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Q: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation) ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   3 Comments )
Subject: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation)
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: mickeybear-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 03 Oct 2002 12:24 PDT
Expires: 02 Nov 2002 11:24 PST
Question ID: 72133
Can anyone tell me where I can find the specific English translation (probably
from the early years of the 20thC) of part of a poem from the "Diwan of
Abu-Lalla" which includes the following lines:
"It is our fate like mariner to float/
Amidst the perils of dim waterways/
Shall then our seamanship have aught of praise/
If the great anchor drags behind the boat"
and tell me something of both the poem and the poet in question,
neither of which I have been able to track down? I particularly want
to find this version, as it should provide other clues in an ongoing

Request for Question Clarification by rico-ga on 03 Oct 2002 13:26 PDT
Hi mickeybear,

I wanted to verify that you remembered the stanza correctly.  I've
found a translation from 1915, which reads the same as the stanza you
cite except beginning...

"Our fortune is like mariners to float
Amid the perils of dim waterways..."

if that's it, let me know.



Clarification of Question by mickeybear-ga on 04 Oct 2002 01:08 PDT
I'm afraid that the first few words are as I reproduced them in my
question - I have simply copied them from a very clearly legible
manuscript in my grandfather's hand. It is possible, but I would have
thought unlikely in the circumstances (he had fine copied these lines
as the introduction to a bookscript), that he may have miscopied or
misrecollected these words.

Request for Question Clarification by rico-ga on 04 Oct 2002 04:26 PDT

As my colleague notes in his comments, it's curious that the
translation you cite is very obviously grammatically incorrect ("our",
"mariner"), but I agree that it's unlikely that your grandfather could
have made such a blatant mistake in a transcription.  Is it possible
that your grandfather idly attempted a translation himself from the
original Arabic or that he had a correspondent who may have attempted
such a translation? And just out of curiousity, your grandfather's
last name wouldn't have been Dillon?

Also, I just went back to look at my source, and found the translation
I cited as being published in 1915 is actually a third edition, with
the first edition published in July of 1908.

Obviously I don't want to flog something on you that you don't need,
:-), but let me know if you do want any of my research as an answer.
Unfortunately, GA isn't set up so that I'll be notified if/when you
post a comment or clarification, but I'll check this question
periodically in any case.  Best of luck in finding your information!



Clarification of Question by mickeybear-ga on 04 Oct 2002 07:33 PDT
I think you've probably earned your fee! I would however be grateful
if you could pass on any additional information you've found about the
poem and poet, and this stanza in particular. I wouldn't wish to quash
your theorising, but I'm afraid I know of no Dillon connection! The
grammatical "error" (or "infelicity" if one takes a less prescriptive
approach to grammar) picked up by "tehuti" was something that had
struck me too, but I had taken it as a "royal we". With the
information you and the others who have commented have provided
(thanks to the others for their trouble), I should now be able to run
with this ball. I wonder whether my grandfather might not have balked
at the notion of fortune and tried to reparse this line to make it
scan with the alternative concept of fate...

Request for Question Clarification by rico-ga on 04 Oct 2002 08:27 PDT
Actually until a question is formally answered, there's no fee
involved, except the $0.50 nick taken by Google Answers.  The
clarification process, as you see, is for researchers and the customer
to determine whether we can provide a satisfactory answer.

Having said that, I'll be happy to provide the information I've found
as a a formal answer, though it may be a further 12 to 18 hours till I
post it, as Fridays are a busy time or me.  As you requested, I'd also
like to do some additional research on both the author and the
translator to see what we can come up with, and also point you to the
direction of the work, which you can read online, or alternatively,
purchase. Till then...


Subject: Re: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation)
Answered By: rico-ga on 04 Oct 2002 11:10 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
I'd like to acknowledge the work of my researcher colleagues TXX-1138,
and tehuti. One of the things I enjoy about Google Answers is the
mutual helpfulness and comradeship among researchers. Researchers! If
you're not taking advantage of the Researcher Forum (see any
newsletter), you're missing out on both an excellent research resource
as well and lively online community.  End of advertisement. :)

According to Eric Ormsby's article "Questions for Stones: On Classical
Arabic Poetry", "Long before Omar Khayyam there was Abū  al-'Alā'
al-Ma'arrī, skeptical provocateur par excellence. Blind from the age
of four, al-Ma'arrī cultivated a memory of elephantine capacity and
developed into one of the most skilled and idiosyncratic of Arab
poets." Interestingly, Mr. Ormsby goes on to state, "There are,
unsurprisingly, no good translations of al-Ma'arrī in English..."
noting Henry Baerlein's translation (see below), specifically.

