Tuesday, 6 July 2004

Jayyid jiddan!

It is always a good idea, when you are feeling low, to turn to the mediaeval Arab poets for a little something to cheer you up. There is an excellent Mediaeval Sourcebook on the net and its pages of Selections from the Poets of Arabia are full of rare delights. Arabic poetry is based largely on harmonies of sound and striking turns of phrasing, so most of the poems are brief, and a poet's fame depended upon a few brilliant couplets rather than on any sustained melody or long-continued flight of noble thought. Here is a splendid example, by Isaac Ben Khalif:

On A Little Man With A Very Large Beard
How can thy chin that burden bear?
Is it all gravity to shock?
Is it to make the people stare?
And be thyself a laughing stock?

When I behold thy little feet
After thy beard obsequious run,
I always fancy that I meet
Some father followed by his son.

A man like thee scarce e'er appeared---
A beard like thine---where shall we find it?
Surely thou cherishest thy beard
In hopes to hide thyself behind it.

(Some of the more serious of these thousand-year-old poems may lose much in translation, but this one clearly hasn't.)

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