al-Mutanabbi in his own words

I gave a talk last April as part of the al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here activities at AUC. Here is a video of that talk.

This my translation of al-Mutanabbi's "bi-mā at-taʿallul" (skip to 25:38 for the poem in Arabic, 28:20 for English)

What's left to divert me? No family, no homeland,

no one to drink with, nothing to drink from, nowhere to live.

 

I want fate to give me

what fate itself has failed to attain

 

Take it from me: Don't confront fate unless you're totally indifferent,

not as long as your body and soul are one

 

Fate will never give you more of the thing that makes you happy,

nor will it ever give you another shot at something you were grieved to lose

 

The problem with lovers is that they

fall in love without knowing the way of the world nor what it wreaks

 

Their eyes are dissolved in tears, as are their souls,

for ugly soul with a pretty face they meet

 

Every swift she-camel has borne away your burden

and now every separation is entrusted to me.

 

Nothing in your camel-litters can take the place of my heart

should I die of passion, nor can you afford to pay the price of compensation

 

You, in whose presence they announced my death when I was absent,

everything the death-messengers said is guaranteed

 

How many times have I been murdered? How many times have I died among you all

Only to rise again? My grave and winding-shroud turning to nought.

 

Those who swore they'd seen me buried

have each died before the one they laid to rest

 

A man can never gain everything he hopes for:

The winds blow contrary to what ships wish

 

I've studied you all: your neighbors don't give a damn about your good name,

and milk flows only stingily from your herd

 

Whoever grows close to you is rewarded with boredom

and any who loves you, his fortune is spite.

 

You resent any to whom you give a gift

and in return for his gratitude he receives offense.

 

Separation has left a wayless desert between you and me

in which even one's eyes and ears do deceive

 

The camels, treading heavily, creep forward over the surface

and the earth asks their calluses about camel hooves

 

My only companion is perseverance and it's a blessing

But I wouldn't waste a moment on it if I were steadfastly a coward

 

I never continue taking money that debases me

and I never take pleasure in anything that sullies my honor

 

Soon after I left, I lay awake missing you

but then I pulled myself together and sleep returned anew

 

If affection like yours should befall me again

then I deserve yet another separation like this one

 

My colt was worn out in the service of someone else

and its reins and its halters were exchanged in Fustat

 

with the prince, Abu al-Misk (KAFUR), whose generosity has

drowned red Mudar and Yemen

 

Even if any of his promises ever come late

my hopes are never postponed nor do they ever slacken

 

He is always loyal, but because I mentioned to him that

I love him, he is putting me to the test