The Garden of Bright Waters / One Hundred and Twenty Asiatic Love Poems

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Susan Woodring, Tom Allen
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

The Garden Of Bright Waters

One Hundred And Twenty Asiatic Love Poems

Translated by Edward Powys Mathers 1920

Dedication: To My Wife


Head in hand, I look at the paper leaf;
It is still white.

I look at the ink
Dry on the end of my brush.

My soul sleeps.
Will it ever wake?

I walk a little in the pouring of the sun
And pass my hands over the higher flowers.

There is the soft green forest,
There are the sweet lines of the mountains
Carved with snow, red in the sunlight.

I see the slow march of the clouds,
I hear the crows jeering, and I come back

To sit and look at the paper leaf,
Which is still white
Under my brush.

From the Chinese of Chang-Chi (770-850).




The Princess of Qulzum

Come, my Beloved!

Ballade of Muhammad Khan

Ghazal of Tavakkul

Ghazal of Sayyid Kamal

Ghazal of Sayyid Ahmad

Ghazal of Pir Muhammad

Ballade of Nurshali

Ghazal of Muhammad Din Tilai


Ballade of Muhammad Din Tilai

Ghazal of Mira

Ghazal of Majid Shah

Ghazal of Mira

Ballade of Ajam the Washerman

Ghazal of Isa Akhun Zada


The Bamboo Garden

Stranger Things have Happened


The Gao Flower

The Girl of Ke-Mo

The Little Woman of Clear River

Waiting to Marry a Student

A Song for Two



Two Similes


The Lost Lady

Love Brown and Bitter


Lying Down Alone

Old Greek Lovers

Night and Morning

In a Yellow Frame

Because the Good are Never Fair

White and Green and Black Tears

A Conceit


What Love Is

The Dancing Heart

The Great Offence

An Escape

Three Queens

Her Nails

Perturbation at Dawn

The Resurrection of the Tattooed Girl

Moallaka of Antar

Moallaka of Amr Ebn Kultum




A Canker in the Heart





The Flight


We were Two Green Rushes

Song Writer Paid with Air

The Bad Road

The Western Window

In Lukewarm Weather

Written on White Frost

A Flute of Marvel

The Willow-Leaf

A Poet Looks at the Moon

We Two in a Park at Night

The Jade Staircase

The Morning Shower

A Virtuous Wife

Written on a Wall in Spring

A Poet Thinks

In the Cold Night


Winter Comes


Part of a Ghazal




A Poem





Grief and the Sleeve

Drink Song

A Boat Comes In

The Opinion of Men

Old Scent of the Plum-tree

An Orange Sleeve


The Clocks of Death

Green Food for a Queen

The Cushion

A Single Night

At a Dance of Girls

Alone One Night


Walking up a Hill at Dawn

Proposal of Marriage


You do not Want Me, Zohrah



The Dream







The Holy Swan


Fire and Love

Hearts of Women


To His Love instead of a Promised Picture Book

Too Short a Night

The Roses

I Asked my Love

A Request

See You Have Dancers


The Sighing Heart


Handing over the Gun




The Love of the Archer Prince



Things Seen in Battle

Hunter’s Song


The Bath


A Proverb



The Garden Of Bright Waters




I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight;
I have seen the daughter of the King of Qulzum passing from grace to grace.
Yesterday she threw her bed on the floor of her double house
And laughed with a thousand graces.
She has a little pearl and coral cap
And rides in a palanquin with servants about her
And claps her hands, being too proud to call.
I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight.

“My palanquin is truly green and blue;
I fill the world with pomp and take my pleasure;
I make men run up and down before me,
And am not as young a girl as you pretend.
I am of Iran, of a powerful house, I am pure steel.
I hear that I am spoken of in Lahore.”
I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight.

I also hear that they speak of you in Lahore,
You walk with a joyous step,
Your nails are red and the palms of your hands are rosy.
A pear-tree with a fresh stem is in your palace gardens,
I would not that your mother should give my pear-tree
To twine with an evil spice-tree or fool banana.
I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight.

