Ode in praise of al-Mansur al-‘Amiri, Emir of Cordoba
(Mu’arada of Abu-Nawas)(Extract)
O wife! Set the will of the unjustly treated free
so that it may rise into the desert’s immensity and take flight!
Perhaps what pained you after separation
will make the lowly stronger or free a prisoner.
Don’t you know that to settle down means to die
and that the homes of those who have no will become graves?
Didn’t you try to read the early birds’ omen?
Didn’t they fly to the right to tell you the journey would be safe?
This long journey does scare me
though the hope of kissing al-Mansur’s hand sustains me.
Let me drink the desert’s stagnant waters
until the pure waters of his nobility will quench my thirst
and give revenge for hard times
as I meet the one who will protect me
for the risks that await the one who dares
are also part of his human fate.
When she came closer to say good bye
her moans & sighs were more than I could bear;
she reminded me of our love and affection
while from the cradle rose a baby’s babble
that sounded like a dumb person’s talk
though it went straight to the heart
where it settled forever helped
by wide open arms and a soft throat
that make of all noble and beautiful women
breast-feeders for other children and their own.
I turned away from my child against my will
to be led on a journey that would last many nights and days
and give wings to my ambitions and push me forward
while she yielded to the pain of separation & stepped back.
If she thinks she’s said good bye to a jealous husband
I, too, am jealous of the power of her grief over my resolution.
If only she could see me amid the furnace
of the desert sun and the hallucinations of the mirage
unaware of the midday heat burning
my face till late in the blaze of afternoon
breathing searing desert wind
and treading on baking hot stones!
In a coward’s life, death takes on many forms
while for the ear of the brave, fear is but a faint whistle!
She’d then understand that I fear only injustice
and that I have great patience when it comes to grief and pain:
like an Emir who braves the dangers of the desert
and, if scared, resorts to his noble sword.
If only she could see me on the road at night
while my voice keeps the jinns company
braving the desert’s scary darkness
like a lion roaring in a thick forest
as the stars start shimmering in the sky
like a virgin’s black pupil eyes in the white of her eye
and the polar stars shine high overhead
like crystal cups in a young servant’s hands
and the Milky Way in the dark heavens
looks like a young man’s hair turning white —
I was resolute in my decision despite the scary night
as the sleepy stars closed their lids,
then she’ll realize that my wishes obey my will
and that I deserve al-Mansur’s affection and generosity.
Translated by Fetah Chenni & P.J.
(1) Writes Fetah Chenni, the co-translator of these odes: “Ibn Darradj is known as the poet of ‘exile, separation, geographical nomadicity,’ yet he’s never been farther than Ceuta in Morocco and each time he travelled, his family was with him: the man lived more in a nostalgic virtual nomadic world of his own, though he did write excellent poems thanks to this virtual nomadic state of mind. He was a Berber from the Sanhaja tribes, followers of the Shîa Ali, that were a minority in al-Andalus compared to the Zenata who were powerful allies to the then ruling Umeyad dynasty, though Ibn Darradj never mentions his Berber origins in his poetry. He even stood against those Berber emirs who tried to take over power.”
(2) The second ode we present extracts of, dedicated to al-Mansur, the emir of Cordoba, besides being a superb poem in itself, is also a major example of the genre of the emulation, in this case a “writing-through” (as some of us would say today) of a poem by Abu Nuwas. Beatrice Gruendler, who has analyzed these emulation-poems, writes: “A brilliant military leader and administrator, al-Mansur, a model patron extensively versed in poetry, would put newly arrived poets to test and personally preside over the exams. These consisted of improvisations or emulations of a given model.(…) Ibn Darradj, known as a poetic genius in his own right and credited for his expertise in badi‘ and virtuosity in motifs, can be expected to realize whatever potential an emulation offered.(…) Abu Nuwas was popular in the East; his poetry became the subject of emulations by Ibn Shuhayd, Ibn Sara al-Shantarini, Abu Tammam b. Rabah al-Hajam and others.(…) Like Abu Nuwas, Ibn Darradj uses the debate with the female character as a transition to the journey towards the praised one. But even within this framework, the poet makes large semantic and structural shifts. The female character is his wife, not an inaccessible beloved, and he introduces the character of an infant son. The wife receives a larger structural role in that the journey is described to her, soliciting her (imagined) approval, whereas Abu Nuwas inserts the journey in the middle of the praise section to show his zeal and exertion in reaching the mamduh…. The longer emulation (in 65 verses) reuses nearly half of the model’s rhyme words (17). Some of these are left in their original context: mujir (Abu Nuwas 34/Ibn Darradj 32) and sarir (36/48) both referring to the patron, budur (38/33) to his ancestors, and shakur (40/57) and jadir (39/29) both to the poet, though in the last example, Ibn Darradj makes the wife pronounce him worthy of his patron, while Abu Nuwas had so declared himself. Yam*r (8/17) in both odes describes the journey, but Abu Nuwas applies it to the melting frost, Ibn Darradj to the undulating mirage in the desert heat.(…)”