ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ: "The Cycle of Death: A Muˁallaqa" (From Arabic)

A discussion of this poet, and the nature of the works attributed to him, may be found at this link in the introduction to the previous work of his that I translated. 
This poem represents my first attempt at translating a muˁallaqa. The muˁallaqāt are a collection of pre-Islamic poems especially esteemed by tradition. The origin of the term muˁallaqa has been much debated. Traditionally it is understood to mean "that which is suspended, hung up" and to refer to poems which were so illustrious as to earn the honor of being hung on the walls of the Kaˁba at Mecca. This explanation, which goes back to the tenth century and is part of common knowledge among educated Arabs even today, has largely been rejected by scholarship as entirely fictitious and based on little more than folk etymology. The most probable explanation for the term is that it was originally the title of the first section of the anthology compiled by Abū Zayd Al-Qurašī entitled Jamharatu Ašˁāri l-ˁArab, with the term al-muˁallaqāt meaning something like "the precious" (other sections have similar titles such as al-muntaqayāt "the chosen.") There was uncertainty for a long time as to precisely which poems were muˁallaqāt. The poem translated here is a muˁallaqa by some reckonings, but not most.  
This poem is an odd and, seemingly, rather disjointed thing, if one reads it against the background of later Arab tradition. But as it stands, and especially in light of the other poems attributed to ˁAbīd, a striking and memorable thematic (though not linear, let alone narrative) coherence emerges. The tragedy that has befallen the speaker's people, at the hands of a stronger party, is chiastically echoed in the final eagle-simile used to characterize the speaker's mount, in which a bird of prey strikes and brutalizes a fox, pillaging his heart to take to her eyrie. Nature does not give a damn about making anybody or anything happy. The poem that began by describing tribal lands depopulated and buddilat ahluhā wuḥūšan "their people replaced with beastly ones", ends with a simile of the strong preying upon the weak, in a circle of death (or "circle of life" for those at the top of the food chain like the eagle, or the monarchic predators we're supposed to root for in The Lion King.) It has happened before, and it will again. Lā badī'un wa-lā ˁajību "it is not unprecedented, and it is no wonder." 
As I mention in my introduction to ˁAbīd's lament, this poem here has a meter that (like the poem by the Unknown Woman) does not fit very easily into the khalīlian prosodic scheme. This is all the more the case if - as the Arab commentators did - one ignores the possibility that the meter is a somewhat loose form of rajaz, or at least related to it. The commentators, apparently unable to accept that so illustrious a poem should have such a low-prestige meter, took it to be in a form of basīṭ instead. The unusual nature of the meter, as well as its apparent derivation from a meter that later tradition held in extremely low esteem, argue for a very early date indeed for this poem's composition.  


The Cycle of Death: A Muˁallaqa 
By ˁAbīd bin Al-Abraṣ
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Depopulated, desolate lies Malḥūb, 
 and Al-Quṭabiyyāt, and Al-Dhanūb.

Depopulated, desolate lies Rākis 
 and all of Al-Qalīb and Dhāt Firqayn
And ˁArda and Qafā Ḥibirr and Thuˁaylibāt. 
 Nowhere in the land do any of us remain.

For the land has taken in the wild and beastly 
 instead of its own folk. All things have changed.
It is a land inherited by death. 
 All who once lived there have been raided, razed,
Slain by the blade, or left to die alone, 
 and grey hair is the mark of survivors' shame.

The tears gush from your eyes, as if their ducts 
 were waterskins too full of holes to retain
A single drop, or as cascades of water 
 down hillside gullies newly washed in rain,
Or as a torrent through a wādī bed 
 flooding the valley floor to a waterway,
Or a soft stream slow under bending palms 
 coursing with watery murmur in their shade.

How can you yearn for the flings of youth, when your hair 
 warns of a date with death in going gray?
If the land be changed, its folk displaced and scattered, 
 it is no wonder, nor theirs the first such fate,
Though all that mighty expanse is now deserted 
 though it now is home to drought and dearth and plague.
There's no hope so firm life will not belie it, 
 no happiness life will not wrest away.
No camel but is given to heirs in death, 
 no plunderer but is plundered for his take.
All who are gone on journeys may return 
 but all who are gone in death have passed away.

Is a barren womb the equal of the fertile? 
 Is the failed pillager equal to him who gains?
Prosper however you will. Sometimes the weak 
 achieve, and sometimes the skillful are tricked astray.
Men warn not him who will not heed the warnings 
 of Fate. To teach of wisdom is to fail
Without the heart-born gift of disposition. 
 How often has a friend become a hater.

Give aid in any land you find yourself in,
 and do not tell yourself "I am but a stranger."
You can grow close with people from afar 
 and be cut off from closest of relations.
Man founders in deceit, all the age of his life. 
 Torture for him is a life into old age.

Many a stretch of slime-aged standing water 
 I've reached through deathly, terrifying wastes,
The plumes of pigeon carcasses strewn about. 
 The frenzied heart heaves fearful of the place.
I passed it on my weary way in worry, 
 I and my brawny mount in the morning haze,
     
My mount: a camel, onager-swift, strong-spined 
 her withers smooth as a dune on a windless day,
A nine-year tush has replaced her seven-year tooth, 
 not too young or too old, in the prime of age   
Like a wild ass gone rushing through the reeds, 
 dark-furred with fight-scars round the neck and face.
Or like an oryx in his prime that feeds 
 on bindweed1, the northwind round him wrapped and raging. 

But that was an age ago. I see myself 
 born by a swift, big-bodied mare again
Her frame firm to perfection, and her forelocks 
 cleaving apart in the clearing of her face,
Oil-fluid her every movement, her veins asleep, 
 with a lithely gliding supple healthy shape. 
She seems an eagle ready for the hunt, 
 to fill her nest with hearts plucked from her prey,
Who spends the night perched high upon a rock 
 like an old woman looking for her babies. 

Then there she is in the piercing cold at dawn, 
 hoarfrost adrip from her feathers agleam with day.
She glimpses a meaty fox out in the distance, 
 nothing between them but one barren waste. 
She shakes frost off her feathers, then shakes herself 
 alert, preparing to launch out for the take,
Then launches aloft, swift as a hungry spear,
 
 aiming in one sharp swoop to fell her prey. 
He hears her wings, and lifts his tail in terror 
 as only the most frightened things behave.
He spots her swoop, and crouches to a crawl  
 looks up at her and bears his eyes agape.
She takes him, flings him onto the brute rock. 
 Now the prey beneath her lies in crippling pain.
She lifts him up, then dashes him back down. 
 His face is scraped with stones. His body breaks.  
The talons tear into his flank. He squeals. 
 His breast is pierced. His heart her food. No escape. 



Notes:

1 - The term bindweed is my translation of Arabic ruḵāmā. The word is obscure to the commentators who merely describe it as some sort of white bulbous plant. However, ruḵāmā (or ruḵēmā) in the usage of modern Arabian Bedouins refers to the convolvulus cephalopodus (c.f. James T. Mandaville, Bedouin Ethnobotany: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World), a type of bindweed, also known as the desert morning glory. And if this footnote isn't a prime specimen of my tendency toward philological excess, I don't know what is.


