the child of the stars
will grow up
by the water reeds.
He will pour water like light
onto ripening dates.
he will recite
all that he can
from The Painful Verses,
then step away, clothed in the garments of a prophet.
he will wear a mawwal*
and a rhyme
that embody the South,
the messiah and gold.
neither sun nor moon will rise -
only he, who eclipses
the planets and comets.
he will gesture to the wind,
'Take shelter in my hand'.
The vines need no longer fear.
he will run in all directions
heedless of the rain
and its ills.
he will awake to a world
to teach that the dust of the soul
is of gold.
he'll scream in every face: 'I'.
'I am the one whose words enlighten the blind'.
he'll lie down in Gemini
up there in the heavens like a saint.
I say, 'One day' -
but some prophecies are here in my pocket
others are only in books.
A prophecy is like a child:
her doves circle the lamps
that still burn while the exhausted are asleep.
I, my children and my wife -
whom I run to and from in my hour of misery -
We lock the door, then fling it open,
knowing that the door of illusion is made of wood.
The literal translation of this poem was made by The Poetry Translation Workshop
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
Hazim Al-Temimi is a poet from southern Iraq - famed for its once magnificent marshes that were drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein - and this poem must be read within that geographical context. For example, the very first stanza refers to the 'water reeds' of the marshes and the date palms that grow in southern Iraq in profusion.
The second stanza uses a verb 'recite' that specifically means reciting the Koran. Our use of 'The Painful Verses' was a way of indicating the special nature of the text the protagonist is reciting.
The line, 'I am the one whose words enlighten the blind' is a direct (and very famous) quotation from Al-Mutanabbi, a tenth-century Iraqi poet, widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Arabic language.
Although the line breaks of the poem make it look as though it is written in free verse - or what Arabic poets call 'prose poetry' - this poem is composed in the strict rhyme and metre of traditional classical Arabic poetry.
This was a difficult poem to translate, not simply because it's written in a classical form, but also because the fantastic sentiments it expresses are inimical to English. Whereas statements such as those made in this poem sound very beautiful in Arabic, in English they can come across as nothing more than empty rhetoric and bombast.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2014