“The coins that my father gave me for my forehead
Throw rays and light the hearts of far men;
The ray of light from my red ring is sharper than a diamond.
I go about and about in pride as of hemp wine
And my words are chosen.
But I give you my honey cheeks, dear, I trust them to you.”
I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight.

The words of my mouth are coloured and shining things;
And two great saints are my perpetual guards.
There is never a song of Nur Uddin but has in it a great achievement
And is as brilliant as a young hyacinth;
I pour a ray of honey on my disciples,
There is as it were a fire in my ballades.
I have seen a small proud face brimming with sunlight.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


Come, my beloved! And I say again: Come, my beloved!
The doves are moaning and calling and will not cease.
  Come, my beloved!

“The fairies have made me queen, and my heart is love.
Sweeter than the green cane is my red mouth.”
  Come, my beloved!

The jacinth has spilled odour on your hair,
The balance of your neck is like a jacinth;
You have set a star of green between your brows.
  Come, my beloved!

Like lemon-trees among the rocks of grey hills
Are the soft colours of the airy veil
To your rose knee from your curved almond waist.
  Come, my beloved!

Your light breast veil is tawny brown with stags,
Stags with eyes of emerald, hunted by red kings.
  Come, my beloved!

Muhammad Din is wandering; he is drunken and mad;
For a year he has been dying. Send for the doctor!
  Come, my beloved!

From the Pus’hto of Muhammad Din Tilai (Afghans, nineteenth century).


She has put on her green robe, she has put on her double veil, my idol;
My idol has come to me.
She has put on her green robe, my love is a laughing flower;
Gently, gently she comes, she is a young rose, she has come out of the garden.

Gently she has shown her face, parting her veil, my idol;
My idol has come to me.
She has put on her green robe, my love is a young rose for me to break.
Her chin has the smooth colour of peaches and she guards it well;
She is the daughter of a Moghol house and well they guard her.

She put on her red jewels when she came with a noise of rings, my idol;
My idol has come to me.
She has put on her green robe, my love is the stem of a rose;
She breaks not, she is strong.
She has a throne, but comes into the woods for love.

I was well and she troubled me when she came to me in the evening, my idol;
My idol has come to me.
She has put on her green robe, her wrist is a sword.
The villages speak of her; the child is as fair as Badri.
She has red lips and six hundred and fifty beads upon her light blue scarf.
Give your garland to Muhammad Khan, my idol;
My idol has come to me.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


To-day I saw Laila’s breasts, the hills of a fair city
From which my heart might leap to heaven.

Her breasts are a garden of white roses
Having two drifted hills of fallen rose-leaves.

Her breasts are a garden where doves are singing
And doves are moaning with arrows because of her.

All her body is a flower and her face is Shalibagh;
She has fruits of beautiful colours and the doves abide there.

Over the garden of her breasts she combs the gold rain of her hair….
You have killed Tavakkul, the faithful pupil of Abdel Qadir Gilani.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


I am burning, I am crumbled into powder,
I stand to the lips in a tossing sea of tears.

Like a stone falling in Hamun lake I vanish;
I return no more, I am counted among the dead.

I am consumed like yellow straw on red flames;
You have drawn a poisoned sword along my throat to-day.

People have come to see me from far towns,
Great and small, arriving with bare heads,
For I have become one of the great historical lovers.

In the desire of your red lips
My heart has become a red kiln, like a terrace of roses.
It is because she does not trouble about the bee on the rose
That my heart is taken.

“I have blackened my eyes to kill you, Sayyid Kamal.
I kill you with my eyelids; I am Natarsa, the Panjabie, the pitiless.”

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


My heart is torn by the tyranny of women very quietly;
Day and night my tears are wearing away my cheeks very quietly.

Life is a red thing like the sun setting very quietly;
Setting quickly and heavily and very quietly.

If you are to buy heaven by a good deed, to-day the market is open;
To-morrow is a day when no man buys,
And the caravan is broken up very quietly.

The kings are laughing and the slaves are laughing; but for your sake
Sayyid Ahmad is walking and mourning very quietly.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


The season of parting has come up with the wind;
My girl has hollowed my heart with the hot iron of separation.

Keep away, doctor, your roots and your knives are useless.
None ever cured the ills of the ill of separation.

