Mona Kareem’s ‘Nights’: Stanza 1

‘arsumu sāḥaẗ(an) wāsi^ẗ(an)
‘urāqiṣu-l-maut(a) fī-hā
wa-^inda-mā ‘antahī ‘artāḥu
ṯumma ‘aḡṭisu fī-n-naḥīb(i)

I’m pleased to encounter Mona Kareem in Poetry, May 2023 after first reading of her in Arablit & Arablit Quarterly. The Poetry issue prints the Arabic text of Kareem’s poem Lailayāt (“Nights”) along with a translation into English by Sara Elkamel.

Bilingual texts invite the Arabic student to explore and experiment with his own translations in the stabilizing presence of the version that’s in print. The poem has 7 short, numbered stanzas. I deal here only with the first one. Here’s my version:

I trace a sweeping open space;
There I do a dance with death.

When I’m done I catch my breath,
then take a dip in my loud tears.

The intrigue and challenge of translation (as I conceive it) is to stay within the confines of the source’s connotative ranges while hitting upon natural English renderings that have a modicum of snap.

I give myself middling marks on my version here. It may be too idiomatic. It may have singsong rhythms. “Take a dip” may be tonally jarring for its lack of gravity.

A translation is akin to a controlled explosion: something is fractured no matter what, but energy is released as well.

Note: There’s a gross misprint in the Arabic text. The second letter of ‘urāqiṣu, “I dance,” is pointed twice with ḍamma. Mona Kareem has nothing to do with it, of course; the snafu belongs to the magazine.

Misprint in Poetry magazine.

(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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