Al-Sab’iniyya

In honor of Tisha B’Av, we present this work by one of the great Jewish poets of the early Renaissance.

Musa Ibn Tubi
Arab Andalusian
c. 1363

 

He who desires perfect happiness, must devote himself to study, by which means, if he prospers in his labours, he will obtain eternal life.

This is the reward of the good, and there is happiness to be gained, therefore waste not thy time, but strive to advance ere death overtakes thee.

Be thou even the greatest of men, yet keep aloof from those delighting only in vain pursuits.

Man is absorbed in worldly pleasures, his heart full of desires, but the gates of true happiness are closed for him, he stumbles blindly along a straight path.

He whose mind’s eye is opened, sees the contemptibility of this world; the sojourn in it is of short duration, miserable and evil.

Many spend their life in vanities, none of which can be retained either by him possessed of abundance, or by the indolent, or by the foolish.

They exchange their imperishable treasure for a phantom, they lack firmness, because they judge rashly.

It has been shown that intellect and ability are the highest parts of man; would that he appreciated those gifts!

If a man be wise and act judiciously, he perfects himself, and brings himself nearer to the Sublime Intellect.

A powerful combination was formed of two elements, divine and human, to which was given an upright form.

He who turns from wickedness will be inspired by the light of reason; but who is more unworthy, than he in whom evil preponderates?

Base desires pollute the soul; purify and return it to God.

Intoxicated with the poison of your passion, O people, ye are sunk in slumber, but soon ye must depart, either this day or the next.

What thinks the arrogant one? Does he not reflect that this world is but a bridge which all men alike must cross?

Awake from thy slumber and seek seclusion and peace; the exercise of man’s free will is followed by repentance, when his wickedness is of no avail.

Let not perishable things be pleasing to you, either fine raiment or grand dwellings; foolish it is thus to delay eternal prosperity.

Seek the mantle of wisdom through study and upright acts; your endeavours will thus be idealized, and you will attain the desired aim.

This is what is termed the Favour of God, by which you may hope to find Him. He who displeases God, sins greatly.

Leave vain ornaments and earthly matters, which turn you astray from truth, and strive after virtue.

A scholar cares not for worldly pleasures, nor does he find happiness in such desires, the spirit of knowledge is more powerful than earthly lusts.

Nothing is nobler than a lofty soul, and no pleasure is greater than that of learning; its delight is spiritual, all else is transitory.

He who has tasted of knowledge shall not conceal his learning, the ignorant man is of little account in this world, what shall he be in the next?

They who acquire wisdom escape the doom of annihilation; learning is a step on the ladder leading to heavenly realms.

Thou sayest: To understand this study, its essence should be first explained; what subjects dost thou counsel me to pursue?

Learn the science of Religion which is the root of human belief, then the science of Healing which restores a strong constitution to the body.

To understand what relates to the Primary Cause, Physics must be studied, after which Metaphysics form the most important subject and therefore should be studied afterwards.

Before however commencing these you must zealously pursue the science of Logic, the theories of which lead the way to the speculative sciences.

Through Astronomy you will acquire a knowledge of Geometry and the movements of the constellations of the heavenly bodies.

Endeavour to learn all these thoroughly, as through them man attains perfection. The study of other branches here omitted is not compulsory.

These seven classes of sciences are further subdivided, and having acquired them, happiness is in store for thee.

Let thy chief endeavour be to ascertain how to meet thy Creator. Show thyself humble, then will He find pleasure in thee, seeing the purity of thy character.

Think not that knowledge is exhaustible, or that there is any part of it which can give content; yet strive to illuminate by study the darkness of thy mind.

Hast thou reached this limit then isolate thyself, meditate and sharpen thy intellect while thy thoughts are pure.

Learning in combination with a devout life is the truest approach to God and the truest worship of Him. The love of this world shows but an ignoble spirit.

Thou demandest: “How can I master all these subects?” Begin, bestir thyself and withdraw from mankind.

Endeavour gradually to raise thyself, and abandon ignorance and shame, in avoiding these thou reachest the incomparable standard.

Thy good or ill fortune will depend on thy approximation to God. Listen to the advice of thy friend, if thou wilt derive benefit from his friendship.

When thou hast attained this standard, God will open for thee the gate which leads to the Creating Intellect. He will bestow gifts on thee, but the choicest treasure will be thy connection with Him.

This is the opinion of philosophers and theologians of different sects, and none will be found to oppose this view.

