Romancing ‘Gilgamesh’s Snake’

Arabic text copied from page 10 of Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems, Ghareeb Iskander, Bilingual Edition, Translated from the Arabic by John Glenday and Ghareeb Iskander, Syracuse University Press, 2015.

The transliterations bracketed below are mine. In them, tā’ marbūṭa is , and I show the lām of the article as assimilated to a following solar letter. For example: [‘ayyuhā-s-sayyidu] instead of [‘ayyuhā-l-sayyidu]. My character set, contrived to avoid digraphs, is the following:

‘ a ā i ī u ū ay aw b t ẗ ṯ j ḥ ẖ d ḏ r z s š ṣ ḍ ṭ ẓ ^ ḡ f q k l m n h w y

The text tagged “JMN” comprises my English and Spanish interpretation, and my transliteration, of the published Arabic text that’s copied in my illustration. I tag the published translation that follows it “GLENDAY” and add line numbering for ease of reference.

01 O master! (¡Maestro!)

02 Don’t seek eternity. (No busques la eternidad.)
[lā tabḥaṯ ^ani-l-‘abadīyaẗi]

03 The stepson of unrest got there before you, (El hijastro de la inquietud te adelantó en ella,)
[laqad sabaqa-ka ‘ilay-hā rabību-l-qalaqi]`

04 our grandfather, Gilgamesh. (nuestro abuelo, Gilgamesh.)
[jaddu-nā kalkāmišu]

05 Take pleasure in the river that flows with blood (Recréate en el río que corre sangriento)
[‘un^um bi-n-nahri-l-laḏī yajrī daman]

06 and in the eye that flows with tears. (y en el ojo que corre con lágrimas.)
[wa bi-l-^ayni-l-latī tajrī dam^an]

07 Take pleasure in the end, (Recréate en el fin,)
[‘un^um bi-n-nihāyaẗi]

08 in the chill of the grave, (en el frío de la tumba,)

09 in the gloom that the ravens glorify. (en la melancolía que los cuervos alaban.)
[bi-l-waḥšaẗi-l-latī tumjidu-hā-l-ḡirbānu]

10 Don’t speak of the importance of your being alone. (No hables de la importancia de quedarte solo.)
[la tatakallam ^an ‘ahammīyaẗi ‘an takūna waḥīdan]

11 They got there before you (Te adelantaron en ello)
[laqad sabaqū-ka ‘ilay-hā]

12 with their hurtful hammers and desires. (con sus martillos y sus deseos nocivos.)
[bi-maṭāriqi-him wa ‘amānī-himi-l-mūji^aẗi]

01 Master!
02 Don’t search for everlasting life.
03 Our grandfather, Gilgamesh,
04 who was born in sadness, went there before you,
05 waded through the river flowing with blood
06 delighted in the eye that flows with tears.
07 Love the ending of things,
08 the chill of the grave
09 the strangeness the ravens sing of.
10 Don’t prattle on about needing to be alone.
11 They all went there long before you
12 following the ache and beat of their desires.

Lines 05 and 06 of GLENDAY hold mystery. I read the verb formed from root n-^-m as a masculine singular imperative of Form 1, with the meaning “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” Is “waded” interpretive license? Line 06 does pick up on the sense of “delighted in,” but, as with “waded,” makes it into a past tense whose subject is “Gilgamesh,” and not a command in direct address to the “master” apostrophized earlier in the poem as the writer of history, which is how I read it. Line 07 of GLENDAY seems to corroborate a parsing of ‘un^um as an imperative, because it issues a command that encompasses the meaning of na^ama: Love the ending of things.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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2 Responses to Romancing ‘Gilgamesh’s Snake’

  1. luvgoodcarp says:

    “Love the ending of things” is such a perfect line.

    Liked by 1 person

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