December 29, 2012

Madmen who were poets 4

The grammarian Muhammad ibn Yazīd al-Mubarrad said: En route to Wāsit from Baghdad, we took a detour to the Monastery of Ezekiel [at al-Nu'māniyya] to see the madmen there. Their madnesses were all of kinds known to us, or so we thought until we spied a well-kept young man in laundered clothes sitting apart from the others. "If any," we said, "then this one." So we approached him with a pious greeting, which he did not return. "What's the matter with you?" we asked him. He said:

  "God knows how sad I am.
      To none other can it be described.
   My soul is two, one in this land
      while another land keeps the other.
   The one stuck here can endure no more.
      The hide around it is about to give out.
   I believe the absent soul to be in the same state.
      By my troth, hers is the present soul's matter."

"Well done, by God!" I said to him. At this, he motioned as if throwing something at us, saying: "Who says 'Well done' to the likes of me?"
      Al-Mubarrad said: We were making haste to get away from him, when the young man said: "Come back, by God, I beseech you, until I recite for you another poem. Then you can say whether it's well or poorly done." So we went back to him and said: "Recite." He began:

  "Just before dawn, when the palomino camels were knelt
      for their saddles and a shapely cargo to trudge away with,
   when, face to face through a gap in the curtain [of her howdah]
      she looked out at me through eyes engorged with tears,
   at the wave of her hand [henna-stanched] like a bough of ‘anam,
      I called out to the camel, 'Let your hind legs not bear [her] away!'
   I wail for the split that undid what she and I had,                                     
      the split that came down, that undoing split when they moved off.

   Palomino driver! Stay their steps, that we may lengthen our farewell.
      Palomino driver! Your haste speeds my ending.
   Never to renounce my desire to be with them, for the rest of my life,
      I wish I knew: what did they with the rest of theirs?"

We said to him: "They [must have] died." At his he gave a cry and said: "Then I, by God, die also," fell to all fours, stretched out and died. And we did not leave the place until we had him buried.

[A shorter variant of the same report.]  Al-Mubarrad said: On entering the Monastery of Ezekiel, we were met by a madman with a rock in his hand. "O assembly of my brethren, hearken unto me!" he said as the people scattered. Then he began to recite:

  "Many's the soul of an eminent man
      reduced to moaning without remit,
   who wheels to face the host in battle
      and shrinks from single combat."

Continued from The Necklace Without Peer.

Recounted also in al-Mas'ūdī's Meadows of Gold, the Thousand and One Nights, the Letting People Know of al-Itlīdī, et alibi.