 
The Original:


أَقفَرَ مِن أَهلِهِ مَلحوبُ فَالقُطَبِيّاتُ فَالذُّنوبُ
فَراكِسٌ فَثُعَيلِباتٌ فَذاتُ فِرقَينِ فَالقَليبُ
فَعَردَةٌ فَقَفا حِبِرٍّ لَيسَ بِها مِنهُمُ عَريبُ
إِن بُدِّلَت أَهلُها وُحوشاً وَغَيَّرَت حالَها الخُطوبُ
أَرضٌ تَوارَثَها الجُدودُ فَكُلُّ مَن حَلَّها مَحروبُ
إِمّا قَتيلاً وَإِمّا هالِكاً وَالشَيبُ شَينٌ لِمَن يَشيبُ
عَيناكَ دَمعُهُما سَروبُ كَأَنَّ شَأنَيهِما شَعيبُ
واهِيَةٌ أَو مَعينٌ مُمعِنٌ أَو هَضبَةٌ دونَها لُهوبُ
أَو فَلَجٌ ما بِبَطنِ وادٍ لِلماءِ مِن بَينِهِ سُكوبُ
أَو جَدوَلٌ في ظِلالِ نَخلٍ لِلماءِ مِن تَحتِهِ قَسيبُ
تَصبو وَأَنَّى لَكَ التَّصابِي أَنّى وَقَد راعَكَ المَشيبُ
إِن تَكُ حالَت وَحُوِّلَ أَهلُها فَلا بَديءٌ وَلا عَجيبُ
أَو يَكُ أَقفَرَ مِنها جَوُّها وَعادَها المَحلُ وَالجُدوبُ
فَكُلُّ ذي نِعمَةٍ مَخلوسٌ وَكُلُّ ذي أَمَلٍ مَكذوبُ
وَكُلُّ ذي إِبِلٍ مَوروثٌ وَكُلُّ ذي سَلَبٍ مَسلوبُ
وَكُلُّ ذي غَيبَةٍ يَؤوبُ وَغائِبُ المَوتِ لا يَؤوبُ
أَعاقِرٌ مِثلُ ذاتِ رِحمٍ أَم غَانِمٌ مِثلُ مَن يَخيبُ
أَفلِحْ بِمَا شِئتَ قَد يُبلَغُ بالضَّعفِ وَقَد يُخدَعُ الأَرِيبُ
لاَ يَعِظُ النَّاسُ مَن لاَ يَعِظِ الدَّهرُ وَلا يَنفَعُ التَلبيبُ
إِلّا سَجِيّاتِ ما القُلوبِ وَكَم يَصيرَنَّ شانِئاً حَبيبُ
سَاعِد بِأَرضٍ تَكُونُ فِيهَا وَلا تَقُل إِنَّنِي غَريبُ
قَد يوصَلُ النازِحُ النائي وَقَد يُقطَعُ ذو السُهمَةِ القَريبُ
وَالمَرءُ مَا عَاشَ فِي تَكذِيبٍ طولُ الحَياةِ لَهُ تَعذيبُ
بَل رُبَّ ماءٍ وَرَدتُ آجِنٍ سَبيلُهُ خائِفٌ جَديبُ
ريشُ الحَمامِ عَلى أَرجائِهِ لِلقَلبِ مِن خَوفِهِ وَجيبُ
قَطَعتُهُ غُدوَةً مُشيحاً وَصاحِبي بادِنٌ خَبوبُ
عَيرانَةٌ مُؤجَدٌ فَقارُها كَأَنَّ حارِكَها كَثيبُ
أَخلَفَ ما بازِلاً سَديسُها لا حِقَّةٌ هِي وَلا نَيوبُ
كَأَنَّها مِن حَميرِ غابٍ جَونٌ بِصَفحَتِهِ نُدوبُ
أَو شَبَبٌ يَحفِرُ الرُخامى تَلُفُّهُ شَمأَلٌ هُبوبُ
فَذاكَ عَصرٌ وَقَد أَراني تَحمِلُني نَهدَةٌ سُرحوبُ
مُضَبَّرٌ خَلقُها تَضبيراً يَنشَقُّ عَن وَجهِها السَبيبُ
زَيتِيَّةٌ ناعِمٌ عُروقُها وَلَيِّنٌ أَسرُها رَطيبُ
كَأَنَّها لِقوَةٌ طَلوبُ تُخزَنُ في وَكرِها القُلوبُ
باتَت عَلى إِرَمٍ عَذوباً كَأَنَّها شَيخَةٌ رَقوبُ
فَأَصبَحَت في غَداةِ قِرَّةٍ يَسقُطُ عَن ريشِها الضَريبُ
فَأَبصَرَت ثَعلَباً مِن ساعَةٍ وَدونَهُ سَبسَبٌ جَديبُ
فَنَفَضَت ريشَها وَاِنتَفَضَت وَهيَ مِن نَهضَةٍ قَريبُ
يَدِبُّ مِن حِسِّها دَبيباً وَالعَينُ حِملاقُها مَقلوبُ
فَنَهَضَت نَحوَهُ حَثيثَةً وَحَرَدَت حَردَةً تَسيبُ
فَاِشتالَ وَاِرتاعَ مِن حَسيسِها وَفِعلَهُ يَفعَلُ المَذؤوبُ
فَأَدرَكَتهُ فَطَرَّحَتهُ وَالصَيدُ مِن تَحتِها مَكروبُ
فَجَدَّلَتهُ فَطَرَّحَتهُ فَكَدَّحَت وَجهَهُ الجَبوبُ
يَضغو وَمِخلَبُها في دَفِّهِ لا بُدَّ حَيزومُهُ مَنقوبُ


Jaufré Rudel: Joy and Love Afar (From Occitan)

Philology is not much in vogue these days. At least, not in the English-speaking world. Yet when it comes to medieval and ancient texts, I seem to be part translator, part long-winded commentator, and part philologically-obsessed editor. I have come to increasingly accept this about myself, much as one must accept the passing of youth, the passing of air or the passing of a kidney stone. I had set out to write a brief two-to-three paragraph introduction to the song here translated. But it seems to have mushroomed into about five printed pages worth of philological, editorial and comparative literary divagation about Islamic literatures, modern Occitan and the history of troubadour studies.
An weird little story is found in Jaufré Rudel's vida, or biography. It tells how he fell in love with the countess of Tripoli simply by hearing about her from pilgrims, which inspired him not only to sing songs about her ("with great melody but poor words" ab bon sons, ab paubre motz) but to go on Crusade across the sea to try and see her. But he took gravely ill at sea so that his dying body had to be brought to an inn in Tripoli. The countess, having heard of this, came to see him in his last moments, and gave him the joy of dying in the arms of his lady love, seeing her for the first time, after which, she became a nun in posthumous fidelity to her one-time beloved.

This unworldly little chain of improbabilities, seemingly drawn mostly from medieval stock commonplaces, fired the romantic blood of nineteenth century Europeans. Given what an extremely combustible substance romantic blood tends to be, this is unsurprising. What may be more of a shock, or rather more of an indictment, is that even medievalists took the tale to be basically factual until Gaston Paris set them straight, also disposing of the general reliability of Occitan troubadour biographies in the process. Yet even then, the search continued for some lucky lady referent, some real unseen woman of historical or literary note, to bear the dubious honor of being Rudel's Amor Lonhdana.

To my mind, the basic value of the vida, which one ought not to ignore, is that it suggests not only that some audiences as early as two centuries after Rudel's death found his lyrics less than appealing aesthetically (with their "good melodies but poor words"), but also just how peculiar they must have found their substance. The interpretative knot which the vida twists itself into by trying to understand Jaufré's songs in literal terms seems to me a masterpiece of creative un-imagination which made the songs all the more memorable to medieval audiences, motivated as it was by the kind of textual intractability which once fostered the akhbār on pre-Islamic poets, and would centuries later stoke the minds of Biblical philologists.

