Arabic Poetry Note: A. J. Arberry (1905-1969)

^ āliyaẗ(un)The upper portion of the spear-shaft; … or the head (ra’s(un) thereof: or the half that is next to the iron head: or the part of the spear that is below the iron head: or the portion of the spear that enters the iron head, extending to the third part thereof [i.e. of the shaft]; so that it signifies the uppermost of the three equal portions of the shaft: pl. ^awāl(in), which some explain as meaning the iron heads of spears.Lane’s Lexicon.

Given the exiguous outbound appeal I muster, I work hard at not being longwinded. I revel, though, in venting puffs of comment on my adventure with Arabic and its poetry.

A.J. Arberry’s essential anthology of 31 poets spans a period from mid-6th-century A.D. until mid-20th-century. The British scholar’s slightly old-fashioned English translations (he calls al-Khansa’ a “poetess”) sit opposite the Arabic texts he scrupulously edited, providing strategic voweling and useful notes, references and biographies, not to mention a formidable introductory essay. The volume is a primer — and a crucial resource for me at this stage.

From schooling in Arabic that started adventitiously at the University of Barcelona and proceeded deliberately at UNC, I’m in reasonable control of Arabic morphology and syntax despite a hiatus wasted in earning a mediocre living; I know enough for the incredible Wright’s grammar to be useful when needed. Building up recognition and recall vocabulary is the job now. It’s enthralling. Classical verses are packed like sticks of dynamite. I read them slowly and aloud, consulting Hans Wehr and Lane for voweling and meanings. I transliterate the verses, and I draw them. By then they’re largely memorized.

Arberry’s translations provide valuable guidance, but they aren’t the last word for me. I don’t contest them, of course; it’s simply that for their virtues of style and readability his versions don’t always track the Arabic as closely as I need. I want to own the verses in my personal English so as to feel I’ve caught what powers them in their element as best I can. Literal translations serve me more than literary ones.

(c) 2023 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 Arabic Poetry Note: A. J. Arberry (1905-1969)

  1. I am mightily impressed!

    Liked by 1 person

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