Is she milk, is she more, is she buttermilk?
Is she bread, is she bread and milk, is she?
Would you say she's good luck? Would you say
She's a riddle, or maybe the answer?
Is she kindness or thought when it's solemn?
Is she thought, is she more - an idea?
Is she clouds that give rain, clouds that gather,
Clouds that bless, clouds that crowd, clouds that linger?
Would you say she's good luck, would you say
She's the pattern of stars struck at nightfall
When the day will bring cloudwrack and rainfall?
Would you say she's green growth in the rainfall?
Would you say she's the sun in the morning
That soaks up the dew, that disperses
The mist? Is she water that gathers
In pools after rain? Is she moonlight
Reflected in pools? Is she starlight
So bright when it floods with the moonlight
That you're blind to the land that you stand on?
Would you say she's green growth that the rainfall
Has washed and made sweet? Is she water
That lies on the land like a blessing?
Is she herself sweet, is she shapely?
Is her sweetness the perfume of water?
Is she beautiful, thoughtful and clever?
Does she live as she should? Does she honour
The qualities womanhood stands for?
You can see she's not weak and not foolish;
You can see she's not lazy and sluttish,
Not stubborn or sloppy or rowdy,
Neither a shrew nor a nag, she's
A woman who keeps a full larder,
A woman who'd greet you and feed you.
She's the lie of the stars that brings rainfall,
Not the set of the stars that brings drought to
The lie of the land that you stand on.
She's not fat, she's not thin, she is perfect.
She is modest - she dresses discreetly -
But it's clear that her body is perfect.
Oh, Cabdi, you see her as I do -
The way that she sways as she walks is
The reason I call her Catiya,
Catiya, whose walk is a rhythm
That chimes with my heart when I see her.
In the evening, she brushes her hair from
The crown to the tip and the breeze lifts
Each strand, so the eyes of the young men
Follow the stroke and the windblown
Hair as it catches the last of
The sun as it sets and makes firebrands,
Black but shot through with the sunset.
The colour of Catiya's skin is
The colour that all women envy.
Her eyes, soft and brown, are the eyes of
The desert gazelle, while her nose is
Perfectly straight and her gums are
Black, black as charcoal. Oh, Cabdi,
The white of her teeth and the down on
Her cheek! Can you see how her waistline
Is curved like a spear; can you see how
Her arms make an elegant shape in
The air as she moves, how her calves flex,
How her neck, with its dapple of amber,
Lightly creases: the neck of a Houri.
There is nothing to fault in this woman,
Not a flaw to be found in her beauty.
She is never impatient or angry;
She never complains. Could you weary
Of a woman like that? She could never
Lie or be troublesome. No one
Ever spoke ill of this women:
Her soft speech, her quick mind, her modest
Way in the world - this young woman
Whose future, I know, will be brighter
By far than the star of the evening.
Oh, Cabdi, you see her as I do:
A child who is almost a woman,
In the very first flush of her beauty.
I praise her. I crown her with garlands.
Haadrawi, match my song with your song.
The final translated version of the poem is by David Harsent
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2015