One Poem

Original by Maysun bint Bahdal
Translated, from the Arabic, by Reem Tasyakan

A humble house
with pulsating souls,
more beloved than
this illustrious palace.

The barking calls
of familiar farm hounds,
more cherished than
this host of purebred cats.

The pleasing comfort
of common cloaks,
more appealing than
these frivolous lace gowns.

Nibbling morsels
in a crumbling cottage,
more satisfying than
devouring these lavish loaves.

Sounds of winds
in mountain passes,
more resonant than
this clanging of tambourines.

The company of my
meager modest cousins,
more amusing than that of
these overfed urban brutes.

The ruggedness
of rustic existence,
more magnetic than
a life of alluring opulence.

All I desire
is my humble
homeland
holding all
the honor
anything
ought to.

 


Translator’s Note:
Existing translations of this poem appear to be based on varied versions of the source text. The discrepancies may relate to the lack of clarity surrounding the poem’s origins mentioned in the author’s bio below. I used the version of the source text found in Abdullah al-Udhari’s collection of translations, titled Classical Poems by Arab Women. The poem is often referred to as “The Song of Maysun” or “The Lament of Maysun,” but the version in al-Udhari’s book does not have a title so I did not include one.

There are many 19th century translations of this poem that, in my opinion, overly exoticize its highly relatable content.While I took some of my own liberties with the translation, I did so with the intent of capturing in English the thematic essence of the original. I used my own style of repetition and line breaks to make up for the lost rhyme, rhythm, and musical qualities in the source poem. I also included some descriptive details to help convey the contextual meaning that would otherwise be unapparent in English.

My hope is that in completing this translation, I’ve done justice to the purity and simplicity of Maysun’s words as she expressed her yearnings for a home that she saw as free from the complications of life in the city.

 

This work is usually attributed to Maysun bint Bahdal, who was the wife of the Umayyad caliph Mu’awiya I and the mother of his successor, Yazid I. She grew up in a rural part of Syria and relocated to Damascus upon marrying Mu’awiya. She missed the countryside and supposedly wrote several works lamenting village life. Some believe this poem was written by a different woman from the countryside who was also named Maysun.

Reem Taşyakan is a third-year PhD student in the UCSD Literature Department. In her research, she focuses on Arab-American literature and culture, exploring the post-9/11 Arab-American identity in contemporary novels. Reem speaks Arabic and has traveled to several parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to her other academic pursuits, Reem writes fiction and poetry, translates from Arabic into English, and works as a TA in the Making of the Modern World program.