Modern audiences may find the vida to be much more fanciful than the song corpus it attempts to explain. Still, it is not an entirely straightforward matter to determine what the "love afar" (amor de lonh, amor lonhdana, amors de tèrra lonhdana), which Rudel sings about even is (nor, as I would argue, does it even matter quite so much as one might think.) It is still occasionally taken to be a woman, one which the singer has never seen and perhaps never will. Yet Rudel is peculiarly vague about the object of his love, and also contradictory, such that some have considered her to be a woman of dream visions, or a mere set piece abstracted from the "princesse lointaine" trope found sporadically in Old Spanish and Old French literature.

Moreover, transcendent and temporal love seem to heavily inflect one another in Rudel's songs, with a heavy undertone of Crusading (that he did take up the cross for the Holy Land is one of the few things about his life for which there is external evidence.) Thus other incorporeal and even inanimate candidates for the "love afar" have been identified including not merely "love of God" but the Crusades themselves, the Blessed Virgin, the Holy Land, the Christian Paradise and even Helen of Troy (as a literary trope, obviously, not an object of fanciful necrophilia.) The broader generic question of whether Rudel's love was "religious or profane" has also been a cause in whose name many a valiant scholar's ink has been tragically shed. (One would do well to recall how close to the heart of lyric poetry hymnody was in the early Middle Ages, a matter all too often forgotten in the disciplinary crevice between Late Latin and Medieval Romance literature.)

This and the other songs of Rudel have attracted much interest for all manner of reasons. But among the reasons why they interest me, one is somewhat odd. Perhaps it is odd (and more so today than it would have been 50 years ago) only because of how frequently, and increasingly, the study of literature is determined by the intellectual genealogies and taxonomies reflected in the divisions of university departments, and therefore students of Islamicate literatures seldom busy themselves much with the study of Occitan these days. For we have here a particularly crystalline example of the parallels with Islamicate court lyric that have long been sensed with regard to much troubadour song. Many of the issues at play with this song (confusion as to verse ordering, structural opacity, lack of clarity as to what the song is "really" supposed to be about and a good deal else both thematic and editorial) will ring a bell for anyone familiar with scholarship on classical Persian (and Persianate) court lyric, as well as the debates of orientalists regarding same in the previous century. Indeed, veterans of the badly-framed "religious or profane love" question that so troubled scholarship are downright legion among students and afficionados of Persian and Urdu poetry, including yours truly. To clone a phrase, you might say Rudel's stanzas are as beautiful as occident pearls at random sung.

The relationship of Andalusi, Sicilian and even Persian lyric to troubadour song (and also to Italian lyric) has long been a point of discussion. The scholarly debate on the matter is fascinating, albeit sometimes "fascinating" in a rather clinical sort of way. Generally it has gone in a crude vein of "who influenced whom and how" (or, mīn akhad min mīn as I once heard an Arab nationalist friend put it), sometimes with naked national or disciplinarian prejudices involved. Sometimes it has taken the form of more nuanced speculations about the influence of the courtly melting pot of Frederick II. Apart from the obviously porous boundaries between Romance and Arabic oral culture in medieval Iberia (the notion of "courtly love" owes more than a little to Arab models), I'm inclined to grant the high plausibility of the latter speculations, as well as the general fact that troubadours and joglars traveled widely, from France to Spain to Germany to Hungary to Malta to Palestine, and must have had a considerable impact on their own. Explanations of this kind are in order in cases where the similarities go to the point of poets using the same peculiar metaphors for the same referents, as is the case especially with Italian and Arabic poetry, or of documentable points of contact however vague (e.g. Petrarch's mysterious comments about Arab poets.) But something more general seems to me to be at work, beyond specific sites of "cross-pollination" and not least because it would be rather more difficult, though not impossible, to rope Persian lyric into this filiation than the Andalusi or the Sicilian.

Julie Scott Meisami writes this germane pair of sentences in her Structure and Meaning in Medieval Arabic and Persian Poetry:
Since the medieval literatures of Europe and the Middle East present similar problems in many respects (not least because they are medieval), the study of one may shed light on another, while reference to more familiar traditions may make the “exotic” ones more accessible to those unfamiliar with them. The medieval world was not fragmented by twentieth-century geopolitical or linguistic boundaries; despite differences of language, faith, and culture, it was far more homogeneous than traditional scholarship would have us believe. 
Equally relevant, but in a different way is what Meisami says later on the same page:
In the West, the “experience” of the speaker (typically identified with the poet) is considered primary; that this is not obviously so in Arabic or Persian has led to the belief that Islamic literatures place no value on the individual or on individual experience.
I would argue that it is precisely the preoccupation with the speaker's experience that has led so much scholarship on Rudel's songs until recently to go off the rails. Particularly since he is a "western" poet, he must be made to fit the western ideas (but especially Romantic and post-Romantic ideas) of what it is that poets express, and the relationship of that expression to their reality. L. Topsfield certainly seems to me on the right track in pointing out that Rudel's songs and those of his contemporaries comes from a period characterized by "a seeking and experimental type of poetry...not normally tied down by courtly ideas of behavior, [which] is often more abstract than worldly in intention and is concerned more with the personal quest for joy and the absolute ideal of an ultimate happiness than with conformity to social convention." For Jaufré Rudel's preoccupation with an amor de lonh is much easier to understand as a function of his particular approach to the religious and ethical dimensions of his craft, in response to the more proximate (and less chaste) love that others in his day sang of (or, as in Marcabru's case, viciously sang against.) Rupert T Pickens puts it well:
The quest for an historical amor de lonh is futile and, in my opinion, wrongheaded. The identity of a woman as the object of the troubadour's passion can add nothing to our understanding of his poetry; on the contrary, the poetic content of his work is diminished when attention is deflected away from the songs themselves...[L]ove is a creation of the poet's imagination and...the poems are jeux d'esprit.
Now, then, about the Occitan text.

A confession of editorial license: the arrangement of the stanzas, though not without textual warrant, is simply the one I liked best. The "original" (if it even makes sense to think in these terms) ordering of stanzas is probably impossible to authenticate, from the available manuscripts of this song. This is in the first place because not all of the best manuscripts even have all of the stanzas, and secondly (and relatedly) because the variation in attested stanza ordering for this song is so great that it is unlikely that stanzaic order remained stable anymore than the number of stanzas themselves. After his death, stanzas of Rudel's song were probably rearranged, or excised by singers according to taste and the exigencies of performance, in addition to the fallibility of memory, and there seems to be a small amount of evidence, albeit indirect, that troubadours expected their work to be modified in transmission, at least some of the time. (I am reminded of the variant orderings found in the lyrics of Hāfiz.) Unlike some other Occitan lyrics, there is little sign of either ring composition or linear development here, so much as variations on a theme developed in various directions. The ordering of stanzas might easily be changed about depending on how one interpreted the amor de lonh.

