Ahmad Shawqi

((1868–1932))

Nahj Al Burda (The Way Of The Mantle) - Poem by Ahmad Shawqi

On the plain, between the ban-tree and the mountain,
a white gazelle-fawn
Has found it licit in forbidden months
to shed my blood.
With the two eyes of a wild calf
fate shot a lion.
O [gazelle] that dwells on the plain,
[slay the lion] that dwells in the thicket!
When [the gazelle-fawn] gazed [upon me],
my soul spoke saying:
'Alas, your side has been struck
by a well-aimed arrow.
I denied [my soul] and hid the arrow
in my liver/heart.
For me, the wounds of lovers
cause no pain.
You have been endowed/blessed with the most generous
of human virtues,
If you are one who seeks excuses for
the sins of others.
O you who blame me for this love,
though love is fate,
If passion had so emaciated you, you would not
have blamed and censured [me].
You have lent me your ear,
but it is unaware;
For often, though a man can hear,
his heart is deaf.
O you with drowsy eye, you've never
tasted passion.
You've kept your pining [lover] awake,
preserving passion, so sleep!
A thousand times I would be your ransom,
and your night-phantom's, too.
Though [passion] makes you stingy [with your love to me],
and your phantom generous.
Your phantom came [to me] by night,
found a bleeding wound, and healed it.
How many are the gifts that dreams
to lovers bring!
From among the [maidens] that sway
like ban-trees on a hill, slender as spears,
Are those who play with my soul
and spill my blood.
Those who reveal [faces] like full moons
in the late morning,
Who stir the late morn's sun to jealousy
with their jewels and necklaces.
Those who slay with eyelids
sick with languor,
And sickness has been known
To lead to death.
Those who stumble over men's hearts,
and there is nothing
That can steady the coquettish stumbling
of their gait.
Those who inflame [men's] cheeks
till they glow and reveal
The infatuation that inflames
their hearts/livers. [=me]
Those who bear the banner of beauty,
however varied
Its forms; yet beauty is one
and indivisible.
Every [maiden] white or tawny
delights the eye,
For beauty is found in both the white gazelle
and [tawny] mountain goat.
They are frightened by a raised glance,
which is strange,
Since by [merely] pointing their ʿanam[-like fingers],
they can capture the lion.
I abased my cheek [to the gazelles]
and divided my heart [among them] in the hills;
In their coverts they were frightened by it
and on the rises.
O daughter of the full-maned [lion]
whose lair is protected,
Shall I meet you in the forest,
or in the palace?
I didn't know,
till his abode appeared,
That death and desire dwelt
in the same tent.
Who made a [swaying] bough grow
from a male/sharp sword?
And drew forth a whilte gazelle
from a ravening lion?
Between you [my beloved] and me
the way is blocked by brown [spears],
And likewise by an ʿUdhrī veil
of chastity.
I never visited your abode except
in the folds of slumber;
Your abode, for him who desires you,
is more distant than Iram.
O my soul, your worldly abode
conceals every tearful thing,
Though it reveal to you
the beauty of a smile.
Break her teeth [lit: mouth] with your godliness
each time she laughs/smiles,
Just as you break the speckled viper's fangs
to spill its venom.
Betrothed, as long as mankind has existed,
betrothing;
From the beginning of time, she has never been
widowed or without a spouse.
Time fades away
but her evil deeds remain
A wound to Adam that forever
makes him weep.
Don't be concerned with her gifts [lit. fruits]
or with her crimes,
For death with flowers is just like
death with coals.
How many a man sleeps and does not see her,
though she's awake;
Were it not for hopes and dreams,
he would not sleep.
Sometimes she bestows on you
prosperity and health;
Another time she sets you down in the abode
of disease and misery.
How often has he led you astray!
For when a man's sight is veiled
If he comes upon the bitter ṣāb he drinks;
if he finds ʿalqam, he grazes.
O woe is me for my soul!
She is struck with terror
By the black pages of evil deeds on
her white forelocks.
I urged her [like a she-camel] to the lush pasturage
of disobedience and sin,
And I did not take the precaution of obedience
against indigestion.
She yearned, thirsting after the traces
of delights, seeking them;
For the soul, when it is called to youthful passion,
yearns/thirsts for it.
For your own good, you must return
to morality;
Straighten out your soul with morals
and it will follow the straight path.
