The Poem of as-Samau’al (Mid-6th Century AD): Verses 1-5

1 ‘iḏā-l-mar’(u) lam yadnas mina-l-lu’m(i) ^irḏ(u)-hu | fa-kull(u) ridā’(in) yartadī-hi jamīl(u)
2 wa-‘in huwa lam yaḥmil ^alaA-n-nafs(i) ḍaim(a)-ha | fa-laisa ‘ilaA ḥusn(i)-ṯ-ṯanā’(i) sabīl(u)
3 tu^ayyiru-nā ‘an-nā qalīl(un) ^adīd(u)-nā | fa-qultu la-hā ‘inna-l-kirām(a) qalīl(u)
4 wa-mā qalla man kānat baqāyā-hu miṯl(a)-nā | šabāb(un) tasāmā li-l-^ulā wa-kuhūl(u)
5 wa-mā ḍarra-nā ‘an-nā qalīl(un) wa-jār(u)-nā | ^azīz(un) wa-jār(u)-l-‘akṯar(īna) ḏalīl(u)

The poem starts by positing traits that support a claim to being honorable and to merit good praise. Those traits are upstanding conduct and a capacity for resisting (enduring?) personal injury. Then, responding to provocation voiced by a woman, the speaker launches into an extended glorification of his tribe which comprises the body of the poem.

The translation here is mine. The Arabic text is from A. J. Arberry, Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students, Cambridge University Press, 1965. There are 22 verses. I’ve chosen to share my version in piecemeal fashion. Each segment will be seen to center roughly on a theme. This first segment deals with the small numbers of the speaker’s tribe.

1 When a person’s good name hasn’t been soiled from depravity, every garment he puts on is handsome.
2 And if he hasn’t borne injustice on the soul, there’s no way for him to be praised for excellence.
3 She insulted us saying we were lacking in numbers; I said to her, “The honorable are indeed few!
4 “Not trifling are those whose vestiges are the likes of us — youth which has scaled the heights, and old men, too.
5 “Tiny numbers don’t impair us when our confederate is powerful, while the confederate of most is puny.

(Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from Arberry.)
3 She insulted us: “Presumably the taunt was shouted by a woman accompanying into battle the warriors of a rival tribe.”
5 confederate: Following guidance in Lane, referenced by Arberry, I’ve settled on “confederate” in lieu of Arberry’s “kinsman” to express jār(un). The term denotes a person — relative or neighbor — with whom there exists a covenant of mutual protection.

(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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