Follow the common advice of these and be guided by it, hear and be obedient. Entreat God himself to explain to thee what is hidden,

That He may inspire those who delight in study and devote themselves to it. This well planned order is His work and the result of His All powerful wisdom.

Every wise man is anxious to learn and to gain accomplishments, but when the fool hears them spoken of, he considers them full of deceit.

Children must not partake of rich food, and honey is disliked by the sick. He who has a malady of the eye, shuns the glaring light of the sun.

All this is said allegorically, and I will not speak in plain language; my intention being that it should come to you in a strange guise, not correct in form and as a sort of jest.

My style is enigmatic, and my words are but hints to students. He who understands them must be distinguished by philosophical learning.

Thou shouldst know how to reply to him who questions thee concerning the author of the Principles the simple substance and the other elements.

The sky is a simple body, Substance is likewise a unity; the natural consequence is that God is also a unity.

He who would acknowledge this, must understand what is meant by Unity, but he who misinterprets it, denies the existence of God.

The abstraction from a multitude is one; and what cannot be otherwise described; what can be divided cannot be a unity but is a quantity.

One is what cannot be counted, but is absolute simplicity; this is the Primary Cause in the chain of evolutions.

He represents the limit of all forms, and is the finality of all that is final. His power is infinite and eternal over all things.

All that moves has a moving power which is again set in motion by another; this continues till an immovable motor is encountered.

He is the author of all origin, all that exists commences with him and progresses with unbroken continuity.

There are two general principles for all existing things which are to be found not only in the essence, but also in the matter.

The local movements are three on account of three starting points; three is the most perfect number and the first complete one.

The trinity must be denied to him who is above the three. A triplet of judges was instituted lest an error should arise in judgment.

The Beginning further comprises four, from the division and addition of which all things are formed. All that exists partakes of them, and the dissolution of them means death.

Upon careful consideration I find five beginnings, my fulcrum is proved by logical demonstration.

Every thing that moves can turn in six directions, every side has an opposite one, but the best movement is that above.

Every living thing can move itself in six different manners, but inanimate objects cannot move themselves. A plant has two movements and heavenly beings have six.

When thou hast reached seven, then thou findest seven planets in their seven spheres with forward and backward movements.

Also seven climates and seven metals; the limits of the principles with respect to physical matters are thus seven.

The influence of the moon on every seventh day is universally known, through natural and astronomical researches.

The crisis of illnesses takes place on the seventh day, and no physician can prevent it; in short seven has the upper hand in all things.

I must here also mention the observance of the seventh day, the importance of the seventh month and the release of the slave in the seventh year.

The days of the feast are seven, between them are seven times seven days; the lambs of the feast offerings are seven, how greatly is this number distinguished!

Aristotle says: He who gives the advice to obey nature, gives the best law and regulations.

He made this observation reflecting that the chief law in its practical and philosophical sense is divine.

I do not say that these lines are devoid of proofs, they come from the gate of wisdom.

These are metaphysical problems which I have treated in a number of books; only a few highly cultured ones will understand them, they concern God’s first creating command.

Take seven, and seven times seven, and seven, then add again seven, then thou hast Seventy.

Finished is the Sab’iniyya and praise be to God.

Translation by Hartwig Hirschfeld

Ballad XVIII

Christine de Pizan
Italian
1364 – c. 1430

 

Ha, the gentlest that there ever was made!
The pleasantest that any woman knew!
Most perfect to receive a high acclaim!
The best beloved of any woman too!
Of my true heart ever the sweetest food!
My only love on earth, my paradise,
All that I love, my sweetest desire,
And the most perfect joy of my eyes!
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

Your sweetness has truly forced its way
Into a heart, that never thought to rue
Such a state, yet has been so inflamed,
By ardent desire, life would leave it too,
If Sweet Thought did not comfort it anew:
But Memory comes to lie with it, and I
Hold and embrace you in my thought the while,
Yet when your sweet kisses are denied,
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

My sweet love, loved with all my heart, I say,
The thought does not exist that could remove
That sweet glance from my heart, that your gaze
Enclosed within it: Nothing could so do –
Nor your voice, nor gentle touch of those two
Dear hands, that barely causing me to sigh,
Wish everywhere to search and to enquire:
Yet when I cannot see you with my eyes,
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

Fairest and best to capture my heart, I
Pray you, remember me: this I require,
For when I cannot see you as I desire
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

Sonneto

06-30 Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
Italian
1313 – 1375

 

Beside a fountain in a little grove
That fresh green fronds and pretty flowers did grace,
Three maidens sat and talked methinks of love.
Mid golden locks, o’ershadowing each sweet face,

For coolness was entwined a leaf-green spray,
And all the while a gentle zephyr played
Through green and golden in a tender way,
Weaving a web of sunshine and of shade.