My "edition" of the original text is a somewhat eccentric thing. Since my last translation from Old Occitan, for reasons made more explicit in this post, I have made some serious effort to familiarize myself more with Modern Occitan. I have taken a cue from Bianchi's and Romieu's La Lenga Del Trobar: Precis de Grammatica d'Occitan Ancian as to the value which Old Occitan texts may have for the speaker, or learner, of the modern language, and have regularized the text's orthography with the modern nòrma classica as a guide, not because I think modern Occitan readers are so dim that <can> will be unintelligible to them unless regularized to quand or quant, but because unless one is directly reproducing a manuscript version, which I'm not, I see little point in maintaining an old and hugely variable orthography. Moreover, partial modernization and systematization of orthography in texts for non-specialist modern readers is a fairly routine practice for other medieval languages (e.g. Middle French, Middle English, Old Spanish) with modern descendants, and I see no reason not to do this with Old Occitan. Thus for example, intervocalic [s] and [z] are distinguished by -ss- and -s- respectively, open o and e in stressed syllables are marked by a grave accent, and close o and e by an acute accent in non-final position. Where original pronunciation is clearly at issue, I leave irregularities as they are. For example, <chans> in the original is regularized as chants, and not cants. Forms with palatalized j/ch- and with unpalatalized g/c- before -a seem to have alternated freely in the version of Old Occitan in which many of the troubadours composed, presumably sometimes to suit taste or effect as in the alliteration of jamais and jausirai here. (One might compare American poets' willingness during the twentieth century to rhyme "again" with both "men" and "pain", and "been" with both "seen" and "fin", and the frequent preservation of a dual pronunciation in recitations.)

As for my recording of the text in Old Occitan, further considerations apply. According to the ablest analyses of available evidence, many alternating features of the literary language (or, to borrow an Arabist's term which may be more appropriate, the "poetic koiné") reflected in later copies of the troubadour songs, if viewed in light of Modern Occitan dialect geography, correspond to a series of modern isoglosses which all converge more or less within ancient Languedoc province. I thought therefore of using features that are known, or thought, to be specific to medieval Lengadocian. There are limits to how certain an inference can be drawn from the data however. Although many of the dialectal divisions of Modern Occitan are indubitably very old (Latin etymological evidence shows that at least some predate the recorded use of Occitan as a literary language) the dialect geography of the 11th and 12th centuries can not necessarily be inferred from that of the 19th and early 20th. Moreover, as the Old Occitan of song was not a standardized literary language but rather a supraregional oral norm that appears to have been peculiar to lyric verse (much as the supraregional English of modern rock and rap has a detectably Southern American or Black American coloring, even when it comes out of the mouth of the welshman Tom Jones) which nonetheless admitted a large amount of phonological flexibility, regionalism is probably not the best way to look at it.

In my recording of the Old Occitan, I have opted for something close to what can be deduced of the 12th century lyric language, and which wound up similar in many respects to the pronunciation found in any manual of Old Occitan. The peculiarities that stand out for many (particularly modern Occitan speakers) will be at least three: first the close <ó> in heavily stressed syllables pronounced [o], with the [u] pronunciation limited to unstressed syllables and rarely-stressed monosyllables, and second, the pronunciation of <ç> and <c> before <e, i> as [ts] rather than [s]. (Both were to change in the subsequent century, judging by the Tolosan literary pronunciation reflected in the prescriptions of Guilhèm Molinièr's Leys d'Amors.) The third peculiarity, included on deductive and orthographic grounds, is my velarization of the /l/ as [ł] in coda position. This to me seemed justified by scribal evidence, as well as the data from modern Occitan dialects, a few of which have, and many more of which bear evidence of once having had, a velarized [ł] (whether in coda position as in standard UK English, or in general as in American English or standard Catalan.) 

You will notice that I have used the word "song" rather than "poem" above to refer to Jaufré Rudel's work. This is intentional. For this was in fact a song, with all that implies, and indeed the music for it still survives. I had considered singing the song on the recording. But it quickly became apparent that I did not have the training necessary to sing the somewhat complicated melody correctly, and tolerably, over seven stanzas. But the internet boasts a wealth of people doing their own renditions of this song. Here's one that sticks fairly closely to the recorded melody (the singer, judging by her pronunciation, is a native Catalan speaker). And here's another sung by the musicologist Elizabeth Aubrey, ripped from the CD accompanying William D. Paden's Introduction to Old Occitan, a wonderful book which I used to learn Old Occitan all those years ago. (Aubrey's performance will naturally be de-linked from this page upon request of copyright holders.)

Joy and Love Afar
By Jaufré Rudel
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Old Occitan

Now that the days grow long in May
I hear birds' gentle song afar.
When from that song I turn away
my mind turns to my love afar.
Bent with desire, downcast and dour,
no springbird's song or whitethorn flower
can touch me more than winter's chill.

Never will I find joy on earth
in love, without my love afar
who shines above all other worth.
Above all others, near and far
her virtue reigns so true and pure
I'd die a prisoner of war
in Saracen lands to serve her will.

Half grieved, half joyful will I go
once having seen my love afar.
When shall we meet? I do not know,
for our two lands lie far too far.
So many paths by land and sea,
what lies ahead I cannot see
but all things follow God's good will.

What bliss, for love of God, will be
there in the lodge of love afar!
I'll lodge with her if she wants me,
although a stranger from afar.
O discourse will be dear the day
I come, her love from faraway,
to hear love's words and feel its thrill.

I call him Lord who I believe
shall let me see my love afar,
though for each pleasure I receive
two ills, since she remains so far.
I'd go a pilgrim to that shrine
to see my dust-dark tunic shine
reflected in those bright eyes still.

God who made all things swift and still
and fashioned me my love afar,
grant me a way, I have the will,
soon to behold my love afar,
in such a truly pleasant place
that chamber wall and garden space
will seem a palace on a hill.

He speaks the truth who says I yearn
and lust for naught but love afar.
What joy on earth would I not spurn
just to enjoy my love afar?
But what I want is barred with hate.
My godfather1 has fixed my fate
to love well and be treated ill.

Oh what I want I'll never find.
God damn that godfather of mine
who doomed my love to bring me ill.

Notes:
1- An allusion to the belief that children's lives are influenced by the fate of their godparents.

The Original:

Amor de Lonh
Jaufré Rudèl

Lanquand li jorn son lonc en mai
M'es bèls dòutz chants d'ausèls de lonh,
E quand me soi partitz de lai,
Remémbra·m d'un amor de lonh.
Vau de talan embroncs e clis
Si que chants ni flors d'albespis
No·m platz plus que l'ivèrns gelatz.

Jamais d'amor no·m jausirai
Si no·m jau d'est' amor de lonh,
que melhor ni gensor no·n sai
vas nulha part, ni près ni lonh.
Tant es sos prètz verais e fis
Que lai e·l reng dels Sarrasis
fos ièu per lièis chaitius clamatz.

Iratz e jausents m'en partrai,
quand veirai cest' amor de lonh.
mas non sai córas la veirai,
car tant son nòstras tèrras lonh.
Assatz i a pòrtz e camis,
e per açò no·n soi devis.
Mas tot sia com a Dièu platz.

Be'm parra jòis quand li querrai,
Per amor Dièu, l'albèrc de lonh,
E, s'a lièis platz, albergarai
Près de lièis, si be·m soi de lonh,
Adoncs parra·l parlaments fis
Quand drutz lónhdas er tant vesis
Qu'ab bèls digs jausirai solatz.

Be tenc lo Senhor per verai
Per qu'ièu veirai l'amor de lonh,
Mas per un be que m'en eschai
N'ai dos mals, car tant m'es de lonh
Ay! Car no fui lai pelegris,
Si que mos fustz e mos tapis
Fos pels sièus bèls uèlhs remiratz!

Dièus qui fetz tot quant ve ni vai
E formèt cest' amor de lonh
Mi don poder, que còr ièu n'ai,
Qu'en brèu veia l'amor de lonh,
Veraiament en lòcs aisis,
Si que la cambra e·l jardis
Mi ressemblès tostemps palatz.

Ver ditz qui m'apèla lechai
e desirón d'amor de lonh,
que nulhs autres jòis tant no·m plai
Com jausiments d'amor de lonh.
Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs,
Qu'enaiçi·m fadèt mos pairis
Qu'ièu amès e non fos amatz.

