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  A Look at Islam's Poetic Traditions

Art Posted by <Mordecai> on Saturday January 19, @09:24PM
from the sufi's-on-it dept.

Music of a Distant Drum: classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew poems
translated and introduced by Bernard Lewis
Princeton University Press: Princeton and Oxford, 2001
ISBN 0691089280

Bernard Lewis is both one of America's most eminent authors and professors of Middle Eastern history and one of the primary targets of Edward Said's influential academic critique of Western “Orientalism”. Thus the accuracy of his view of Islamic culture is both affirmed and denied. What cannot be denied is his passionate interest in and fascination with Islamic cultures. This volume springs out of his earnest desire to convey what he sees as the profound wisdom and beauty of some of the many many great poets of the Muslim world.

All the very best translations of poetry are made by persons with a decent knowledge of the original poem's tongue and a not inconsiderable poetic talent for writing in the language of the translation. Bernard Lewis is certainly quite adept in the use of the various original languages – Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew – of these poems, and the strength of his translations is in the precision with which he conveys the original poems' meanings. Unfortunately his genius for the rhythms of effective English poetry is somewhat less on display. That this is still a worthwhile and enlightening book is a tribute to the perceptive genius of its various authors, but not, I'm afraid, to the very ordinary renderings of Lewis' verse. But nonetheless the spiritual experience of the great sufis yet shines through. Here are a couple of examples:

Your spirit is mingled with mine

as wine is mixed with water;

whatever touches you touches me.

In all the stations of the soul you are I.


I used to shun my companion

if his religion was not like mine;

but now my heart accepts every form.

It is a pasturage for gazelles, a monastery for monks,

a temple of idols, a Ka'ba for the pilgrim,

the tables of the Torah, the holy book of the Qur'an.

Love alone is my religion, and whichever way

its horses turn, that is my faith and creed.

Anonymous (Arabic)

<  |  >


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The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

**Re: A Look at Islam's Poetic Traditions**
by <Malgwyn> on Monday January 21, @08:28PM

I enjoyed his “Music” for those poems that had NOT been previously translated and expounded upon (ad nauseum). “Sufi” poets are certainly out there in dozens of translations. I found it refreshing to read poetry that wasn't from a puffing esotericist.

Bernard Lewis is also well known for his concise work,“The Assassins, a Radical sect in Islam”.

Re: A Look at Islam's Poetic Traditions\\
by <jcat> on Monday January 21, @11:25PM
…have i been assassinated yet\\
by the speck of dust in the middle of your\\
dark eye…?\\
Rumi; sock it to me\\
shall i walk through the narrow defile\\
teen the imaginary heaven and hell…?\\
will i listen to the drum of the desert wind?\\
follow the strange foot steps in the sand\\
as i peer nieth the concrete realities\\
concocked in this world…looking to see\\
where i been…\\
or if i stand on corner of the lion's mouth city\\
between the bazaar and the truly bizarre\\
beholding the lapis lazuli sky\\
that is canopy to us all…begger saint\\
or dervish miracle of the afteroon mirage..\\
is the earth bivouacked by the hoards of the poor\\
or the armys of the sun…?\\
shall i say thy secret name…under these very stars…that i might banish the illusive vision\\
that nevertheless exists in all times at once..\\
…Adele…ancient yet sexy beyond sexy\\
i followed you through the snaking olden streets\\
as you lifted your mauve veil for an eternal moment; and also lifted your skirts and showed\\
me your garter…next to the watering hole..\\
..then you whispered something ; i cannot repeat here; as the cipher of your words is still performing its magick spell on my senses as i\\
write these camel like words…\\
Adele..Adele ..Adele..echoing on the dunes…\\
and the craters of the moon…\\
i forgot what puffed up words i muttered before,\\
but i remember the holy of the holies you showed,\\
the Rumi of the Rumies…\\
the shape of you vanishing around the mind bend.\\
jcat 7777\\

Re: A Look at Islam's Poetic Traditions\\
by <Mordecai> on Monday January 21, @11:36PM
>the Rumi of the Rumies…\\
I only count six levels of meaning in this. Shouldn't there be seven? :-)\\

  • |Re: A Look at Islam's Poetic Traditions\\
    by <jcat> on Tuesday January 22, @01:18AM

    …the strangest of the strange\\
    the queerest of the queer…\\
    the Rumi of the roomiest\\
    the homie of the homiest\\
    the six would be seven\\
    minus one from eleven\\

  The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them.

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