There is no one near me noble enough to be told;
I tear my collar in the “Alas! Alas!” of separation.

She was a branch of santal; she closed her eyes and left me.
Autumn has come and she has gone, broken to pieces in the wind of separation.

I am Pir Muhammad and I am stumbling away to die;
She stamped on my eyes with the foot of separation.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


Come in haste this dusk, dear child. I will be on the water path
When your girl friends go laughing by the road.
“Come in haste this dusk; I have become your nightingale,
And the young girls leave me alone because of you.
I give you the poppy of my mouth and my fallen hair.”
  Come in haste this dusk, dear child.

“I have dishevelled and spread out my hair for you;
Take my wrist, for there is no shame
And my father has gone out.
Sit near me on this red bed quietly.”
  Come in haste this dusk, dear child.

“Sit near me on this red bed, I lift the poppy to your lips;
Your hand is strong upon my breast;
My beauty is a garden and you the bird in the flowering tree.”
  Come in haste this dusk, dear child.

“My beauty is a garden with crimson flowers.”
But I cannot reach over the thicket of your hair.
This is Nurshali sighing for the garden;
  Come in haste this dusk, dear child.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans).


The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

The world is fainting
And falling into a swoon.

The world is turning and changing;
The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

Look at the love of Farhad, who pierced a mountain
And pierced a brass hill for the love of Shirin.
The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

Qutab Khan of the Ranizais was in love
And death became the hostess of his lady.
The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

Adam loved Durkho, and they were separated.
You know the story;
There is no lasting love.
The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

Muhammad Din is ill for the matter of a little honey;
This is a moment to be generous.
The world is fainting,
And you will weep at last.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


When you lie with me and love me,
You give me a second life of young gold;
And when you lie with me and love me not,
I am as one who puts out hands in the dark
And touches cold wet death.

From the Pus’hto of Mirza Rahchan Kayil (Afghans, nineteenth century).


A twist of fresh flowers on your dark hair,
And your hair is a panther’s shadow.
On your white cheeks the down of a thousand roses,
They speak about your beauty in Lahore.
You have your mother’s lips;
Your ring is frosted with rubies,
And your hair is a panther’s shadow.

Your ring is frosted with rubies;
I was unhappy and you looked over the wall,
I saw your face among the crimson lilies;
There is no armour that a lover can buy,
And your hair is a panther’s shadow.

“The cool fingers of the mistress burn her lovers
And they go away.
I have fatigued the wise of many lands,
And my hair is a tangle of serpents.
What is the profit of these shawls without you?
And my hair is a panther’s shadow.”

“A squadron of my father’s men are about me,
And I have woven a collar of yellow flowers.
My eyes are veiled because I drink cups of bhang,
Being a daughter of the daughter of queens.
You cannot touch me because of my palaces,
And my hair is a panther’s shadow.”

I will touch you, though your beauty be as fair as song;
For I am a disciple of
Abdel Qadir Gilani,
And my songs are as beautiful as women and as strong as love;
And your hair is a panther’s shadow.

Your ring is frosted with rubies….
Muhammad Din awaits the parting of your scarves;
Tilai is standing here, young and magnificent like a tree;
And your hair is a panther’s shadow.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


The lover to his lass: I have fallen before your door.
I came to ask for alms and have lost my all,
I had a copper-shod quarter-staff but the dogs attacked me,
And not a strand of her hair came the way of my lips.
The lover to his lass: I have fallen before your door.

The lamp burns and I must play the green moth.
I have stolen her scented rope of flowers,
But the women caught me and built a little gaol
About my heart with your old playthings.
The lover to his lass: I have fallen before your door.

Mira is a mountain goat that climbs to die
Upon the top peak in the rocks of grief;
It is the hour; make haste.
The lover to his lass: I have fallen before your door.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


Grief is hard upon me, Master, for she has left me;
The black dust has covered my pretty one.

My heart is black, for the tomb has taken my friend;
How pleasantly would go the days if my friend were here.

I can only dream of the stature of my friend;
The flowers are dying in my heart, my breast is a fading garden.