Mas çò qu'ièu vuòlh m'es tant aïs
Totz sia mauditz lo pairis
que·m fadèt qu'ièu non fos amatz

Appendix: 

The Vida of Jaufre Rudel

Jaufre Rudel of Blaya was a very noble man, and lord of Blaya. He fell in love with the countess of Tripoli, sight unseen, because of all the good things that he heard pilgrims tell of her on their way back from Antioch. He made many songs about her with good melodies but poor lyrics.
Out of desire to see her, he took up the cross and went to sea, but was taken ill while on board and was brought, near to death, to an inn in Tripoli. This was made known to the countess, and she came to his bed to see him, and took him into her arms. And he, having realized that she was the countess, at once recovered the faculties of hearing and smell, and praised God who had sustained his life until he could see her; and so he died in her arms.
And she had him buried with high honors in the house of the Templars, and became a nun that same day out of grief over his death.

La Vida de Jaufré Rudèl

Jaufrés Rudèls de Blaia si fo mòut gentils om e fo prínces de Blaia. Et enamorèt de la comtéssa de Trípoli ses veser, per lo bon qu'el n'ausi dire als pelerins que vénguen d'Antiòcha. E fetz de lèis mains vèrs ab bons sons, ab paubre motz.
E per voluntat de lèis veser, el se crosèt e se mes en mar; e pres lo malautía en la nau e fo conduch a Trípoli en un albèrc per mòrt. E fo fait saber a la comtéssa et ela venc ad el, al son lièit, e pres lo antre sos bratz. E saup qu'ela èra la comtéssa e mantenent recobrèt l'ausir e·l flairar, e lausèt Dièu que l'avia la vida sostenguda tro qu'el l'aguès vista; et enaiçí el morí entre sos bratz.
Et ela lo fetz a grand honor sepelir en la maión del Temple; e pòis en aquel dia ela se rendèt morga per la dolor qu'ela n'ac de la mòrt de lui.

Unknown Woman: Lament for a Man Dear to Her (From Arabic)

 This short poem which seems to be pre-Islamic, is preserved in Abū Tammām's Ḥamāsa. The attribution found in the Ḥamāsa is probably false, and the only clues as to the poem's provenance would seem to be the features of the text itself. It is also an extremely short piece, and therefore one is faced with a more acute version of the same question one is always faced with in dealing with a piece that survives only in the Ḥamāsa: do we have the entire piece as Abū Tammām knew it?
 The answer, obviously, is that we don't know. It may well be that some material has fallen out after line 6. But the poem stands well as is.
 The reader will note from the line numbers that I have made minor adjustments to the ordering of lines based on what seemed to me to make good sense, and what made for the strongest poem. This may upset the purist, who is perfectly entitled to see this as inexcusable editorial violence on the part of a translator. Those who wish to read the poem with the line-order preserved in the Ḥamāsa may do so by reading the lines in strictly numerical order.
 Like Arab commentators I find it difficult to shake the sense that the man being lamented is a ṣuˁlūk. (The word is usually translated as "outlaw" though the term "desperado" conveys more of the Arabic word's flavor.) A ṣuˁlūk was a man who had been exiled by his tribe and was forced to eke out a painful, empty-bellied and often short life on his own. If one is to believe the sources (and here the general picture seems to me more likely to have some truth to it than any specific instances), despite the terrible consequences of exile, it was not infrequent. Sometimes the man in question may have simply been an obnoxious and intolerable person too maladjusted for communitarian tribal life. In most cases, though, it would have been for serious crimes which made the man impossible to trust or a liability to retain, acts which might would bring shame upon, or even incur outside aggression against, the entire tribe if the individual responsible was not cast out. If, for example, a man were to kill a member of another tribe in a way that his community could not support, then he might have to be exiled. To keep him around would be to condone his action and therefore essentially an act of war.
 A word on meter and rhyme is now in order, if only because it bears on how this poem is to be dated. Arab commentators take each rhyme to be a verse-end, with each verse so defined consisting of two hemistichs each with the metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃−. This already falls outside of the canonical khalīlian metrical scheme, although this poem is traditionally reckoned as being in a rare form of madīd. (It would in fact be unique, not rare, as it is the only Early Arabic specimen of this peculiar meter.)
 However, one need not even assume that the rhymes mark verse-ends. They could just as easily mark the boundary between hemistichs, and the rhymes could be a form of taṣrīˁ  whose scope covers the entirety of the poem. A number of syntactic parallelisms do suggest to me that this was the division according to which this poem was composed.  If one classifies the lines this way, then the end-rhyme need not necessarily be scanned as the pausal form -ak but as -aka and the lines could therefore have a metrical pattern ⩂⋃− − ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃− ⩂⋃⋃⋃, which is at an even greater remove from classical Arab metrical theory.
 Poems whose meter falls outside traditional Khalīlian classification are usually quite early, and consistent rhyme across hemistichs seems to have been the norm in archaic Arabic as well as old south Arabian verse, as in the recently discovered rhymed Qānya inscription dating to the 1st century AD. This seems to me good reason to at least argue for an early composition, despite its late and - as with the rest of the Ḥamāsa - rather suspicious attestation.
 I have included Friedrich Rückert's German translation of this poem after my romanization of the original. Rückert's translations of Arabic poetry are impressive. Though not as celebrated as his translations from Persian, they deserve appreciation by anyone who enjoys poetry and can read German.

Lament for a Man Dear to Her
By an Unknown Woman (5th-6th century AD?)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the Arabic

 He roamed in search of refuge
 From death, and now has died.  
 I want to know: what happened,
 What wrongly took your life? 

 Were you sick with none to tend you,
 Or slain asleep at night?
 Or was your stroke of chance
 The desert's lethal strike?

 Wherever a young man roams,
 The Fates in ambush lie.
 You spent so long achieving
 Your hopes at sorrow's price.

 All things are murderous
 When you come to your Time.
 What good that young men have
 Did you lack in your life? 

 Disaster deafens you
 To questions that I cry.
10 I must steel myself, for you
 Will never again reply. 

11 Would that my heart could face
 Your death for a moment's time.
12 Would that the Fates had spared
 Your life instead of mine. 


Notes:

L4: The word sulak in the original is only attested with the meaning "young partridge", which makes its presence in this context rather puzzling. Rückert in the commentary following his German translation of this poem admits that it is a word "that I don't know how to explain" (das ich nicht erklären weiß.) My reading takes sulak as a word derived from the root s-l-k (c.f. salaka "he traveled by road, made his way") with the hypothetical sense "wanderer, trekker" and assumes that the line refers to woes befalling a traveler in the desert.

