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A Young Soul / Al-Mutanabbi

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A young soul in my ageing body plays,

Though time’s sharp blades my weary visage raze.

Hard biter in a toothless mouth is she, The will may wane, but she a winner stays.

Spare me to win glory’s forbidden prize, Glory in hardship, sloth in comfort lies.

Em’nence is not with cheap comfort bought, Hear the honey gath’rers bee-stung cries

No indolent dreaming dawdler am I, Nor am content, while riches I descry.

Life’s heaving tides of woe shall spare me not, Unless I, its unblocked courses defy

Softly do town girls their faces adorn, But Bedu are from garish colours shorn.

Town beauty is with pampered softness sought, The Bedu are with unsought beauty born.

Grave harm have lovers to themselves done, Loving, ere understanding life begun.

They, with with’ered and wasted souls, After vile, though pretty-faced creatures run.

Beauti’ful women, as experienced men know, Are but darkness wrapped in dazzling light aglow.

A life of friv’lous youth and worried age, Its futile course to futile death will flow

When my hands from brimming cups weakly shook, I awoke, ere sense my wined mind forsook.

Shunning choice wines, as rich as purest gold, I, of spring showers silv’ry draught partook.

Secrets I keep no companion can discern, Nor to it can wine its potent way burn.

Soft women I have for an hour, and then, Deserts I roam, never more to return.

Courage to reason second place must take, For valour should not balanced judgment shake.

But if both in a hard soul united are, Then Glory’s realms their own demesne shall make.

Defiantly live, or in honour die, Midst slashing blades and banners flapping high
spite deny.

Face with cool, carefree calm life’s caretorn climes, As long as your soul with its body chimes.

Your joys of yore have passed beyond recall, And sadness can summon not bygone times.

A charger’s saddle is an exalted throne, The best companions are books alone.

Without hardship everyone would prevail, The generous are poor, and courage kills its own.

One’s ill-conduct brooding mistrust will breed, For dark thoughts on darker suspicions feed.

Sland’ring friends with what foes have slandered one, Thus in black nights of doubt one’s life will lead.

Fie’ry rashness may as valour be seen, And nervous anger may cowardice mean.

Arms are carried by people everywhere, But not all claws are lion’s, nor as keen.

Cowards see vapid impotence as sense, Such is treacherous villainy’s defense.

Each of valour’s divers forms enriches, But valiant wisdom is of worth immense.

Our dead we mourn, though we very well know, That but Vanity they leave ere they go.

Reflection upon life’s hard course shall teach, ‘Tis one to die as be slain by a foe.

Shoreless you would be of you were a sea. If rain, earth unable to contain ye.

Country and people of you I could warn, Of that which only Noah could foresee.

Misfortune’s arrows do upon me rain, Countless arrowheads does my heart sustain.

As more shafts at my studded heart fly, Steel upon Steel shatters the hardy twain.

At times in Bedu tents a home I find, Often, home is atop the camel’s hind,

My body a target for the brigand’s lance, To scorching heat my aching face unbind.

Though a noble lady and highly born, ‘Tis your unfeminine wisdom we mourn.

True spirit is from softer self distilled, As potent wine from sweeter grapes is drawn.

Filed under: Arab lit and art, English

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