It is best for the soul
to graze on wholesome pasture grounds;
The worst thing for the soul
is to graze on noxious grass.
The soul, when it is emboldened by
delight and passion,
Is as unruly as [fiery] steeds
when they champ at their bits.
If my sin is too great/grave
to be forgiven,
Yet I have hope that God
will grant me refuge. [omitted: best]/ place me in His protection.
I will place my hope, when the Protector appears
in all His might,
In [Muḥammad,] the dispeller of sorrow and cares
In both abodes.
When I humble myself before him to ask
for the most precious [gift of] intercession,
What I ask for will be nothing to him
but a paltry thing.
And when the pious man presents himself
with his good deeds,
I will present before him
tears of repentance/ my repentant tears.
I will cling to the door
of the Prince of Prophets,
For he who holds tight to the key of the door of God,
will prosper.
For every virtue, benefit and favor,
whether performed [lit. accepted] [freely]
Or compelled/required,
comes from Him.
I will hold tight to a rope of praise for him,
which will avail me on a day
When bonds of lineage and kinship
are on no avail.
My poetry, when I praise [the Prophet],
disdains Zuhayr,
And the dew of Harim's gifts cannot compare
to the downpour of bounty I receive.
Muḥammad, who is the choice of the Creator,
His mercy [to mankind],
God's desire from among creation
and mankind.
The master of the water-trough on the day
when [even] God's messengers are supplicants,
When the time has come for drink
And even trusted Jibrīl is thirsty.
His majesty and his glory are [like]
the sun rising,
For the celestial body is in its sphere and its light
Illuminates the world.
The stars [in the heavens]
fell short
Of his ancestors' lofty dominion
and haughty mien.
[His forebears' lineage] is traced to him
so they increased in nobility among mankind;
How often is the root traced in glory
to a branch!
In the lofty heights of purity there contained him
before [the time of] his forebears
Two lights that took the place
of loins and womb.
When [the monk] Baḥīrā beheld him,
he said, 'We know/recognize him
From the names and signs
we have preserved.'
Ask Mt. Ḥirāʾ and the Holy Spirit [Jibrīl],
whether they knew
The guarded secret that was concealed
[from view].
How often was the flood-plain of Mecca
honored
By his coming and going
at morning and at evening?
How often did Ibn ʿAbd Allāh [Muḥammad] find
seclusion more to be desired
Than the company
of friends and servants.
He waited u at night for inspiration
before it came down to him,
For he who is given glad tidings
is marked with the sing of goodness.
When the Companions, out of thirst,
called out for water
A vessel-filling stream gushed forth
from your two hands.
There shaded him, then came
to seek his shade [= protection],
A cloud that was pulled along by the best
of continuous rains.
Love for the Messenger of God
was given to drink
To the cloistered monks of the monastery
and the hermit monks of mountain tops.
For if one's character is gentle
it can sway
Both obdurate rocks and
all things that have breath.
A voice called out [to Muḥammad], 'Recite! '
Great is God who said [these words],
For before they were said to [Muḥammad]
they had never crossed any lips.
There[upon] he called out
to the Merciful,
And the ears of Mecca were filled
With the sanctity/holiness of his voice.
So don't ask about Quraysh,
how great was their confusion
And how they fled [in panic]
to plain and mountain.
They asked each other about this great event
that had befallen them
And thrown old men and youths
Into confusion [lit. = madness].
O you who are ignorant of the Guide
and of his Call,
Do you not know the rank
of the great and truthful man?
You nicknamed him the 'trustworthy' one
of the tribe in his youth,
And the speech of the trustworthy man
should not be suspect.
In beauty he exceeds the moon,
and in glory the prophets,
How great then are his form
and character? ? ?
The [other] prophets brought miracles
that lapsed,
But you have brought us wisdom that
Is never cut off.
His miracles, however much time passes,
remain new;
Yet the splendor of antiquity and age
adorns them.
A single ennobled/exalted word from him
may be enough
To guide you toward
truth and piety and mercy.
O most eloquent of all of those
that utter ḍād,
Your speech is [pure] honey to him
who tastes and understands.
With the jewels of [your speech] you decked
the unadorned neck of eloquence
In every prose utterance that bore
the beauty of poetry.
With every noble word
that you utter
You revive the hearts [of men],
you revive dead aspirations.
The glad tidings of the Guide and his birth
spread east and west
The way light travels
in the darkness.
