I've been deaf to the call of the gabay for some time;
I've not been moved to compose a deep poem.
Truly I've been silent: I have stopped reciting.
There's only one thing that unsettles me and rouses my blood -
Let me tell you the news you've been waiting to here.
I've looked at a great number of women -
there are those who've caught my eye as I strolled through the market.
As I wandered through the neighbourhood this way and that
I looked around me with hope and expectation
but as I braced myself to leave empty-handed
a smiling young woman appeared out of the blue.
Perfectly proportioned with glowing cheeks
she walks and moves with balance and grace;
her dress sense surpasses that of all other women
and she carries herself like the child of a saint.
She's never been struck by an enemy's hand nor by the harshness of life.
Protected and nurtured by her mother,
she walks gracefully through the streets where she was born.
Fond of learning, she does well at her studies
and is always attentive when she prays.
I felt astonished how her bearing defended her from harm.
And I swear that no one else like her has ever been born.
Let me tell you some more of what makes her so special.
Hibo is the very best woman that I've ever seen.
Her mother's foresight has protected her good name and honour.
Her father is a principled man who has shown great courage.
And her respected, tight-knit family stands at her side.
God gave her slenderness and a flawless character.
She is modest and she never strays.
Capable of building a home and raising a family,
this woman is complete and cannot be surpassed.
She stands out from other women like the dhamas tree* soars above the
You'd die with her, you'd die for her and forever you'd be with her.
And before death claims me, I must make her mine.
When the marrow of a man is infected by love, he staggers.
When a man is troubled by love, it drains him.
Because of her I am distracted and I stumble.
Because of her I neither eat nor drink.
Although my mind functions, it's seriously wounded.
I sweat profusely while other people shiver.
When everyone's sleeping I walk out into the midday sun.
One word from Hibo would make you understand.
Perfection: only when I've built a home for you,
only when everyone has danced at our wedding,
only when the sounds of clapping and dancing and ululating have been
only when our children grow up and run around,
only then, oh Allah, strike me down.
This was the first time we've worked on a literal translation produced by participants at one of our community workshops. The literal version of 'Perfection' was produced - after much lively discussion - during a workshop for Somali speakers led by Maxamed Xasan 'Alto'. As with that workshop, we were very lucky that the poet, Faysal Aw-Cabdi Axmed, was able to join us.
The workshop opened with Alto and Faysal explaining the conventions of the gabay to us. This is one of the most important forms in Somali verse. If you look at the Somali original, even if you don't speak Somali you can instantly tell that the poem is based on alliteration, in this case on the letters 'dh' which always appear twice in a line, much in the way that alliteration functioned in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) verse.
If you've ever wondered what Somali culture demands of its womenfolk, this poem exhaustively elaborates their virtues.
* We had a detailed description from Faysal of what the dhamas tree looks like. Here's a link to it on Wikipedia and here it is on a stamp from the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen found by Alto.