Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE GOLDEN ODES OF PRE-ISLAMIC ARABIA: IBN KOLTHUM, by WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT



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THE GOLDEN ODES OF PRE-ISLAMIC ARABIA: IBN KOLTHUM, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Ha! The bowl! Fill it high, a fair morning wine-cup!
Last Line: Find the world at his knees, its great ones kneeling.
Subject(s): Arabia; Islam


HA! The bowl! Fill it high, a fair morning wine-cup!
Leave we naught of the lees of Andarína.
Rise, pour forth, be it mixed, let it foam like saffron!
tempered thus will we drink it, ay, free-handed.
Him who grieves shall it cure, his despites forgotten;
nay, but taste it in tears, it shall console thee.
He, the hoarder of wealth, with the hard face fear-lined,
whilst he tasteth, behold him freely giving.
Thou, O mother of Amru, the cup deniest;
yet, the right is the wine should pass thy right-hand.
Not the worst of thy three friends is he thou scornest,
he for whom thou hast poured no draught of morning.
O the cups that I quaffed in Baálabékki!
O the bowls of Damascus, Kaisarína!
Sad fate stands at the door, and uninvited
takes us marked for his own at the hour predestined.

Hold, draw rein, ere we sunder, sweet camel-rider;
list awhile to my words, nor idly answer.
Wait. Of thee would I know how came the estrangement,
whence this haste to betray a friend too faithful?
Tell the fear of that day, what blows! what woundings!
what refreshment I poured on thy kin's eyelids!
Each to-day is foredoomed. And who knows to-morrow,
who the after of days, the years we see not?

She her beauty shall show thee, if thou shouldst find her
far from injurious eyes, in desert places.
Fair white arms shall she show, as a white she-camel's,
pure as hers the long-necked one, yet unmounted.
Twin breasts smooth, shalt thou see, as of ivory polished,
guarded close from the eyes, the hands of lovers.
Waist how supple, how slim! Thou shalt span it sweetly;
fair flanks sloped to thine eyes and downward bending.
Broad her hips for desire, than thy tent door wider;
nay, but thine is her waist, thine own for madness.
Ankles twain, as of marble, are hers. I hear them
clanking, clattering on, as her anklets rattle.
None hath grieved as I grieve, not she, Om Sákbin,
roaring loud for her lost one, her colt-camel.
None hath grieved as I grieve, not she, the mother
mourning nine of her sons, her home their red grave.
So recalled I youth's time, and aloud with longing
wept at thought of her gone, her howdah fleeting,
Till before me the plain of Yemáma spreading
flashed, its points in the sun like a foe unsheathing.

O thou Lord Ibn Hind, be thy wrath less quick-breathed;
wait the word of our mouth, the whole truth spoken,
How each day we ride forth, our banners pure-white,
how each night we return, our banners red-dyed.
Days of fighting had we, and of joyous glory,
whilst we smote at the king, his dues denying,
Whilst we vanquished the man their tribes had named king,
him, the chief they had crowned, their world's protector.
Stood our horses before him asweat with combat,
wreathed the reins on their necks, their hind-feet resting.
Near him built we our tents, Dhu-tulúh our outpost,
El Shamáat at our hand, his riders routed.
Fled the dogs of their tribes from our spear-points howling;
lo, their thorn we have cut from root to branches.
They who came to our wheat-mill have known our mill-stones;
they who came for our corn have been stayed for grinding.
Let the mill-cloth be spread in the East lands Nejd-wards;
be our corn the Kodáat, their tribes assembled.
You as guests to our door in your guile came smiling;
see, the high feast is served, yourselves the banquet.
Fairly entertained we and plied with victual;
just at dawn it began, our mill-stone grinding.
We the tribes have supplied, have up-held their charges,
borne the burden alone they laid upon us.
Pierced have we with our spear-points their backs the fleers,
smitten low with our swords and pruned their proud ones.
Lances black of the Khótti are ours, how slender,
swords that hiss in our hands, to impale and pare them.
Yea, the heads of their mighty have rolled before us,
loads let loose on a road from beasts unburdened.
Still with might we assailed, we pushed, we pressed them,
lopped their heads at the neck, laid bare their shoulders.
Hate for hate have we given, in deeds revealing
all the strength of our wrong, our long-pent anger.
Heirs are we of our wrath, as Maád well knoweth;
glory deal we and wounds, as our right proveth.
When surprise is our lot and the tent-roofs tumble,
—sudden raid of the foe—we defend our neighbours.
Bite we sharp with our swords, nor apportion mercy,
swift ere these shall have seen the hand that smites them.
Reckless we in the mêlée, our swords with their swords;
wooden swords you had deemed theirs in hands of children;
Deemed our garments and theirs, their robes and our robes,
dyed had been in the vats—so red a purple!
Men there were in their fear held back and faltered;
terror clutched at their lips, their fate before them.
We alone, like Mount Ráhwa unmoved, in squadrons
stood protecting the weak, their battle-winners.
All we held in our youth to be slain for glory,
ay, and our gray-beard fighters, our old campaigners,
Doughty challengers we of them, all ill-comers,
Girt for crossing of swords, their sons with our sons,
This day going in fear of our children's fair lives,
faring forth in a band and as swift dispersing;
That day freed and secure, the alarm forgotten,
raiding we in our turn on a far-off foray.
Ours the Captain of Júshm, our chief Ibn Béker,
Breaker he of the tribes, of the weak, the strong tribes.
Not again shall they tell it, the envious nations,
how we humbled our heads awhile before them.
Not again shall they fool us or jest against us;
lo, the cheek of the proud with pride we out-cheek.