After a while, unto the other two
One spoke, and I could hear her words: “Think you
That if our lovers were to happen by
We would all run away for very fright?”

The others answered her: “From such delight
She were a little fool who’d wish to fly!”

 

Translation by Lorna de Lucchi

from The Mystic Rose Garden

We present this work in honor of Eid-al-Fitr.

05-03 Shabestari
Mahmoud Shabestari
Persian
1288 – 1340

 

In the name of Him who taught the soul to think,
And kindled the heart’s lamp with the light of soul;
By Whose light the two worlds were illumined,
By Whose grace the dust of Adam bloomed with roses;
That Almighty one who in the twinkling of an eye,
From Kaf and Nun brought forth the two worlds!
What time the Kaf of His power breathed on the pen,
It cast thousands of pictures on the page of Not being.
From that breath were produced the two worlds,
From that breath proceeded the soul of Adam.
In Adam were manifested reason and discernment,
Whereby he perceived the principle of all things.
When he beheld himself a specific person,
He thought within himself “What am I?”
From part to whole he made a transit,
And thence returned back to the world.
He saw that the world is an imaginary thing,
Like as one diffused through many numbers.
The worlds of command and of creatures proceed from one breath,
And the moment they come forth they go away again.
Albeit here there is no real coming and going,
Going, when you consider it, is naught but coming.
Things revert to their proper original,
All are one, both the visible and the invisible.
God most high is the eternal one who with a breath
Originates and terminates both worlds.
The world of command and that of creatures are here one,
One becomes many and many few.
All these varied forms arise only from your fancy,
They are but one point revolving quickly in a circle.
It is but one circular line from first to last
Whereon the creatures of this world are journeying;
On this road the prophets are as princes,
Guides, leaders and counsellors.
And of them our lord Muhammad is the chief,
At once the first and the last in this matter.
That One (Ahad) was made manifest in the mim of Ahmad.
In this circuit the first emanation became the last.
A single mim divides Ahad from Ahmad;
The world is immersed in that one mim.
In him is completed the end of this road,
In him is the station of the text ‘I call to God,’
His entrancing state is the union of union,
His heart ravishing beauty the light of light.
He went before and all souls follow after
Grasping the skirts of his garment.
As for the saints on this road before and behind
They each give news of their own stages.
When they have reached their limits
They discourse of the ‘knower’ and the ‘known,’
One in the ocean of unity says ‘I am the Truth,’
Another speaks of near, and far, and the moving boat,
One, having acquired the external knowledge,
Gives news of the dry land of the shore.
One takes out the pearl and it becomes a stumbling-block,
Another leaves the pearl and it remains in its shell.
One tells openly this tale of part and of whole,
Another takes his text from eternal and temporal:
One tells of curl, of mole, and of eyebrow,
And displays to view wine, lamp and beauty.
One speaks of his own being and its illusion,
Another is devoted to idols and the Magian girdle.
Since the language of each is according to his degree of progress,
They are hard to be understood of the people.
He who is perplexed as to these mysteries
Is bound to learn their meaning.

 

Translation by E.H. Whinfield

The Hidden Treasure Is in Me

We present this work in honor of National Sovereignty and Children’s Day.

04-23 Abdal
Kaygusuz Abdal
Turkish
1341 – 1444

The ocean, the endless sky,
the quarry and the gems are in me.
Open your eyes, look carefully:
both worlds are in me.

The spirit and the body,
the proof and the evidence,
both profit and loss—
the whole marketplace is in me.

I am the purpose of mankind,
the whirling movement of the earth;
I am the school and the knowledge—
the seal of completion is in me.

I am the Muslim. I am the Christian.
I am the place they both consider holy.
I am the crucified savior, the good and the evil—
whatever is—is in me.

I am the Infinite, the Eternal;
I am the wealthy and the poor;
I am the rememberer and what is remembered—
Faith and faithlessness are in me.

I am the idol that is worshipped,
the Kaaba* and the sacred relic—
the purpose of human beings
and all that comes with them is in me.

I am the light particle and the sun itself,
the hidden and the seen;
I am everything existing under its rays
Lover and Beloved are in me.

I am Kaygusuz Abdal, the soul in everyone.
I am the infinite and the eternal.
The hidden treasure is in me.