[The news] snatched the hearts' blood
from the Arab despots
And made fly [from fear] the souls
of the Persian/foreign tyrants.
The battlements of Īwān Kisrā were so alarmed
at [the news],
That the cracked from the shock of the truth,
not the shock of bold warriors advancing.
When you came
mankind was in such chaos
They were like idols infatuated
with idols.
And the earth was
full of oppression
And subject to every despot
who held sway over mankind.
The Persian sovereign
oppressed his subjects;
Pride made the Byzantine Caesar blind and deaf
[to his people's needs].
The tortured the worshippers of God
on grounds of suspicion,
And slaughtered them
like sacrificial sheep.
Among mankind, the strong
shed the blood of the weak,
Like lions [killing] sheep
or whales [killing] minnows.
God conveyed you by night
to the Farthest Mosque,
Where His angels and Messengers stood
[gathered to receive you].
When you strode in
they thronged round their master,
Like planets round the full moon,
or troops around their flag.
Each man of rank among them
prayed behind you, followed you in prayer,
For whoever follows God's beloved
will triumph.
You traversed the heavens
or what lies above them
On a luminous mount
with a bridle of pearl.
You had a mount that was
in might and nobility
Neither from among the steeds
nor the hard-stepping she-camels.
[It is of] the will of the Maker Creator
and of His make,
For the power of God is above
all suspicion and doubt.
[You rode Burāq] until you reached
a heaven to which
No wing can fly,
no foot can tread.
[A voice] said, 'Let every prophet [stand]
according to rank,'
And 'O Muḥammad, this is [God's] Throne,
so touch it! '
You have written out the sciences
of [both] religion and the world,
O reader of the Tablet!
O holder of the Pen!
Some among them you enclosed
in secrecy,
And the stores of knowledge and wisdom
were revealed to you.
[Your] closeness [to God] multiplied
beyond reckoning
The necklaces of favor bestowed upon you
and crowns of grace.
Then ask the band of polytheists
searching [lit. = pasturing] round the cave
- were it not for pursuing God's Chosen One,
they would not have been searching—
Did the see the radiant trace
of hear the whisper
Of voices glorifying God
or reciting the Qur'ān?
Did the spider's web/weave seem
like a forest to them?
The downy hovering [doves]
like carrion-vultures?
So they turned back,
while the faces of the earth cursed them,
Like falsehood fleeing from
the majesty of truth.
But for God's hand,
the two companions would not be safe;
But for His eye [watching out for] the pillar of religion,
it would not still stand.
They were concealed and covered
by the wing of God;
For whomever God's wing enfolds
will not be harmed.
O Aḥmad of goodness, I have the dignity
of being named for you,
For how can one named for the Messenger
not reach exalted rank?
The panegyrists and the lords of passion [= Sufis]
are all followers
Of the Master of the redolent Mantle [=al-Būṣīrī],
who takes precedence.
His praise for you [spring from]
sincere love and passion,
For true love dictates
true words.
God is my witness, I would not [dare]
compete with him,
For who could rival the rainfall
of a pouring widespread cloud?
I am merely one of those
who emulate him,
And [surely] he who tries to emulate your saint
is not to be rebuked or blamed.
[Praise of the Prophet] is a [spiritual] station
acquired from the Most Merciful;
Its aweful dignity would leave even the [eloquent] Saḥbān
struck dumb.
The full moon falls short of you
in beauty and nobility;
The sea cannot measure up to you
in goodness and munificence.
The haughty mountains, if you challenged them in height,
would sink;
If you vied in beauty with the gleaming stars,
you would outshine them.
The lion when it pounces
is not as bold as you
When advance against an iron-clad warrior
bristling with arms.
Though you make the black grains [of men's hearts]
bleed in war,
Yet the hearts of the brave and valiant
yearn for you.
God lay His love
and His dread
Before Āminah's son [Muḥammad]
in every battle-ground.
As if your face beneath the battle-dust
were the full moon on a dark night:
Whether it is veiled [by clouds] or not,
it shines.
A full moon [ = badr = Muḥammad] rose at Badr
and its luminous face
Was like the new moon of victory shining through
the gloom of night.
You were called an orphan in the Qur'ān
in order to honor you,
For the precious hidden pearl that is unique
[is termed] an orphan. [loose trans.]