Her breast is a sweet garden now, and her garments are gold flowers;
I am an orchard at night, for my friend has gone a journey.

I am Majid Shah, a slave that ministers to the dead;
Abdel Qadir Gilani, even the Master, shall not save me.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


The world passes, nothing lasts, and the creation of men
Is buried alive under the vault of Time.

Autumn comes pillaging gardens;
The bulbuls laugh to see the flowers falling.

Wars start up wherever your eye glances,
And the young men moan marching on to the batteries.

Mira is the unkempt old man you see on the road;
He has taken his death-wound in battle.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).


Come to me to-day wearing your green collar,
Make your two orange sleeves float in the air, and come to me.
Touch your hair with essence and colour your clothes yellow;
The deer of reason has fled from the hill of my heart;
Come to me.

The deer of reason has fled from the hill of my heart
Because I have seen your gold rings and your amber rings;
Your eyes have lighted a small fire below my heart,
Put on your gold rings and your amber rings, and come to me.

Put on your gold rings and your amber rings, and you will be more beautiful
Than the brown girls of poets and the milk-white wives of kings.
The coil of your hair is like a hangman’s rope;
But press me to your green collar between your orange sleeves.

Press me to your green collar between your orange sleeves,
And give yourself once to Ajam. Slip away weeping,
Slip weeping away from the house of the wicked, and come to me.
Come to me to-day wearing your green collar,
Make your two orange sleeves float in the air and come to me.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans).


Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me;
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me;
Beauty with the flame shawl, let me say a little thing,
Lend your small ears to my quick sighing.
Breathing idol, I have come to the walls of death;
And there are coloured cures behind the crystal of your eyes.
Life is a tale ill constructed without love.
Beauty of the flame shawl, do not repulse me;
I am at your door wasted and white and dying.
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me;
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me.

This is the salaam that slaves make, and after the salaam
Listen to these quick sighings and their wisdom.
All the world has spied on us and seen our love,
And in four days or five days will be whispering evil.
Knot your robes in a turban, escape and be mine for ever;
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me.
After that we will both of us go to prison.
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me;
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me.

My quick sighings carry a tender promise;
I will have time to remember in the battle,
Though all the world is a thousand whistling swords against me.
The iron is still in the rock that shall forge my death-sword,
Though I have foes more than the stars
Of a thousand valley starlights.
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me;
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me.

I am as strong as Sikander, I am as strong as death;
You will hear me come with guns brooding behind me,
And laughing bloody battalions following after.
Isa Gal is stronger than God;
Do not whip me, do not whip me,
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me;
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me.
Breathing idol of rose ivory, look at me;
Beauty with the flame shawl, do not repulse me.

From the Pus’hto (Afghans, nineteenth century).



Old bamboos are about my house,
And the floor of my house is untidy with old books.
It is sweet to rest in the shade of it
And read the poems of the masters.

But I remember a delightful fisherman
Who played on the five-stringed dan in the evening.
In the day he allowed his reed canoe to float
Over the lakes and rivers,
Watching his nets and singing.

A sweet boy promised to marry me,
But he went away and left
Like a reed canoe that rolls adrift
In the middle of a river.

Song of Annam.


Do not believe that ink is always black,
    Or lime white, or lemon sour;
You cannot ring one bell from two pagodas,
You cannot have two governors for the city of Lang Son.
    I found you binding an orange spray
    Of flowers with white flowers;
    I never noticed the flower gathering
    Of other village ladies.
Would you like me to go and see your father and mother?

Song of Annam.


It is late at night
And the North Star is shining.
The mist covers the rice-fields
And the bamboos
Are whispering full of crickets.
The watch beats on the iron-wood gong,
And priests are ringing the pagoda bells.
We hear the far-away games of peasants
And distant singing in the cottages.

It is late at night.
As we talk gently,
Sitting by one another,
Life is as beautiful as night.
The red moon is rising
On the mountain side
Like a fire started among the trees.
There is the North Star
Shining like a paper lantern.
The light air brings dew to our faces
And the sound of tamtams beaten far away.
Let us sit like this all night.

Song of Annam.


