June 14, 2018

To the company of mystics

By Abu Madyan Shu'ayb al-Ghawth (meter: ṭawīl):

To you I surrendered my reason, my gaze and hearing,
    my spirit, my insides, and all of me altogether.
By astonishment at your beauty I was waylaid,
    and at sea in love's distraction, I knew not my place.
When you put me under orders to keep your secret hid,
    it came to light through the outpouring of my tears.
My endurance gave out. My resilience grew small.
    Sleep and I parted ways, and my couch was barred to me.
Then I came before the Judge of Love and said: My [fellow] lovers
    are harsh with me. "In love you are a vain pretender,"
        is what they say.
But I have witnesses! To my ardor and my sorrow they will attest,
    and you will hear the truth of what I pretend:
my sleeplessness, my suffering, my passion and dejection,
    my wasting away, my longing, my jaundiced pallor
        and my tears.
It is a wonder and a marvel how I pine for their company.
    Even in their company, my longing for them flares.
My eye weeps for them while they are at its black center,
    and my heart bewails their estrangement, even as they
        lodge between my ribs.
Giving in to love's distraction, whoever seeks me out
    will find me among the poor, with nothing on me.
And whoever clamps me in jail, indulging their harshness,
    will have me [nonetheless] for their intercessor.

Alternately attributed to Malik ibn al-Murahhal

March 22, 2018

Thirty Questions to the Moon

In times past, the Arabs couched their knowledge of the moon in the form of questions and answers about how each night of the month might be reckoned from its light, as well as other matters, saying:

       The moon was asked: "O son of one night, what are you?"
"Milk suckled by a lamb whose folk have camped in an arid quarter," said the moon. [A singsong reply that rhymes in Arabic with the asker's question, as do all the moon's replies up to night thirteen.]
      "And on the second night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk between two domestics [of different households], full of slander and untruth," said the moon.
      "And on the third night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk amongst a group of girls brought together from distant quarters," said the moon, and "of short duration" is added [to the moon's reply].
      "And on the fourth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The lapse of time a camel's calf goes between nursings," said the moon.
      "And on the fifth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Talk amongst intimates," said the moon.
      "And on the sixth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
The moon said, "[I heed the command to] 'Roam and stay.'"

       The moon was asked, "On night seven, what are you?"
"The fattening of two calves," said the moon. "The hyena's ramble" is also said [to be the moon's reply].
      "And on the eighth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The lovers' moon," said the moon. "A loaf divided among brothers" is also said [to be the moon's reply].
      "And on the ninth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"By my light, an onyx can be found," said the moon.
      "And on the tenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I uphold the testimony of dawn," said the moon.
      "And on the eleventh night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"By night and in the morning I am visible." said the moon.
      "And on the twelfth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A guarantor of night-travel," said the moon, "for townsfolk and nomads alike."

       The moon was asked, "On night thirteen, what are you?"
"A brilliant disk, dazzling to the viewer's eye," said the moon.
      "And on the fourteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"My youth in full bloom, I shine through the clouds," said the moon.
      "And on the fifteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I am at my fullest, and my days dwindle," said the moon.
      "And on the sixteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Diminished in form, from east to west," said the moon.
      "And on the seventeenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I am penury, the poor man's mount," said the moon.
      "And on the eighteenth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Evanescent," said the moon, "and fast to pass away."

       The moon was asked, "On night nineteen, what are you?"
"From humility, I am slow to rise" said the moon.
      "And on the twentieth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I rise at dawn, and am visible when the day is young," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-first night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"My night-journey goes no further than my visibility."
      "And on the twenty-second night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"The smudge of battle and the lion of war," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-third night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"In dark of night, I am lifted to a torch's height," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-fourth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A mere fraction," said the moon, "whose rising leaves the darkness undispelled."

       The moon was asked, "On night twenty-five, what are you?"
"On nights like this, I'm neither disk nor crescent," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-sixth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"All hopes cut off, my end is due," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-seventh night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"I hug the earth, but shed no glow upon it," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-eighth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"An early riser. By midday I'm invisible," said the moon.
      "And on the twenty-ninth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"Just ahead of the sun's rays, my stay is fleeting." said the moon.
      "And on the thirtieth night, what are you?" the moon was asked.
"A crescent," said the moon, "for whom the way forward is the way down."

From the Meadows of Gold of al-Mas‘ūdī;
cf. the Book of Days and Nights and Months of al-Farrā’,
and Uncommon Vocabulary of Prophetic Narration by Ibn Qutayba

March 6, 2018

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At how many UDP parties have I lined up for drinks? And now there's a UDP broadside of Abu ‘Amir's famous cat poem, with sick finials by LRSN. Available on their website

Thank you, Ugly Duckling! Thank you, Rebekah!

February 8, 2018

Names of the Sun II

We are informed by Tha‘lab that Ibn al-A‘rābī said: "Shams, Ashmus, and Shumūs are all said for the sun, as in the rajaz verse:

    It was a day of solar oppression by Shumūs.