God has apportioned His blessings
among mankind,
And you have been preferred
in blessings and in portions.
Whether you say 'no' about a matter
or say 'yes,'
God's choice is in that 'no'
or in that 'yes.'
Your brother Jesus called a dead man
[back to life] and he arose,
But you revived [whole] generations
of rotten corpses [from the grave].
Ignorance is death; so if you're granted
[another] miracle,
Then raise [mankind] from ignorance
or from the grave [- it's all the same].
They say that you conducted raids,
whereas God's Messengers
Were not sent to kill souls
and did not come to spill blood.
[This is] ignorance, the delusions of dreams,
and sophistry,
For you conquered by the sword
[only] after you conquered by the pen.
After every man of high degree came to you
of his own accord,
The sword was charged with [dealing with]
the ignorant masses.
For if you meet evil with goodness,
you will not withstand it;
But if you meet it with evil,
it will be cut down.
So ask the mild forgiving Christianity
how often it has drunk
The bitter colocynth
of wanton tyrants' lusts,
[While Christianity was] outlawed by polytheism
that persecuted [Christians]
And waged against them at every time
a scorching battle.
Were it not for defenders who took up the sword
to defend it,
[Christianity] would not have benefited
from its kindness and mercy.
Were it not for Jesus's high rank
with Him who sent him,
And a sacred bond established to the [Holy] Spirit
from the beginning of time,
His body, noble and inviolate, would have been nailed
to the two boards [of the cross]
And his tormentor would have felt neither
alarm nor fear.
Exalted be the Messiah [above crucifixion]!
One who hated him tasted crucifixion [in his stead],
For indeed punishment is in the same measure
as one's sins and crimes.
[Jesus] the Prophet's brother and spirit of God
holds an honored rank
Above the heavens and
below the Throne.
You [Muḥammad] taught [the Muslims] everything
of which they were ignorant,
Even how [to go] to battle
and the obligations it entails.
You called them to a holy war/jihad
by which they acquired dominion,
For was is the basis of the world's order
and its nations.
Were it not for [jihad] we would never have seen
among the adversities of time
[states] with high-raised columns
or firm foundations.
The evidence for this is clear
in every time,
Both eras of enlightenment
and dark ages.
In times gone by some thrones declined
while other thrones were raised.
Were it not for the bombs they would never
have been blunted or tarnished.
The followers of Jesus have prepared
every shattering [weapon],
While we have prepared for nothing
but to be shattered.
Whenever you [Muḥammad] were called to war
you went forth
Hurling [warriors like] lions, while God
hurled comets [from the sky].
Beneath your battle-standard [gathered]
every one avenging for God,
Advancing to meet God,
determined,
Glorifying God,
burning with desire [for God],
[Mounted] on a battle steed
like blazing lightning.
If he encountered time/fate itself
desiring to pass,
then flung his determination at its mount,
time/fate would not move/budge.
[The Muslim warriors are] gleaming [like] white [swords]
and notched from war's effects on them;
[They are] the swords of God,
not Indian blades.
How many a man did you find,
when you searched in the battle-dust,
Who died true to his promise
and loyal to his oath!
Were it not for [God's] gifts
among some of mankind .
People would not differ so widely
in rank and worth.
With your Sharia [Islamic law] you made
the minds of men
Burst for the with knowledge like
a bounding sea.
Its essence/gemstone [=jawhar] shone around
the lightning-flash of God's Unity
As jewels adorn a sword or
embroidery a banner.
[The Sharia] is tolerant, the souls and minds of men
hover around it,
For he who finds the sweet water of wisdom
is drawn to it.
[It is] the light on the path
by which the worlds are guided;
It is men's surety in the youth of time
and its old age.
Fate and its vicissitudes run
according to the sentence it [has handed down],
Which is carried out and inscribed
upon creation.
When the dominion of Islam
rose and spread,
Its kingdoms walked in/were guided by? [the Sharia's]
perfect light.
It taught a nation that had dwelt
in the desert,
How to herd Caesars, after sheep
and camels.
How many a domain of lofty grandeur
in east and west
Did the reformers, acting on [the Sharia],
build?
For the sake of knowledge, justice,
and civilization,
They determined their actions
and tightened their belts.
How quickly they conquered the world
for their religion
And gave the people a first draught
of its cold sweet water.

They became the ones who guided
mankind to [the faith];
Through them it became man's clear path
to prosperity.
