Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE GOLDEN ODES OF PRE-ISLAMIC ARABIA: TARAFA, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: The tent lines these of khaula in stone-stricken thahmadi
Last Line: Neither for pay nor raiment, nor madest thou tryst with him.
Subject(s): Arabia; Camels; Friendship; Man-woman Relationships; Travel; Male-female Relations; Journeys; Trips

THE tent lines these of Kháula in stone-stricken Tháhmadi.
See where the fire has touched them, dyed dark as the hands of her.
'Twas here thy friends consoled thee that day with thee comforting,
cried; Not of grief, thou faint-heart! Men die not thus easily.
Ay, here the howdahs passed thee at day-dawn, how royally!
stood for the Dédi pastures: a white fleet they seemed to thee,
Ships tall-rigged from Adáuli—of Yámin the build of them—
wandering wide the night through, to meet at the sun-rising.
Thus climbed they the long wave-lines, their prows set how loftily!
ploughing the drifted ridges, sand heaped by the sand-seers.

Alas for the dark-lipped one, the maid of the topazes,
hardly yet grown a woman, sweet fruit-picking loiterer!
A girl, a fawn still fawnless, which browses the thorn-bushes,
close to the doe-herd feeding, aloof in the long valleys.
I see her mouth-slit smiling, her teeth,—nay, a camomile
white on the white sand blooming and moist with the night-showers.
Sun-steeped it is, pure argent, white all but the lips of her,
these are too darkly painted to shrink from the sun-burning.
The face of her how joyous, the day's robe enfolding her,
clean as a thing fresh fashioned, untouched by sad time-fingers.
Enough! New joys now claim me. Ay, mount and away from her!
Here on my swift-foot camel I laugh at love's bitterness.
Ship-strong is she, my nága, my stout-timbered road-goer,
footing the long-lined path-way—a striped cloak—in front of us.
Steel tempered are her sinews. She runs like an ostrich-hen,
one which has fled defying the ash-plumed proud lord of her.
Out-paces she the best-born, shank still on shank following,
threading the mazes lightly. Ah, what foot shall follow her?
The spring-long on Kufféyn she has wandered, her kind with her,
pastured in pleasant places, the rain-watered thyme-valleys,
Has turned to her herd's calling, aloft in wrath brandishing,
scared by the thick-furred red thief, that proud tuft the tail of her.
Her tail sways this and that way—a falcon, the wings of him
bating her flanks impatient: erect stands the bone of it—
So lasheth she in anger anon her croup-rider's knee,
then her own shrunken udder, a drought-withered water-skin.
Note well her limbs' perfection, her thighs like the elbow-worn
jambs of a city gateway, two smooth shafts of porphyry.
Her barrel, a stone well-mouth, like bent bows the curves of it,
caved where the neck-shaft enters, ends in an arched hollow.
Deep dens are her two arm-pits, a tree-trunk with cavities.
Bows are her rib-bones bended, her spine the hands holding them.
Her elbows are twin buckets, the pails of a water-man
wide-set, the neck between them the strong man who carries them.
Bridge-like, and Roman-builded! How swore he its architect
none should leave work or loiter, its key-stone unlaid by them!
Red chestnut is her chin-tuft, a vast vault the back of her.
Swift-step her hind-feet follow the path of her fore-footing.
Her legs are a cord twisted. Towards them the arms of her
slant from the shoulders outward, a tent-roof the slope of them.
So sways she, the strong-skulled one, and lightly her shoulder blades
rise from her spine alternate, arhyme with the march of her.
Like rain-pools in the smooth rock, so, flecking the sides of her,
white stand the girth-marks, witness once of the sores on them.
Her neck, how tall, how proud-set! Behold her! She raises it
high as in ships of Díjleh the point of a stern-rudder.
Her head-piece a stout anvil, and, joined to it hardily
sharp as a file the neck-ridge, fixed as a vice to it.
Her jowl a Syrian parchment, clean vellum the lip of her,
smooth as a hide of Yémen, no skin-crease nor fold in it.
Her eyes two mirrors shining, her bent brows the shade of them,
pitted with deep-set hollows, as rock-holes for rain-water.
Eyes dark-rimmed, pure of dust-stains. You gaze in the depths of them
as in a wild cow's wide eyes, scared for the calf of her.
Ears fearful of the night-sounds, the whispers, the murmurings
caught in the darkness passing—night—day: they can rest never.
Their thorn-tips tell her lineage, a wild bull's of Háumala
raging alone forsaken; her breeding you read in them.
Heart watchful of strange dangers, yet stout in the face of them.
Firm as a test-stone standing where cleft lie the base pebbles.
Lip slit, nose pierced for nose-ring, how slender its cartilage!
Nobly she lowers it running and stretched to the front of her.
I strike at her, my nága: I force her: I hurry her,
while in our path the false-lights lure us to follow them.
The gait of her how rhythmic! She sways like a dancing-girl,
one with the white skirts trailing, who bends to the lord of her.
Obedient to your riding, she slackens her outrunning,
watches the hide-thong twisted, the speed that you need of her.
Her head by your hand close held, your knee-crutch how near to it!
Then with her fore-arms swimming, an ostrich, she flies with you.