A similar instance [of the sun's name without the definite article] is in the verse by Abu 'l-Shīṣ (meter: ramal):

    Just when the shade of night is at its most pleasant,
        Shams comes up and the shade dissolves."

We are informed by Tha‘lab, on the authority of Salama ibn ‘Āṣim, that
al-Farrā’ said: "The sun is called Dhukā’ ('Flammifera') and Bint Dhukā’ ('Daughter of Flammifera'). This name is indeclinable. It comes from dhakā yadhkū, a verb used of flames burning high. And Ibn Dhukā’ ('Son of Flammifera') is a byname of the dawn." And he quoted the verse (meter: kāmil):

    [The ostriches] return to thinking of their their egg-deposit
        when Dhukā’ 's right hand reaches for the [night's] covering."

[....] We are informed by Tha‘lab that Ibn al-A‘rābī said: "The sun is called al-Jawna ('The Glowing Disk'), as in the rajaz verses:

    Serve no milk, neither sour nor fresh,
    that was not given in abundance,
    [enough] to leave a spreading pool for the clay to drink.
    Where al-Jawna hastens its evaporation,
    traces of the milk should last til nightfall.

Or the half-verse (meter: sarī‘):

    ...like a crafty [wolf] watching al-Jawna [go down].

"[The color]  jawn is white and black," he went on to say. "In the dialect of Quḍā‘a it is white, but for neighboring tribes it's black. Also jawn is red."
    [....] Tha‘lab said: "Al-Ulāha ('The Mighty Goddess') is the hot sun." And he reported that Ibn al-A‘rābī said: "Al-Ulāha, al-Ilāha  and al-Alāha are names of the sun, and so is al-Hāla ('The Corona'), as in the verse (meter: ṭawīl):

    Quick to startle [is my stallion! Head held high],
            like a child of Hāla,
        [my horse] lives not by steady equanimity of mind.

"Al-Ḑiḥḥ ('The Glare') also is the sun," he went on to say. "Sahām are filaments of 'devil's mucus' [cobwebs encrusted with dust] that catch the sun. The iyāh of the sun is its brilliance, as are its iya’ and ayā’. And the iya’ of herbage is its lushness." And he recited the half-verse (meter: basīṭ):

    The iya’ [of lush grass] met the iya’ of the sun, and together
            the two were shining.

We are informed by Tha‘lab on the authority of the son of Abū ‘Āmir al-Shaybānī that his father said: "The 'tapering' [taṭarruf] of the sun comes just before it sinks below the horizon, as in the rajaz verse:

    At the tapering of al-Shams's horn, he said his prayer."

Someone other than Tha‘lab points out that the sun is called al-Ghazāla ('The Gazelle') [perhaps explaining why the sun is said to have "horns"]. Others say that the sun's brightness and its spreading rays are called ‘ab’ or ‘ab. "The sun is pounding with its ṣalā’a," is said by another [to mean "The sun shines brightly"]: the ṣalā’a is a chemist's grindstone, used in the preparation of perfumes.
    We are informed by Tha‘lab, on the authority of Salama ibn ‘Āṣim, that al-Farrā’ said: "A hot day is said to be shāmis and mashmūs ('sunny' and 'besunned'). The sun's uwār is its heat. The verbs zabba, zabbaba and azabba ('to hide beneath hair') are said of the sun's setting, as are ḍarra‘a and aḍra‘a ('to inch along') and karaba ('to succumb to fatigue')."
    We are informed by Tha‘lab, on the authority of ‘Alī the son of Ṣāliḥ whose office it was to preserve the Prophet's prayer-mat, that al-Kisā’ī said: "Al-Ghazāla is said for the bright disk of the sun. 'Al-Ghazāla's horn is coming up,' one says [at sunrise]." And we are informed by Tha‘lab, on the authority of Ibn Najda, that Abū Zayd al-Anṣārī said: "The 'gazelles of forenoon' is an expression for the day's rising," and that he recited the rajaz verses:

   "Who loves night travel in the frigid season?"
    asks the tribe. "Is there a young hero on whom we can call,
    one whose strength is neither faint nor ragged,
    to set the tribe moving with the gazelles of forenoon?"

    We are informed by Tha‘lab on the authority of Ibn al-A‘rābī that the circle that sometimes forms around the sun is called al-ihrāt. As for al-falak, it is an 'orbit' around the heavens' axis. God, be He exalted, says [in Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:33]: 'All are in a falak swimming.'" According to another authority cited by Tha‘lab, where sunlight strikes trees and the ground it is called maḍḥāh and ḍāḥiya, and where it does not strike them it is called maqnāh and maqnuwa. And he recited the verse (meter: ṭawīl):

    We came upon him in the sunless maqnuwa, where
        a teak-grove cast its decorous veil over al-shams.

Another authority attests the verse (meter: ṭawīl):

    Herbage grows thin on one side of the mountain. On the other side,
        it is lush. The light of the overcast day lands on both sides.

From The Book of Day and Night in Language by Abū ‘Umar
    Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wāḥid al-Zāhid al-Muṭarriz,
        better known as Ghulām Tha‘lab