Constrained to Endure Despite?

For studying Arabic, Congruent (1) translations can be invaluable for working out particulars of the language’s behavior. Freewheeling translations are more pleasing to read, but can be “noisy” in a such a way as to create their own problems. Does an honorable man compel himself to endure suffering, as opposed to resigning himself to it?

The first verse of a well-known Arabic poem (2) says this:

“When a man’s honor was not (has not been) soiled by baseness, then every garment he puts on is beautiful.”

‘iḏā-l-mar’u lam yadnas mina-l-lu’mi ^irḏu-hu
When the man [‘iḏā-l-mar’u] was not soiled [lam yadnas] from baseness [mina-l-lu’mi] his honor [^irḏu-hu]…
fa-kullu ridā’in yartadī-hi jamīlu
… then every garment [fa-kullu ridā’in] he puts it on [yartadī-hi] beautiful [jamīlu].

Here’s Arberry’s translation of the poem’s second verse:

And if he has never constrained himself to endure despite, then there is no way (for him) to (attain) goodly praise.

wa-‘in huwa lam yaḥmil ^alaA-n-nafs(i) ḍaim(a)-ha
And if he [wa-‘in huwa] did not carry (has not carried) [lam yaḥmil] upon the (his) soul (self) [^alaA-n-nafs(i)] its injury [ḍaim(a)-hā]…
fa-laisa ‘ilA ḥusn(i)-ṯ-ṯanā’(i) sabīl(u)
… then there is not [fa-laisa] to the goodness of praise [‘ilA ḥusn(i)-ṯ-ṯanā’(i)] a way [sabīlu].

Arberry spends a footnote on the verse: “The usual meaning of ḍaim is ‘wrong, injustice’; here the intention is clearly ‘being unjust to oneself’ in the sense of compelling oneself to endure intolerable hardships.” One doesn’t normally take extra lengths to explain what he affirms to be clear. It’s not ḍaim that’s problematic (for me); it’s the verb phrase with ḥamal(a), “to carry.” An interpretation that leads to the forcing of oneself to suffer the “intolerable” doesn’t leap out from the Arabic.

In the Arabic, lam yaḥmil (“he did not carry”) is followed by preposition ^alaA, which can mean over, upon, above, against, to, on account of, and notwithstanding. Its object nafs doubles as “soul” and “self.” Noun ḍaim (“injury)” is the verb’s direct object, and its affixed possessive modifier -hā refers to nafs.

My breakdown of the line is this: “And if he did not carry (has not carried) upon the (his) soul (self) its injury, then there is not to the goodness of praise a way.”

I would have translated it like this: “And if he has not borne personal injury (patiently), then there’s no path (for him) to (merit) good praise.”

With guidance from Wehr (3) and Lane (4), and especially from Wright’s (5) discussion of ^alaA, I can see my way to a translation that approximates Arberry’s:

“And if he has not inured himself to personal injury, then there’s no path (for him) to (merit) good praise.”

(1) Congruent (matches the source text fairly closely, with minimal liberties taken for readability); Omissive (suppresses elements of the source text without obvious justification); Expansive (adds interpretive structure or content not discernible in the source text but plausibly deriving from it); Inventive (carries the “expansive” element to a level not obviously supported by the source text); Transgressive (departs from the source text in a way that seems to betray the poem’s letter or spirit).
(2) As-Samau’al, pp. 30-32 in A.J. Arberry, Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students, Cambridge University Press, 1965.
(3) Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, Edited by J Milton Cowan, Cornell University Press, 1966.
(4) Edward William Lane, An Arabic–English Lexicon, vols 6–8 ed. by Stanley Lane-Poole, 8 vols (London: Williams and Norgate, 1863–93). The entry for root ḥ-m-l.
— fulān(un) lā yaḥmilu-ḍ-ḍaim(a)“such a one refuses to bear, or submit to, and repels from himself, injury.”
— ḥamala ^alaA nafs(i)-hi fīY-s-sair(i)“He… tasked himself beyond his power, in journeying, or marching.”
(5) W. Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, reprint by Simon Wallenberg Press, 2007, ii, p. 168.
— yaḥmil(u)-l-‘insān(a) ^alaA-l-ẖair(i), “induces man to do well” means literally “carries him towards good,” Wright states.
— ‘al-fiqh(u) ma^rifaẗ(u)-n-nafs(i) mā la-hā wa-mā ^alai-hāLearning is the soul’s cognizance of what is for its good and for its hurt.
— hamm(u)-l-‘āẖiraẗ(i) yaḥmil(u)-l-‘insān(a) ^alaA-l-ẖair(i)Concern for the life to come induces man to do well (lit. carries him towards good).
— mā ḥamal(a)-ka ^alaA hāḏihi-d-da^waA-l-bāṭilaẗ(i)What induced you to set up this empty claim?

(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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