The Original:



طافَ يَبغي نَجْوَةً مَن هَلَاكٍ فهَلَك
لَيتَ شِعْري ضَلَّةً أيّ شيءٍ قَتَلَك
أَمريضٌ لم تُعَدْ أَم عدوٌّ خَتَلَك
أم تَوَلّى بِكَ ما غالَ في الدهْرِ السُّلَك
والمنايا رَصَدٌ للفَتىً حيثُ سَلَك
طالَ ما قد نِلتَ في غَيرِ كَدٍّ أمَلَك
كلُّ شَيءٍ قاتلٌ حينَ تلقَى أجَلَك
أيّ شيء حَسَنٍ لفتىً لم يَكُ لَك
إِنَّ أمراً فادِحاً عَنْ جوابي شَغَلَك
سأُعَزِّي النفْسَ إذ لم تُجِبْ مَن سأَلَك
ليتَ قلبي ساعةً صَبْرَهُ عَنكَ مَلَك
ليتَ نَفْسي قُدِّمَت للمَنايا بَدَلَك


Romanization:

Ṭāfa yabġī najwatan min halākin fa-halak
Layta šiˁrī ḍallatan ayyu šay'in qatalak
A-marīḍun lam tuˁad am ˁaduwwun ḫatalak
Am tawallā bika mā ġāla fī l-dahri l-sulak
Wa-l-manāyā raṣadun li-l-fatā ḥayṯu salak
Ṭāla mā qad nilta fī ġayri kaddin amalak
Kullu šay'in qātilun ḥīna talqā ajalak
Ayyu šay'in ḥasanin li-fatan lam yaku lak
Inna amran fādiḥan ˁan jawābī šaġalak
Sa-'uˁazzī l-nafsa iḏ lam tujib man sa'alak
Layta qalbī sāˁatan ṣabrahū ˁanka malak
Layta nafsī quddimat li-l-manāyā badalak

Die Mutter des Ta'abbata Scharran


Rettung suchend schweift' er um

vor dem Tod, dem nichts entflieht.
Wüßt ich, was den Untergang
dir gebracht, und welch Gebiet!
Ob du Kranker unbesucht
starbtest; ob dich Feind verriet;
Oder dich ein Unfall traf,
der die Bente stets ersieht.
Schicksal lauert überall
auf den Mann, wohin er zieht.
Was ist schön an einem Mann,
welches Gott nicht dir beschied!
Doch den Tod bringt Alles dir,
wo dich dein Verhängnis zieht.
Lange Zeit genoßest du
deinen Wunsch durch nichts bemüht.
Schwere Hindrung ist's, die nun
deine Antwort mir entzieht.
Dein entschlagen will ich mich,
weil weil mich deine Antwort flieht.
Ich das einen Augenblick
Ich des Grams um dich entriet'!
Ich daß dich vom Tod mein Leben
löste, des ich gerne biet'


Ramy Ditzanny: Arachnon, Lord of the Lies (From Hebrew)

Arachnon, Lord of the Lies
By Ramy Ditzanny
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Secreting in secret in slits in the stone a fat spider abides,
Yellow and evil and godawful stripes down his sides,
A species the desert derives.

To that rising thing
Each sunrise we bring
In our hands the gift offerings:
A chip of emerald, a babe of the flies,
A scarab beetle bristling and hissing black things;
A mottled blooddrop, a godly Burnabee bug.

And with a whole sacrifice fettered in webs till it dies
Together we behold a final convulsion in fire.

A beloved pet He is: our Rabbi and our Teacher,
Our heart's desire.
A tangled web He weaves between us of twisted love and abomination.
And with our belongings already we've brought the next creature,
The long, unwinding, writhing, reptile: spider-eater. 



The Original:


בעל עכשוב
רמי דיצני

בסתר בסדק בסלע עכביש שמן דר
צהוב חברבר מרושע מכוער
בן זן מידבר

דבר בוקר בבקרו
נבוא נבקרו
בידינו מינחה. לחלותו– 
גזיר איזמרגד זבובון,
חרפושית רוחשת שחורות;
נטף–דם נקוד פרת–משה–רבינו

ועת קרבן כליל כפות בקורים עד כלותו–
יחד נחזה בפירכוס אחרון.

חיית–מחמד אדמו׳׳ר משאת–לבינו–
רשת תועבה ואהבה נעוה טוויה בינינו;
בכלינו כבר הבאנו מתפתלת רעבה– לטאה עבה.


Romanization:

Baˁal ˁAxšuv
Rami Ditsani

Baséter basédek basélaˁ ˁakaviš šamen dar;
Tsahov ḥavarbar merušaˁ mexoˁar.
Ben zan midbar.

Dvar bóker bevokro
Navo nevakro
Beyadénu minḥa. Leḥaloto
Gezir izmaragd zevuvon,
Ḥarpušit roḥéšet šeḥorot;
Nétef-dam-nakod parat-moše-rabénu.

Veˁet korban kalil kafut bakurim ˁad kloto-
Yáḥad neḥeze befirkus aḥaron.

Ḥayat-maḥmad admor masat-libénu- 
Réšet toˁeva ve'ahava naˁava tevuya beynéynu;
Bexeléynu kvar hevéynu mitpatélet reˁeva- leta'a ˁava

Gabriel Preil: A Future Without a Perhaps (From Hebrew)

A Future Without A Perhaps
By Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I cross out so many names
in my little book. They are no more.
but they were already crossed out
by the Lord of Mercies,
the Great Bushwhacker who leaps
from his forest of shadows.

I cross out name after name
in my little book. I feel I am
guilty, deserving of black punishment,
as if there had not first been One
who did what He had done.

Of course I am only a little bookkeeper
verifying ice-hard facts,
signing off on them, as on a decree
that will also be enforced to me
in a future of no perhaps. 

The Original:


עתיד ללא-אולי
גבריאל פרייל

אני מוחק כל-כך הרבה שמות
מפנקסי הקטן. הם אינם.
קודם-לכן מחק אותם
רב-הרחמים
הפולש המזנק
מיער צלליו.

אני מוחק שמ אחר שם
מפנקסי הקטן. מרגיש עצמי
חייב ענשים אפלים, 
כאילו לא הקדימני מי
עשה מה שעשה
קודם לכן

כמובן שאני רק פנקסן
מאשר עובדות קרחיות
חותם עליהן כעל גזר דין
שישתלט גם עליי
בעתיד של-לא-אולי. 

Gabriel Preil: Beyond Sleep And Waking (From Hebrew)

Beyond Sleep and Waking
By Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My friend is translating Shakespeare.
He reads passages of living Hebrew
on a night asleep as usual, and I
have the chill blaze of boredom, 
the torpor of a frightened city.

I keep thinking
of the crude unripeness of things,
of the meaning of So What.
It would be good
If the flighty cherry buds
and the cool of receding waves
were taken away from me.

Lacking that, I pray Someone
let me be
like Julius Caesar slain,
or Hamlet felled by his riddle,
and my loves buried
beyond all sleep and waking.

The Original:


מעבר לשינה ויקיצה
גבריאל פרייל

ידידי מתרגם את שקספיר.
הוא קורא פסוקי ערברית חיים
בלילה הישן לו כמנהגו ואני
עם לבת השיעמום, עם
קיפאון עיר–פחדים.

אני מאריך לחשוב
על בוסר הדברים,
על משמעות ה"מה בכך’"
טוב יהיה איפוא
אם יוקח ממני
ניצן הדובדבן המתעלם
צנן הגל הנרתע.

במקום זה אבקש ממי
לתת לי להיות 
כיוליוס קיסר הקטול, 
כהמלט רצוח חידתו.
מעבר לכל שינה ויקיצה
קבורות אהבותי.


Anonymous: Song of the Watchmen of Modena (From Latin)

During the late 9th century, the walls of Modena were fortified under bishop Ludovicus against Magyar (Hungarian) raiders, whose numerous incursions into western Europe at the time had become a considerable and constant menace, and would remain so until their neutralization by Otto the Great at the battle of Lechfeld in 955, followed by the formal conversion to Christianity of the Hungarian elite over the subsequent century.
This poem, preserved in a manuscript alongside prayers explicitly entreating deliverance from Hungarian raiders, appears to have been composed for use at mass just before sending guards off to sentry duty. The mass was presumably conducted in the Chapel of Saint John and Saint Mary (located near one of the city gates, and dedicated to the two saints invoked in the penultimate stanza) where the poem was sung by attendant clerics, possibly joined by the guardsmen as well. 
The music to which the song was composed still survives, and a modern rendition can be heard here. (Note though that the lyrics heard in the recording are a truncated version of the unedited text as found in manuscript. They therefore both lack a considerable part of the full text presented here, and also contain a large chunk of material interpolated from another composition.)