Thus rode I, and thus spake he, the friend of my tear-sheddings:
O for the wit to cure thee, but and my own sorrows!
His soul within him trembled; it seemed to his hardihood
death and a sure destruction, though far we from road-farers.
For which of us is valiant? When men speak of true valour,
I feel my own the name named. Straight am I roused by it.
No recreant I, my tent-ridge I hide from no enemy.
Nor in the far hills build it who bring men a swift succour.
The hand that seeks shall find me. I stand at the gatherings.
Ay, where men tap the wine-skin, 'tis there they shall speak with me.
What day the tribes assemble, behold me conspicuous,
sitting as fits my lineage, nor go I in fear of them.
Beside me my companions, bright stars of nobility.
Dyed is her robe with saffron the girl who pours out to us.
O sweet is her shirt's neck-slit, set wide to the eyes of us.
Soft is the thing it hides there. We bade her: Now, sing to us.
Ay sing to us: we prayed her. And she, with monotony
striking a low note slowly, chaunted unchangingly.
O strange it was that cadence: it came back the wail of it,
grave as a mother's grieving the one son new-slain from her.

Thus sang she. And I spared not the full cups of revelry,
not till my spoil was wasted, my whole wealth's inheritance.
Then left me they that loved me. Then shunned me my tribe-fellows.
Sat I alone forsaken, a mange-stricken male camel.
Nathless the poor showed pity, the sons of Earth's particles,
these and the alien tent-lords, the far chiefs befriended me.
You only did revile me. Yet, say, ye philosophers,
was that same wealth eternal I squandered in feasting you?
Could all you my fate hinder? Friends, run we ahead of it,
rather our lives enjoying, since Time will not wait for us.
And, truly, but for three things in youth's day of vanity,
fain would I see them round me the friends at my death-bedding,
As first: to outstrip the sour ones, be first at the wine-bibbing,
ay, at the blink of day-dawn when mixed the cup foams for me;
And next, to ride their champion, who none have to succour them,
fierce on my steed, the led one, a wolf roused and thirst-stricken;
And third, to lie the day-long, while wild clouds are wildering,
close in her tent of goat's hair, the dearest beloved of me.
O noble she, a tree-stem unpruned in her maidenhood,
tall as a branch of Khírwa, where men hang their ornaments.
'Tis thus I slake my soul's rage, the life-thirst so wild in me.
If we two died to-morrow, think, which would go thirstier?
For lo, his grave the miser's! Lo, next it the prodigal's!
Both are alike, scant favour to hoarder or squanderer.
'Neath mounds of earth the twain lie, a low stone atop of them,
heavy and broad and shapeless, with new slabs o'erlaying it.
Death is no subtle chooser. He takes all, the free-givers,
ay, and the rogues close-fisted, the fast-handed gold-hiders.
And life's heap lies unguarded. The night-thieves make spoil of it.
All that these leave the day-thieves straightway come plundering.
Nay, by thy life—I swear it, though fast fly the heels of him,
Death has a lead-rope round him, loose though it seem to you.
Ha! How is this? My kinsman? my fool-cousin Máleki?
Daily, as I draw near him, he turns his mad back on me.
He frowns I know not wherefore. He flouts me, as once with them
Kurt, in the face of all men, flouted and jibed at me.
His help he has denied me; and, truly, our brotherhood
tried in the fire of asking lies dead in love's sepulchre.
My word his words discredit. Yet all I for Mábadi
asked was a poor assistance to gather his lost camels,
I who hold fast to kinship. I swear by the luck of thee,
when they shall want hard riding, that day they shall fawn on me,
What day their tribes need succour, when loudly their womenfolk
cry from his hand the oppressor's to hands that are mightier.
Be but their honour tainted, I straight will pour out for them
death as from brimming cisterns, nor ask for an argument.
They rail at and revile me, who know me no ill-doer;
me, who have borne their burdens, cast would they out from them.
Yet, had my friend been other, this Málek of larger soul,
long had my pain been ended, a respiting found for me.
Shame on him for his baseness. His black hand would strangle me,
whether I thanked or sued him, or turned but my back on him.
O cruel is the sword-stroke: it bites with an Indian edge:
yet is their temper keener, the clowns I call kin to me.
Then leave me to my own ways, my tent set in Dárghadi,
far from the eyes of all men, and earn thee my gratitude.
Had he, the Lord, so willed it, my name had been Khálidi,
or had he willed it Ámer, or Káis, or Márthadi.
Wealth had been mine and increase, ay, all that men most covet,
sons as a gift of heaven, a proud-lined posterity.
Yet see me a man subtle, one lithe-souled and lithe-bodied,
quick as a snake for wounding, whose head is a hurt to them.
The oath my tongue has sworn to is this, to keep close to me
ever my sword-blade loosened; of Indies the edge of it.
Such blade, if I take vengeance and rise up and smite with it,
needs not a second down-stroke; I wield me no wood-chopper.
My sword is my true brother. It grudges no blood-spilling.
Called on to spare, it answers: My lord alone holdeth me.
Thus was I when men armed them and rushed to the battle-field:
grasped I my sword-hilt foremost, nor feared what fate doomed for me.

