October 31, 2010

A description of the rain

Abu Hatim tells us that Abu 'Ubayda said:
One day Al-Nu'man sallied forth after a rainstorm. On meeting with a mounted desert Arab on his camel, he hailed him, and the Arab obeyed his summons. Al-Nu'mān said: "How is the land that you have left behind you?" "Wide and spacious," said the Arab. "With easy lowlands, rugged hills and mountains firmly rooted, it is a capable sustainer of what sits on it." Al-Nu'mān said: "But I was asking you about the sky."

"It is high and free-standing," the Arab said, "without the aid of poles or tent-cords. Its day and night are clearly separated, and its sun and moon follow each other in succession." Al-Nu'mān said: "That's not what I’m asking you about!" "So ask what’s on your mind," the Arab said. Al-Nu'mān said: "Has rain been falling there, and if so can you describe it?" "Yes," the Arab said.

"The sky rained on our land for three long stretches without budging. It soaked it, left it swampy and then left it ankle-deep. Then I went forth from my people, and searched the land and found no part as far as Tish'ār that was spared. The clouds boomed out to one another on every side, and heavily the flow drave on, erasing the roads and filling the hollows, and digging the trees out at their roots. All souls kept to their shelters, and no traveler could depart until the sky left off harming us with its blessings. When solid land had re-emerged, and pathways through the fields could be descried, I came out to observe the sky and every quarter of its rim. No refuge could I find except for caverns in the hills, for the jarr al-dabu'* had been disgorged: the lowlands were like seas of slapping waves, the rugged hills were wrapped in flotsam, and carcasses of wild animals were flung in all directions. And I did not leave off treading the sky’s residue and wading its water until I reached your land."

*Abu Bakr said: The meaning of jārr al-dabu' ["The Hyena Driver"] is that it forces the hyena out of its underground lair.

Abu Bakr ibn Durayd, The Book of the Description of Rain and Clouds, ch. 14.