ABU-L-'ALA UL-MA'ARRI [Abu-l-'Ala Ahmad ibn 'Abdallah ibn Sulaiman]
(073-1057), was an Arabian poet and letter-writer, and belonged to the
South Arabian tribe Tanukh, a part of which had migrated to Syria
before the time of Islam, according to the online 1911 encyclopedia. 
His full biography can be read at this link...

...scroll to the second entry. Note that the entry goes on to mention
that his poems have been published in 1869, 1884, and 1886 under the
title "Saqt uz-Zand", although there's no reference to a translation. 
The section goes on to note that portions of his letters were
published with translations in various volumes in 1886, 1889, 1894,
1898, and notably, 1900. It's possible that any one of those
translations might contain the passage as transcribed by your

As to the version I found for you, as I noted, it's the third (1915)
printing of "The Diwan of Abu'l-Ala" by Henry Baerlein, published by
John Murray, London) part of "The Wisdom of the East" series edited by
L. Cranmer-Byng and Dr. S.A. Kapadia, and originally published in
July, 1908.
The passage in question can be found on page 39 of this edition
(Stanza XXVII), and reads in full,

"Our fortune is like mariners to float
Amid the perils of dim waterways;
Shall then our seamanship have aught of praise
If the great anchor drags behind the boat?"

If you'd like to read it on-line, you can find it at
through the following link...

...put in "Diwan" in the search engine, and you'll note that the first
result will be Mr. Baerlein's work.  If you'd like to view it online,
you'll need the free "ebrary Reader" which is available for
installation on ebrary's home page.  I installed it myself while
researching for you, and have had no problems with the plug-in using
Internet Explorer 6 under Windows XP.

You'll also note that the book was re-printed in 1998 by Kessinger
Publishing Company. It's available from Amazon (U.S.) in a paperback
edition from various sellers...

...and an AddAll search... 

also reveals various copies of the 1988 reprint available worldwide.

Out of curiosity (what is a researcher if nor curious?) I also went to  A search there...

... revealed that there are several copies available of the original
first edition, at very reasonable prices, as well as various reprints.

So, thank you for an interesting research question, and if you are
going to buy one of those first editions, please do it soon, as I
think I may buy one myself. :)

Search strategy: Thanks to my colleague's THX-1138 comment on
punctuation, I went to my second-favorite research tool,
http://www.kartoo and began a search using "Diwan of Abu'l-Ala." An
exploration of various sites eventually led me to the online edition. A search of "Henry Baerlein" turned up some
additional information. My colleague, tehuti, pointed me towards the
1911 Encyclopedia, a fascinating site.

mickeybear-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
I'm really impressed! This is the first time I've gone on-line with a
research query, and I have been bowled over by the response.
I have lots of stimulating material to follow up, I've already bought
a copy of the first edition Baerlein, and I've discovered new
dimensions to searching the web. Thank you very much.

Subject: Re: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation)
From: thx1138-ga on 03 Oct 2002 12:51 PDT
Please note:

"Diwan of Abu-Lalla" should be spelt "Diwan of Abu'l-Ala"

Subject: Re: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation)
From: tehuti-ga on 04 Oct 2002 01:43 PDT
Since the rest of the stanza is identical to the words you give, I
tend to agree with rico that the 1915 translation he found is what you
need.  I think your grandfather might have beeen writing this from
memory.  Note also the occurrence of "like mariner", which is
grammatically not correct.  It should either be "like a mariner",
which does not fit the meter, or "like mariners" which does fit.  I
would be surprised if the translator had chosen to use "like mariner"
over "like mariners".
Subject: Re: Diwan of Abu-Lalla (poem with maritime imagery in English translation)
From: tehuti-ga on 04 Oct 2002 01:46 PDT
Alternatively, there is the possibility your grandfather might have
copied this from an erroneous quotation he had seen elsewhere rather
than from the original translation itself.

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