Herds knelt, their necks stretched earth-long. How scared them the eyes of me,
me with my sword drawn marching, its sheath cast away from me.
There passed a strong fair nága, a full-uddered milch-camel,
joy of her lord, the gray-beard, a hot man, though time-troubled.
He shouted when she fell there, her stout sinews houghed by me:
Man, art thou blind who seest not thy sword hath done robbery?
He spake, and to his friends turned: Behold him, this wine-bibber!
What is his rage against us, his wild words, his drink-folly?
Yet paused: Nay, give him wide room and leave it to profit him:
herd we the scared ones rather, lest more he should slay of them.
Then fell the maids aroasting its fair flesh the foal of her,
nor of the fat denied us, the whole hump our prize of it.
We cast the arrows gaily, the dun shafts, the fire-hardened:
each time the holder held them, straightway I won with them.

When I am dead, speak kindly, thou daughter of Mábadi:
rend for my sake thy garments as one worth the love of thee.
Nor count me with the lewd folk, the night-knaves, the roysterers,
men with nor wit nor wisdom nor will to do weightily,
Men slow to deeds of virtue, men swift but in ill-doing,
men by the brave held lightly, with spread palms and brow-knitting.
For, had I been a weakling, know well, their mad hate of me
long had been my destruction, their blind wrath my butchery.
Only it wards me from them the fear of my hand's valour,
this, and my faith untainted, my fame too of ancestry.
Once on a time I bound me with vows, on the battlefield
ever to guard the weak posts, points where the foe threatened,
Points where the bravest faltered, where pale men stood panic-struck,
where they the strong-hearts trembled, faint through the fear in them.
Nay, by thy life, I fear not. I hold not time weariness;
neither hath day distressed me, nor night what it brought to me.

Because I see Death spares none. It smites with an even hand,
bows not to names exalted, nor knows it men's dignities;
Because with Death behind me, my flight can avail me not,
neither can I outwit him, he lying in wait for me.
Because if one be proved vain by those who seek aid of him,
helpless to hurt the harmful, better he perishèd.
The days to come, what are they? A handful, a borrowing:
vain is the thing thou fearest. To-day is the life of thee.
And death is as a well-spring; to it men pass and pass:
near them is each to-morrow; near them was yesterday.
Only shall Age, the slow-foot, arraign thee of ignorance:
only shall One bring tidings, when least thou desirest him,
One who is hard to deal with, of whom thou art ransomer
neither for pay nor raiment, nor madest thou tryst with him.

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net