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
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 ebrary.com
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
abebooks.com. 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
ebrary.com edition. A search of "Henry Baerlein" turned up some
additional information. My colleague, tehuti, pointed me towards the
1911 Encyclopedia, a fascinating site.