I am the Gao flower high in a tree,
You are the grass Long Mai on the path-side.
When heat comes down after the dews of morning
The flower grows pale and tumbles on the grass,
The grass Long Mai that keeps the fallen Gao.

Folk who let their daughters grow
Without achieving a husband
Might easily forget to fence their garden,
Or let their radishes grow flower and rank
When they could eat them ripe and tender.

Come to me, you that I see walk
Every night in a red turban;
Young man with the white turban, come to me.
We will plant marrows together in a garden,
And there may be little marrows for your children.

I will dye your turban blue and red and yellow,
You with the white turban.
You that are passing with a load of water,
I call you
And you do not even turn your head.

Song of Annam.


I’m a girl of Ke-Mo village
Selling my rice wine on the road.
Mine is the strongest rice wine in the land,
Though my bottle is so patched and dirty.
These silly rags are not my body,
The parts you cannot see are counted pleasant;
But you are just too drunk to drink my wine,
And just too plain to lie down on my mat.
He who would drink the wine of the girl of Ke-Mo
Needs a beautiful body and a lofty wit.

Song of Annam.


Clear River twists nine times about
Clear River; but so deep
That none can see the green sand.
You hear the birds about Clear River:
Dik, dik, dik, dik, Diu dik.

A little woman with jade eyes
Leans on the wall of a pavilion.
She has the moonrise in her heart
And the singing of love songs
Comes to her up the river.

She stands and dreams for me
Outside the house by the bamboo door.
In a minute
I will leave my shadow
And talk to her of poetry and love.

Song of Annam.


I still walk slowly on the river bank
Where I came singing,
And where I saw your boat pass up beyond the sun
Setting red in the river.
I want Autumn,
I want the leaves to begin falling at once,
So that the cold time may bring us close again
K’ien Niü and Chik Nü, the two stars.

Each year when Autumn comes
The crows make a black bridge across the milky sea,
And then these two poor stars
Can run together in gold and be at peace.
Darling, for my sake work hard
And be received with honour at the Examinations.

Since I saw your boat pass up beyond the sun
I have forgotten how to sing
And how to paddle the canoe across the lake.
I know how to sit down and how to be sad,
And I know how to say nothing;
But every other art has slipped away.

Song of Annam.


I have lacquered my teeth to find a husband.

And I have need of a wife.
Give me a kiss and they will marry us
At Mo-Lao, my village.

I will marry you if you will wait for me,
Wait till the banana puts forth branches,
And fruit hangs heavy on the Sung-tree,
And the onion flowers;
Wait till the dove goes down in the pool to lay her eggs,
And the eel climbs into a tree to make her nest.

Song of Annam.



The sand is like acres of wet milk
Poured out under the moonlight;
It crawls up about your brown feet
Like wine trodden from white stars.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


You have taken away my cloak,
My cloak of weariness;
Take my coat also,
My many-coloured coat of life….

On this great nursery floor
I had three toys,
A bright and varnished vow,
A Speckled Monster, best of boys,
True friend to me, and more
Beloved and a thing of cost,
My doll painted like life; and now
One is broken and two are lost.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


I have been at this shooting-gallery too long.
It is monotonous how the little coloured balls
Make up and down on their silvery water thread;
It would be pleasant to have money and go instead
To watch your greasy audience in the threepenny stalls
Of the World-famous Caravan of Dance and Song.

And I want to go out beyond the turf fires there,
After I’ve looked at your just smiling face,
To that untented silent dark blue nighted place;
And wait such time as you will wish the noise all dumb
And drop your fairings and leave the funny man, and come …
You have the most understanding face in all the fair.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


You are the drowned,
Star that I found
Washed on the rim of the sea
Before the morning.
You are the little dying light
That stopped me in the night.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


You know so well how to stay me with vapours
Distilled expertly to that unworthy end;
You know the poses of your body I love best
And that I am cheerful with your head on my breast,
You know you please me by disliking one friend;
You read up what amuses me in the papers.

Who knows me knows I am not of those fools
That gets tired of a woman who is kind to them,
Yet you know not how stifled you render me
By learning me so well, how I long to see
An unpractised girl under your clever phlegm,
A soul not so letter-perfect in the rules.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


A mole shows black
Between her mouth and cheek.

