we asked again, and ye gave again:

but the end of much asking must be that no giving shall follow it.