The Poem of as-Samau’al (Mid-6th Century AD): Verses 12-16

12 ṣafaunā fa-lam nakdar wa-‘aḥlaṣa sirr(a)-nā | ‘ināṯ(un) ‘aṭābat ḥaml(a)-nā wa-fuḥūl(u)
13 ^alau-nā ‘ilaY ẖair(i)-ḍ-ḍuhūr(i) wa-ḥaṭṭa-nā | li-waqt(in) ‘ilaY ẖair(i)-l-buṭūn(i) nuzūl(u)
14 fa-naḥnu ka-mā’(i)-l-muzn(i) mā fī niṣāb(i)-nā | kahām(un) wa-lā fī-nā yu^addu baẖīl(u)
15 nunkiru ‘in ši’nā ^alaY-n-nās(i) qaul(a)-hum | wa-lā yunkirūna-l-qaul(a) ḥīna naqūlu
16 ‘iḏā sayyid(un) min-nā ẖalā qāma sayyid(un) | qa’ūl(u) li-mā qāla-l-kirām(u) fa^ūl(u)

This post is continued from here.

Several themes lace the segment. Equine imagery around insemination and baby-bearing evokes the “purity” of the tribal blood lines. The virtue of generosity is touched upon, along with an ability to exert dominance through eloquence. Finally, the speaker boasts of what would today be called a deep bench of articulate, dynamic worthies (sayyids) able to step up and assume command when a leader falls.

12 “We have remained unmixed, so are not darkened, our stock kept pure by females that carry us well, and by stallions.
13 “We have mounted the best of backs, and a going down in due time has lowered us to the best of bellies.
14 “We are like the water of rain clouds; there is no bluntness in our sword hilt, and no miser is counted among us.
15 “We dispute what people say if we want, but when we speak no one contests our words.
16 “When a sayyid of ours is gone, another one rises, ready to speak as the honorable man speaks, and keen to act.

(Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from Arberry.)
12 So are not darkened: Per Lane, the verb kadira states that the complexion of a man or the color of a horse “was, or became, of the colour termed kudraẗ(un) [i.e. dusky, dingy, or inclining to black and dust-colour].” (Notice that the bracketed expansion is Lane’s.) That carry us well: The verbal noun ḥaml(un) associated with “carry” can mean “fetus.”
13 “A reference to the loins and wombs of the ancestors of the tribe.” This curious verse seems to mingle horseback riding with coitus. (?)
14 The water of rain clouds: “A rain-cloud is a common simile for generosity.” There is no bluntness in our sword hilt: This mid-part of the verse troubles me. Arberry translates it: “in our metal is no bluntness,” acknowledging in a note the literal meaning of niṣāb as “stock” (sword hilt) or “handle” (knife handle). The hilt of a sword isn’t sharp or dull; that trait belongs to the blade. Sandwiched between the rain cloud simile and a reference to miserliness, the phrase lends no obvious support to the theme of generosity.
16 Sayyid: a man of rank and distinction; “master,” “chieftain.”

(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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6 Responses to The Poem of as-Samau’al (Mid-6th Century AD): Verses 12-16

  1. There’s some useful ideas here for politicians – with the exception of the ‘pure stock’!

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      Well spotted, Sue, the “pure stock” notion implying light-skinned supremacy. You can see how I hedged it in the note. Doesn’t accord with enlightened (ouch! pun not intended) modern thinking. It’s expressed in an ancient poem, but sadly the fallacy stays with us, doesn’t it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that number 16 is most pertinent to political life at the moment. Leaders who encourage others of ability to take over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      Yes, Sue. We have bit of a problem here with the gerontocracy — octogenarians who refuse to stand down from elected office. In passing I’ll mention that I was struck in this old poem by the importance given to eloquence — verbal skills — along with weapons and such. I’m far from expert in Arabic poetry, but I think this may be a feature in much of it. It explains the stature accorded to poets among the tribes. Thanks for your insights. — Jim

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Poem of as-Samau’al (Mid-6th Century AD): Verses 17-22 (End) | EthicalDative

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