As if a negro,
Coming into a garden,
Wavered between a purple rose
And a scarlet camomile.

From the Arabic.


I shall never see your tired sleep
In the bed that you make beautiful,
Nor hardly ever be a dream
That plays by your dark hair;
Yet I think I know your turning sigh
And your trusting arm’s abandonment,
For they are the picture of my night,
My night that does not end.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


They put wild olive and acanthus up
With tufts of yellow wool above the door
When a man died in Greece and in Greek Islands,
    Grey stone by the blue sea,
Or sage-green trees down to the water’s edge.
    How many clanging years ago
  I, also withering into death, sat with him,
    Old man of so white hair who only,
  Only looked past me into the red fire.
At last his words were all a jumble of plum-trees
And white boys smelling of the sea’s green wine
And practice of his lyre. Suddenly
    The bleak resurgent mind
Called wonderfully clear: “What mark have I left?”
  Crying girls with wine and linen
Washed the straight old body and wrapped up,
    And set the doorward feet.
Later for me also under Greek sun
The pendant leaves in green and bitter flakes
Blew out to join the wastage of the world,
And wool, I take it, in the nests of birds.

From the Arabic of John Duncan.


The great brightness of the burning of the stars,
Little frightened love,
Is like your eyes,
When in the heavy dusk
You question the dark blue shadows,
Fearing an evil.

Below the night
The one clear line of dawn;
As it were your head
Where there is one golden hair
Though your hair is very brown.

From the Arabic (School of Ebn-el-Moattaz) (ninth century).


Her hand tinted to gold with henna
Gave me a cup of wine like gold water,
And I said: The moon rise, the sun rise.

From the Arabic of Hefny-bey-Nassif (contemporary).


When she appears the daylight envies her garment,
The wanton daylight envies her garment
To show it to the jealous sun.

And when she walks,
All women tall and tiny
Want her figure and start crying.

Because of your mouth,
Long life to the Agata valley,
Long life to pearls.

Watchers have discovered paradise in your cheeks,
But I am undecided,
For there is a hint of the tops of flames
In their purple shining.

From the Arabic of Ahmed Bey Chawky (contemporary).


Why are your tears so white?
Dear, I have wept so long
That my old tears grow white like my old hair.

Why are your tears so green?
Dear, the waters are wept away
And the green gall is flowing.

Why are your tears so black?
Dear, the weeping is over
And the black flash you loved is breaking.

From the Arabic (School of Ebn-el-Farid) (thirteenth century).


I hide my love,
I will not say her name.
And yet since I confess
I love, her name is told.
You know that if I love
It must be … Whom?

From the Arabic of Ebn Kalakis Abu El Fath Nasrallah (eleventh century).


Since there is excitement
In suffering for a woman,
Let him burn on.
The dust in a wolf’s eyes
Is balm of flowers to the wolf
When a flock of sheep has raised it.

From the Arabic.


Love starts with a little throb in the heart,
And in the end one dies
Like an ill-treated toy.
Love is born in a look or in four words,
The little spark that burnt the whole house.
Love is at first a look,
And then a smile,
And then a word,
And then a promise,
And then a meeting of two among flowers.

From the Arabic.


When she came she said:
You know that your love is granted,
Why is your heart trembling?

And I:
You are bringing joy for my heart
And so my heart is dancing.

From the Arabic of Urak El Hutail.


She seemed so bored,
I wanted to embrace her by surprise;
But then the scalding waters
Fell from her eyes and burnt her roses.

I offered her a cup….

And came to paradise….

Ah, sorrow,
When she rose from the waves of wine
I thought she would have killed me
With the swords of her desolation….

Especially as I had tied her girdle
With the wrong bow.

From the Arabic of Abu Nuas (eighth century).


She was beautiful that evening and so gay….

In little games
My hand had slipped her mantle,
I am not sure
About her skirts.

Then in the night’s curtain of shadows,
Heavy and discreet,
I asked and she replied:

Next day I came
Saying, Remember.

Words of a night, she said, to bring the day.

From the Arabic of Abu Nuas (eighth century).