Song of the Watchmen of Modena
By Anonymous (c. late 9th cent.)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Good men who guard those walls tonight with arms,
I warn you: do not sleep. Stand watchful guard.
While Hector stood his watch, Troy still stood free
And did not fall to any scheme of Greece.
But as Troy slept in the early morning's peace,
Sinon unlocked the gift horse of defeat.

The horde slipped down a rope in dark concealed,
Stormed into Troy and raped her to debris.
And the watchful voice of the white goose redeemed
Rome's citadel and forced the Celts to flee.
For this they made her a silver effigy
And adored the bird as a Roman deity1.

But let us worship Christ's divinity
And pay to Him our tuneful jubilee.
Trusting in Him,  His guardianship supreme,
Let us sing Him this wakeful hymn with cheer
"Christ, King of all things, guardian godhead, keep
This faithful city in Thy watchful care.

Be to Thy people a bulwark none may breach,
The fearsome enemy our enemies fear.
Within Thy care no power can do us harm
For Thou wilt drive all hostile force afar.
Keep these our walls O Christ, under Thy care
With the protection of Thy mighty spear.

And Glorious Mary, mother of Lord Jesus
With Saint John's aid entreat our victory,
You whose most holy relics we revere,
To whom we consecrate this chapel here."
Swords under Christ's command strike victory.
Without Him, of what use can weapons be?

Brave, good young men, bold in your strength of arms
Let the ramparts sound with song from wakeful hearts;
And take your turns to stand at arms on guard
That no foe's ploy may breach these walls of ours.
Let the echo sound along the walls "Stand guard!"
Let it resound "Comrades, stand watchful guard!"

Notes:

1 - Reference is made here to the Gaulish siege of the Capitoline Hill in Rome following the Battle of Allia. The Gaulish forces attempted to sneak into the Capitoline by night, and managed to go undetected by the guards or the dogs. But the sacred geese consecrated to Juno were roused, which in turn alerted the Romans who rallied under Marcus Manlius Capitolinus to repel the Gauls back down the hill. The part about the Romans making a silver model of the goose is apparently the poet's invention.

The Original:

Carmen Mutinense

O tu, qui servas   armis ista moenia,
Noli dormire,   moneo, sed vigila.
Dum Hector vigil   exstitit in Troïa,
Non eam cepit   fraudulenta Graecia.
Prima quiete   dormiente Troïa,
Laxavit Sinon   fallax claustra perfida.

Per funem lapsa   occultata agmina
Invadunt urbem,   et incendunt Pergama.
Vigili voce,   avis anser candida
Fugavit Gallos   ex Arce Romulea;
Pro qua virtute   facta est argentea,
Et a Romanis   adorata ut Dea.

Nos adoremus   celsa Christi numina,
Illi canora   demus nostra iubila.
Illius magna   fisi sub custodia,
Haec vigilantes   iubilemus carmina.
Divina, Mundi   Rex Christe, custodia
Sub tua serva   haec castra vigilia.

Tu murus tuis   sis inexpugnabilis,
Sis inimicis   hostis tu terribilis.
Te vigilante,   nulla nocet fortia,
Qui cuncta fugas   procul arma bellica.
Tu cinge haec   nostra, Christe, munimina,
Defendens ea   tua forti lancea.

Sancta Maria   Mater Christi splendida,
Haec cum Iohanne,   Theotocos, impetra:
Quorum hic sancta   veneramur pignora,
Et quibus ista   sunt sacrata limina
Quo duce victrix   est in bello dextera,
Et sine ipso   nihil valent iacula.

Fortis iuventus,   virtus audax, bellica,
Vestra per muros   audiantur carmina:
Et sit in armis   alterna vigilia,
Ne fraus hostilis   haec invadat moenia.
Resultet Echo   comes: eia vigila.
Per muros eia   dicat Echo, vigila!

Gabriel Preil: Lesson in Translation (From Hebrew)

I cannot shake the feeling that this poem, about the experience of having one's work translated, was written specifically so as to be untranslatable. Or, at least, to demonstrate untranslatability. Either that or Preil was unaware what irony a translator would find in the fact that the word used for "translation" in the title, targúm can signify either a work of translation, or the exegetical rendering of Hebrew scripture into Aramaic, and in this latter sense has something of the interpretative and the hermeneutical to it. By contrast, the poem's last words are Šiˁúr Betirgúm "Lesson in Translation" identical to the title except for one vowel. Here, the word used for translation, tirgúm, refers to the act of rendering text or speech into another language (and has no technical scriptural meaning.) There are several instances of wordplay of various kinds throughout the poem. Which mock the translator most rudely.  

Lesson in Translation
By Gabriel Preil
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My interpreter tried to bring to light
The states that went unstated,
The methods of design and indirection,
The compulsion to explore, reach and arrive,
(Once even reading something in my face.)

Above all else she thought to plow
the specific subsoil, to identify
the bristle of roots, the burning morn of making.
There were moments when an image drew her
in, like trees in the morning singing their birds,
or the incidental orchestrating itself,
a delicate length of irony, a longing. 

The original, one may assume, is still the original,
She did not transmute it into her own possession
Or something else and other of mine.
She seems to have held the lines with honor as usual,
Their fidelity flowing from autumn to fall. 

That said, I question how even so careful, cool a text
Can be turned mournful, defeating all peace of mine.
Had I learned a lesson in translation?

The Original:

שִׁעוּר בְּתַרְגוּם

הַמְתַרְגֶּמֶת נִסְּתָה לַחֳשֹׂף
דְּבָרִים שֶׁלֹּא נֶאֶמְרוּ
אֶת אָפְנוֹת הַמְכֻוָּן וְהַהַסְוָאָה
אֶת כֹּרַח הַגִּשּׁוּשׁ וְהַהַגָּעָה
(פַּעַם קָרְאָה מָה בְּפָנַי)

יוֹתֵר מִכֹּל חָשְׁבָה לַחֲרֹשׁ
בַּתַּשְׁתִּית הַמְיַחֶדֶת, לְזַהוֹת
זִיפֵי שָׁרָשִׁים, כְּוִיַּת הָעִצּוּב.
הָיוּ רְגָעִים שֶנִּמְשְׁכָה לִדמּוּי כְּמוֹ
עֲצֵי בֹּקֶר שָׁרִים צִפֳּרִים
לַמִּקְרִי הַמְתַזְמֵר כְּמֵאֵלָיו 
אִירוֹנְיָה דַקָּה, כִּסּוּפים. 

הַמָּקוֹר, אֶפְשָׁר לְהַנּיחַ, עוֹדֶנּוּ מָקוֹר
חִיא לֹא הָפְכָה אוֹתוֹ לַאֲחֻזָּתָהּ
אוֹ לִכְלִי שֶׁנִי, אַחֵר, שֶׁלִּי.
כָּל בַּיִת שֶׁבַּשִּׁיר, נִדְמֶה, מוּגָן — כָּרָגִיל
בֵּין סְתָו לִסְתָו מְפַכָּה אֲמִנוּתוֹ. 