Tell us, Prince Ibn Hind, on what guile thou buildest?
how should we to thy kingship yield obedience?
Tell us, ´Amru the King, by what subtle reason
dreamest thou to cajole our slandered homage?
Words—nay, threats—thou hast hurled. But O´Amru, softly!
these were well for thy slaves, thy mother's bondsmen.
Think! Our lances, how oft have other foemen
failed, before thee, to bend them, to make them pliant.
So the lance-head of iron which bites the lance-shaft,
twists to grip of the hand and makes a weapon;
Stiff it grows in the grasp, till aloft it jangles,
rives the head of the foe and his who forged it.
Who has dared thee to tell of Júshm Ibn Béker,
him as wanting in war, our proud forefather?
Are not we too of´Alkama, heirs in glory,
his, the fortress of fame? To-day we hold it.
Come not we of Muhálhil? Nay, more and better,
come not we of Zohéyr, of the nobles noblest.
Ours Attáb and Kolthúm, in ascent our fathers;
we the heirs of their fame, our first possession.
We with Búrati too, as all wot, claim kinship,
him, the shield of the weak, as we too shield them.
All are ours, and Koléyb the renowned great fighter.
Whatso is in the world of fame is our fame.
Who dares link our she-camel with his, lo, straightway
broken lieth the neck-rope, the neck too broken.
Firm are we in our faith. Thou shalt find none surer,
no such men of their word to bind and loosen.
We, the day of the beacons on high Khazára,
gave, and more, of our aid than all the aiders.
We the strong-hold of Thú-urát held how stoutly,
starved our nágas within it on what lean pasture!
We the right wing defended, the day of battle;
next us fought too the left wing, no less our brethren.
Whoso stood in their path have beheld them charging;
whoso paused on our way we slew before us.
These returned with the plunder, with wealth made captive,
we with lords in our train and kings in fetters.
Ho, ye children of Béker, aroint ye, boasters!
Know ye nought of our name? Must ye learn our glory?
Nay, ye know of our valour, our hands with your hands,
fights how fierce with the spears, with the arrows singing.
Helmets ours are of steel, stout shields from Yémen,
tall the swords in our hands and poised for striking.
Mail-coats ours; in the sun you have seen them gleaming;
hauberks wide for our swords, of a noble wideness.
Ay, and after the fight, you have seen us naked,
creased the skin of our limbs like leathern jerkins,
Seen the bend of our backs, where the armour pressed us,
scored with waves, like a pool the South-wind blowing.
Lo, the mares we bestride at the dawn of battle!
sleek-coat mares, the choice ones; ourselves have weaned them.
Charge they mail-clad together, how red with battle,
red the knots of their reins as dyed with blood-stains.
Are not these the inheritance of our fathers?
shall not we to our sons in turn bequeath them?
We the vanguard in arms? Behind us marching
trail our beautiful ones, our wives close-guarded.
They it was who imposed on our lives a promise,
still their badge to uphold from all assaulting,
Ay, and plunder to bring, fair mares and helmets,
noble prisoners, bound with ropes, to serve them.
Thus go we to the war. And behold, the clansmen
seized with fear of us fly and form alliance,
While our maidens advance with a proud gait swaying,
like to drinkers of wine, with spoils o'erladen,
Camel-riders each one, of Júshm Ibn Béker,
beauty theirs and the blood, and all noble virtues,
Feeders sure of our mares. Yet they tell us lightly:
none will we for our lovers, save the valiant.
Since the fence of the fair is but this, the sword-stroke,
this, the shredding of limbs as a plaything shredded.
Thus say they, and we hear them, our swords unsheathing
yet are all men our sons who kneel before us.
Heads we toss of the proud, as you see a ball tossed,
kicked in play by the youths that urge the football.
All men know us of old in Maád, the tribesmen,
when our tents we have built in the open pastures,
Feasters are we of men with the men that love us,
slayers are we of men, the men that hate us;
Rightful lords of the plain, to forgive and welcome;
where we will we have pitched. Who has dared gainsay us?
Still with ire we deny in the face of anger;
still with smiles we accede to smiles of pleading.
Faithful aye to the weak who have made submission;
ruthless aye to the proud who raise rebellion.
Ours the right of the wells, of the springs untroubled;
theirs the dregs of the plain, the rain-pools trampled.
Nay, but ask of the tribes, of Tommáh, Domíyan,
what the worth of our hands, of our hearts in battle.
Nay, but ask of the King, when he came to bend us,
what of pride we returned to his words of evil.
Lo, the lands we o'errun, till the plains grow narrow,
lo, the seas will we sack with our war-galleys.
Not a weanling of ours but shall win to manhood,
find the world at his knees, its great ones kneeling.





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