Three sweet drivers hold the reins,
And hold the places of my heart.
A great people obeys me,
But these three obey me not.
Am I then a lesser king than love?

From the Arabic of Haroun El Raschid (eighth century).


She is as wise as Hippocrates,
As beautiful as Joseph,
As sweet-voiced as David,
As pure as Mary.

I am as sad as Jacob,
As lonely as Jonah,
As patient as Job,
As unfortunate as Adam.

When I met her again
And saw her nails
Prettily purpled,
I reproached her for making up
When I was not there.

She told me gently
That she was no coquette,
But had wept tears of blood
Because I was not there,
And maybe she had dried her eyes
With her little hands.

I would like to have wept before she wept;
But she wept first
And has the better love.
Her eyes are long eyes,
And her brows are the bows of subtle strong men.

From the Arabic of Yazid Ebn Moauia (seventh century).


Day comes….

And when she sees the withering of the violet garden
And the saffron garden flowering,
The stars escaping on their black horse
And dawn on her white horse arriving,
She is afraid.

Against the sighing of her frightened breasts
She puts her hand;
I see what I have never seen,
Five perfect lines on a crystal leaf
Written with coral pens.

From the Arabic of Ebn Maatuk (seventeenth century).


Her hands are filled with what I lack,
And on her arms are pictures,
Looking like files of ants forsaking the battalions,
Or hail inlaid by broken clouds on green lawns.

She fears the arrows of her proper eyes
And has her hands in armour.

She has stretched her hands in a cup to me,
Begging for my heart.
She has circled me with the black magic of her brows
And shot small arrows at me.

The black curl that lies upon her temple
Is a scorpion pointing his needle at the stars.

Her eyes seem tight, tight shut;
But I believe she is awake.

From the Arabic of Yazid Ebn Moauia (seventh century).


The poets have muddied all the little fountains.

Yet do not my strong eyes know you, far house?

O dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa,
Speak to me, for my camel and I salute you.

My camel is as tall as a tower, and I make him stand
And give my aching heart to the wind of the desert.

O erstwhile dwelling of Abla in the valley of Gawa;
And my tribe in the valleys of Hazn and Samna
And in the valley of Motethalem!

Salute to the old ruins, the lonely ruins
Since Oum El Aythan gathered and went away.

Now is the dwelling of Abla
In a valley of men who roar like lions.
It will be hard to come to you, O daughter of Makhram.

       *       *       *       *       *

Abla is a green rush
That feeds beside the water.

But they have taken her to Oneiza
And my tribe feeds in lazy Ghailam valley.

They fixed the going, and the camels
Waked in the night and evilly prepared.

I was afraid when I saw the camels
Standing ready among the tents
And eating grain to make them swift.

I counted forty-two milk camels,
Black as the wings of a black crow.

White and purple are the lilies of the valley,
But Abla is a branch of flowers.

Who will guide me to the dwelling of Abla?

From the Arabic of Antar (late sixth and early seventh centuries).


Rise and hold up the curved glass,
And pour us wine of the morning, of El Andar.

Pour wine for us, whose golden colour
Is like a water stream kissing flowers of saffron.

Pour us wine to make us generous
And carelessly happy in the old way.

Pour us wine that gives the miser
A sumptuous generosity and disregard.

O Oum-Amr, you have prevented me from the cup
When it should have been moving to the right;
And yet the one of us three that you would not serve
Is not the least worthy.

How many cups have I not emptied at Balbek,
And emptied at Damas and emptied at Cacerin!

More cups! more cups! for death will have his day;
His are we and he ours.

       *       *       *       *       *

By herself she is fearless
And gives her arms to the air,
The limbs of a long camel that has not borne.

She gives the air her breasts,
Unfingered ivory.

She gives the air her long self and her curved self,
And hips so round and heavy that they are tired.

All these noble abundances of girlhood
Make the doors divinely narrow and myself insane.

Columns of marble and ivory in the old way,
And anklets chinking in gold and musical bracelets.

Without her I am a she-camel that has lost,
And howls in the sand at night.

Without her I am as sad as an old mother
Hearing of the death of her many sons.

From the Arabic of Amr Ebn Kultum (seventh century).