עִם זֹאת אֲנִי שׁוֹאֵל אֵיךְ טֶקְסְט קָרִיר–זָהִיר
גַּם הוּא נַעֲשָׂה עָצוּב, מֵבִיס אֶת הַשַּׁלְוָה. 
לָמַדְתִּי שִׁעוּר בְּתִרְגּוּם? 


Romanization:

Šiˁur Betargum


Hamtargémet nista laḥasof
Dvarim šelo ne'emru,
Et ofnot hamxuvan vehahasva'a
Et koraḥ hagišuš vehahagaˁa
(páˁam kar'a ma befanay)

Yoter mikol ḥašva laḥaroš
Bataštit hamyaḥédet, lezahot
Zifey šorašim, keviyat haˁitsuv.
Hayu regaˁim šenimšexa ledimuy kmo
ˁatsey bóker šarim tsiporim
Lamikri hamtazmer keme'elav.
Irónya daka, kisufim.

Hamakor, efšar lahaníaḥ ˁodénu makor
Hi lo hafxa oto la'aḥuzata
o lixli šeni, aḥer, šeli.
Kol báyit šebašir, nidme, mugan – karagil
beyn stav listav mefaka aminuto

ˁim zot ani šo'el eyx tekst karir-zahir
gam hu naˁasa ˁatsuv mevis et hašalva.
Lamádeti šiˁur betirgum?

Guillaume Apollinaire: The Gypsy (from French)

The Gypsy
By Guillaume Apollinaire
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The gypsy could already tell
Our lives were blocked by night on night
We said farewell to her and right
Away Hope hurtled from the well

Love heavy as a hungry bear
Danced tall with our two wills for tethers
The bluebird shuffled off its feathers
The beggars lost the will to prayer

We're bound for hell and know full well
But on the way in hope of love
We hand in hand go thinking of
All that the gypsy's words foretell


The Original:

La Tzigane

La tzigane savait d'avance
Nos deux vies barrées par les nuits
Nous lui dîmes adieu et puis
De ce puits sortit l'Espérance

L'amour lourd comme un ours privé
Dansa debout quand nous voulûmes
Et l'oiseau bleu perdit ses plumes
Et les mendiants leurs Ave

On sait très bien que l'on se damne
Mais l'espoir d'aimer en chemin
Nous fait penser main dans la main
A ce qu'a prédit la tzigane

Pushkin: To The Sea (From Russian)

This may be thought of as Pushkin's locus amœnus poem, and it was an absolute pain in the ass to translate. Seriously. Not because the language is hard, or even because of the (today) opaque allusions, but because of the resonances of language. Pushkin's gift is the ability to phrase an idea in such a way, and in such a context, that the Russophone reader somehow just feels that this is the natural way to say it. Much as Shakespeare constructed phrases (not merely obvious ones such as to thine own self be true, the fault is not in the stars, doth protest to much, to be or not to be, one fell swoop, star-crossed lovers but also words many English speakers use every day such as good riddance, laughingstock, what's done is done, hoist by one's own petard, seen better days, strange bedfellows, a sorry sight) that, by dint of talent and a hefty amount of luck, became part of the English semanticon, so too did Pushkin make much of the Russian phrasebank in his own image. One example from this poem is властитель дум "master/potentate of (one's) thoughts/ideas" a term which in modern Russian is now used to describe the dominant intellectual influence either on a person or on an age.

To The Sea
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Russian

Unfettered element! Farewell
Before me now one final time
You roll again that skyblue swell,
And sparkle with a pride sublime.

Like an old friend's regretful sigh,
Like calls of fare-you-well through tears,
Your summoning sound, your sounding cry,
One final time now fills my ears.

Oh yes, my heart's desired reach!
How often I in twilight went
Quiet and dark along your beach,
Wracked by a sacred deep intent1

Dear were the answers you would send,
Dim primal sounds, the chasm's call
The silences of eveningfall
And those impulsive flights of wind.

The humble sail of fishers' slips,
With the protection of your mood,
Bravely amid your watertips,
But you, a Titan unsubdued,
Roll rough and drown a herd of ships.

'Twas not my luck to leave the night
Fallen on this dry stirless shore,
To greet you, raptured into light,
And make my grand poetic flight
Across your crests forevermore

You called... I was enthralled aground. 
Vainly my heart in shackles strained.
By spells of potent passion bound
Beside the beaches I remained.


What's to regret? Toward what far shoal
Could I my madcap voyage chart?
In all your open wilds, one goal
Could still have power to strike my heart,

One cliff...that sepulcher of glory
There a chill slumber in the west
Whelmed memories of a mighty story...
There was Napoleon felled to rest.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls2

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea. 

In him your spirit wrought its mark,
In your own image was he framed
Like you was potent, deep and dark.
Like you, an element untamed.

The world's a void. Now in that cold
Whither, O Sea, would you with me?
In every land one fate takes hold: 
Each drop of virtue is patrolled
By technocrats...or tyranny3

So, Sea, farewell. I will recall
Your august splendor all my years.
Long shall your boom as evenings fall
Sound and resound within my ears.

To woods and hushful wastes, away
Imbued anew with you, I bring
Your gleam and shadow, cliff and bay,
And your dear waves' blue rumoring. 


Notes:
1: A reference to Pushkin's plan (which ultimately never materialized) to escape Russia and head for western Europe via the Baltic. This idea is also alluded to in stanzas 6 and 7.
2: A reference to the poet Byron, who had died at Missolonghi earlier that year (1824.)
3: The original says "enlightenment" instead of "tecnhnocrats." The latter word didn't exist in Pushkin's time. Here Pushkin was using an instance of the old Romantic idea that "enlightenment" seen in western Europe as a herald of liberation was nothing more than tyranny in new garb. Pushkin's experience of this had to do with the way in which modernization and reform were being and had been implemented in Russia, being used to entrench power rather than challenge it. 

The Original:

К Морю
Александр Пушкин

Прощай, свободная стихия!
В последний раз передо мной
Ты катишь волны голубые
И блещешь гордою красой.

Как друга ропот заунывный,
Как зов его в прощальный час,
Твой грустный шум, твой шум призывный
Услышал я в последний раз.

Моей души предел желанный!
Как часто по брегам твоим
Бродил я тихий и туманный,
Заветным умыслом томим!

Как я любил твои отзывы,
Глухие звуки, бездны глас,
И тишину в вечерний час,
И своенравные порывы!

Смиренный парус рыбарей,
Твоею прихотью хранимый,
Скользит отважно средь зыбей:
Но ты взыграл, неодолимый,-
И стая тонет кораблей.

Не удалось навек оставить
Мне скучный, неподвижный брег,
Тебя восторгами поздравить
И по хребтам твоим направить
Мой поэтический побег.

Ты ждал, ты звал... я был окован;
Вотще рвалась душа моя:
Могучей страстью очарован,
У берегов остался я.

О чем жалеть? Куда бы ныне
Я путь беспечный устремил?
Один предмет в твоей пустыне
Мою бы душу поразил.

Одна скала, гробница славы...
Там погружались в хладный сон
Воспоминанья величавы:
Там угасал Наполеон.

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

Твой образ был на нем означен,
Он духом создан был твоим:
Как ты, могущ, глубок и мрачен,
Как ты, ничем неукротим.

Мир опустел... Теперь куда же
Меня б ты вынес, океан?
Судьба людей повсюду та же:
Где капля блага, там на страже
Уж просвещенье иль тиран.

Прощай же, море! Не забуду
Твоей торжественной красы
И долго, долго слышать буду
Твой гул в вечерние часы.

В леса, в пустыни молчаливы
Перенесу, тобою полн,
Твои скалы, твои заливы,
И блеск, и тень, и говор волн.

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