Time will never destroy
the foundation they constructed,
But the walll of tyranny, if you touch it,
collapses.
They obtained felicity
in both abodes,
And shared in Riḍwān's
distribution [of blessings].
So stop talking of the [glories]
of Rome and Athens,
For all the sapphires are in Baghdad,
and the silver beads.
And let Chosroes and the Arch
of which he boasted
Rise on the traces of the [Zoroastrain]
fire and smoke!
And leave of Ramsis, for the true sign
of dominion,
Is establishing justice,
not erecting pyramids.
Whenever the House of Peace [Baghdad]
is mentioned,
Rome, the House of Laws, throws up her hands
in surrender.
[Rome] could not equal [Baghdad]
in eloquence at council;
Nor could it imitate its justice
in disputes.
And the ranks of [Rome's] Caesars
never contained
[The likes of] a Rashīd, Maʾmūn,
or a Muʿtaṣim.
Of those who, when their squadrons
go forth [to war],
Impose their will upon the borders
and the boundaries of the earth.
They hold sessions devoted to science
and knowledge;
No one approaches them in intellect
or understanding.
The scholars, when they address a ssession,
bow their heads
In awe of knowledge, not it awe
of sovereign power.
These [caliphs] pour forth a profuse rain
[of gifts],
So there is no drought in the land
and no poor dwelling in it.
The Caliphs of God are too exalted
to be weighed [against others],
So don't compare them with
mere human kings.
For who among mankind could compare
with al-Fārūq [ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb]
In justice, or with the humble and modest
[ʿUmar] Ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz?
Or like the Imām [ʿAlī] when he dispersed
a crowd
With tears gathering in the corners
of his men's eyes.
[ʿAlī], the overflowing sweet water
in science and letters,
The victorious and sharp-witted
in war and peace.
Or [ʿUthmān] Ibn ʿAffān,
the Qurʾān in his hand,
Over which he bends, yearning like
a mother over her newly-weaned babe.
And gathering its verses in order
and arranging them
In an unbroken necklace
of the nights.
Two wounds in the liver of Islam
never healed:
The wound of the martyr[ed ʿUthmān]
and the [Holy] Book's bloody wound.
The valor of Abū Bakr
was never doubted
After his glorious achievements
in deeds and services.
With resolve and determination
he protected [Islam]/Religion
From trials that sorely tried the patience
of the mature and patient.
[Trials ] that lead astray
even the right-guided [ʿUmar] al-Fārūq
Concerning death, which is certain
an unambiguous.
He contended with the people,
drawing his Indian blade,
Concerning the greatest of Prophets,
how could he not live forever?
Don't blame [ʿUmar]
for being bewildered:
The beloved [Prophet] had died,
And an ardent lover, despite himself, erred.
O Lord, you blessings and peace
for as long as you desire
Upon him who dwells at Your throne,
the best of all Messengers.
Who kept prayer alive
all through the nights,
Uninterrupted except by tears of apprehension
flowing down.
Glorifying You
beneath the wing of night,
Enduring sleeplessness and the pain
of swollen feet.
Content his soul,
with no complaint of weariness,
For if your love is true,
it never grows weary.
And bless, my Lord, his family, the elect
among whom
You set the banner of the House [= the Kaʿbah]
and Sacred Precinct [of Mecca].
Their faces are white
when fate's face is pitch-black;
Theirs heads [lit.: noses] held high and haughty
when hot-headed fate [brings disasters].
And give Your best blessing
to those four of the Companions [of the Prophet[
Whose friendship was
an inviolable trust.
[They are] the riders, when the Prophet calls them
from among the common herd
For glorious exploits that are
fearsome and dangerous.
[They are] the steadfast
when the very earth is shaking;
Those who laugh as they recklessly
plunge into perils.
O my Lord, peoples [before]
have risen from death,
And nations have awakened from
the slumber of nothingness/privation.
Good- and ill-fortune and dominon—
You are their master;
You make prevail both blessings
and chastisements.
You divine decree beholds us
in its wisdom—
How noble is your face
as judge and avenger!
So for the sake of the Messenger of the words,
be gracious to us,
And do not increase the humiliation of his people
and their disgrace.
O my Lord, through [Muḥammad] you made
the Muslims' beginning beautiful,
So complete Your grace and grant them
a good end.




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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem Edited: Monday, April 14, 2014


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