A New Language

12-09 Deschamps
Eustache Duchamps
French
1346 – 1406

 

Whose name will sound among the fields?
Whose battle-cries will grind the grain?
Once, learned men and layfolk both
swore Basque and shouted English oaths:
“Help, Holyhead!” “Saint George, to me!”
were then in fashion, for we feared
the noble deeds their troops had done.
A new language always comes.

After those two, Breton displaced
the Basque and English from our lips.
Their fame exploded! No one clung
to words outworn, outmoded songs,
and all you heard was, “By God’s grace!”
from every father and his son.
The mad spoke Breton, and the dumb.
A new language always comes.

Forgotten now, no longer good,
Breton’s found peace with last year’s coins.
We only speak Burgundian!
“No god for me” — all in one voice.
You might well ask, which, of those four,
is worth the ransom, at this price.
I’ll shut up now: my song is sung.
A new language always comes.

Prince, which people will have won
the “title,” “name,” or “lawful right”
to grind the grain today? Tonight?
A new language always comes.

 

Translation by Samantha Pious

Well, Once Upon a Time, in Dribs and Drabs

11-24 Zakani
Ubayd Zakani
Persian
1300 – 1371

 

Well, once upon a time, in dribs and drabs,
Income turned up for me, throughout the year;

I’d dry bread and fresh herbs to hand, in case
A friend should unexpectedly appear;

And sometimes there’d be wine to drink, for when
A pretty boy or sweet young girl came here.

But now I’m getting on in years, my life
Has suddenly become much more austere;

I’ve neither dry to eat, nor wet to drink,
And all that’s in my house is me, my dear.

 

Translation by Dick Davis

Kunwar Narain

Ibn Battuta
Moroccan 1304 – 1369

Who are these people, impaled on sharp bamboo poles,
blood spurting from their bodies?
Marvels Ibn Battuta in the forests of Ma’bar.

So dark even by day,
or is the Sultan blind?
I catch a glimpse through his blind eyes
of a page of history,
flapping in the pale light of torches:
in this barbarous ritual,
who are these half-dead women and children,
their hands and feet ripped apart
one by one from their frail bodies?
Are they infidels or humans?
Who are these around me
that keep on drinking
despite the laws of sharia?

There is no one. There is nothing.
It’s all a bad dream.
None of this is happening today.
It was all a very long time ago—
the era of prehistoric beats of prey:
I am not a witness to it… Sultan,
allow me to leave;
it is time for my prayers.

Translation by R. Parthasarathy

The Winter

Dafydd ap Gwilym
Welsh
c. 1315 – c. 1370

Across North Wales
The snowflakes wander,
A swarm of white bees.
Over the woods
A cold veil lies.
A load of chalk
Bows down the trees.

No undergrowth
Without its wool,
No field unsheeted;
No path is left
Through any field;
On every stump
White flour is milled.

Will someone tell me
What angels lift
Planks in the flour-loft
Floor of heaven
Shaking down dust?
An angel’s cloak
Is cold quicksilver.

And here below
The big drifts blow,
Blow and billow
Across the heather
Like swollen bellies.
The frozen foam
Falls in fleeces.

Out of my house
I will not stir
For any girl
To have my coat
Look like a miller’s
Or stuck with feathers
Of eider down.

What a great fall
Lies on my country!
A wide wall, stretching
One sea to the other,
Greater and graver
Than the sea’s graveyard.
When will rain come?

Translation by Dafydd Johnson and Daniel Huws

From the Garden of Heaven

We present this work in honor of Hafez Day.

Hafez
Persian
1326 – 1389

 

From the garden of Heaven a western breeze
Blows through the leaves of my garden of earth;
With a love like a huri I’ld take mine ease,
And wine! bring me wine, the giver of mirth!
To-day the beggar may boast him a king,
His banqueting-hall is the ripening field,
And his tent the shadow that soft clouds fling.

A tale of April the meadows unfold—
Ah, foolish for future credit to slave,
And to leave the cash of the present untold!
Build a fort with wine where thy heart may brave
The assault of the world; when thy fortress falls,
The relentless victor shall knead from thy dust
The bricks that repair its crumbling walls.

Trust not the word of that foe in the fight!
Shall the lamp of the synagogue lend its flame
To set thy monastic torches alight?
Drunken am I, yet place not my name
In the Book of Doom, nor pass judgment on it;
Who knows what the secret finger of Fate
Upon his own white forehead has writ!

And when the spirit of Hafiz has fled,
Follow his bier with a tribute of sighs;
Though the ocean of sin has closed o’er his head,
He may find a place in God’s Paradise.