Kareem James Abu-Zeid on Translating Imru al-Qays

Last month, poet-translator Kareem James Abu-Zeid appeared in Populawith a few words on his upcoming translation of  the mu‘allaqāt, or the Hanging Poems:

It was last year that Abu-Zeid won a $25,000 NEA grant to produce a new translation of the Hanging Poems, a collection of works by pre-Islamic poets. Abu-Zeid, who read a section of his Imru al-Qays translation on an early episode of Bulaq, also shared a short section on Popula.

Titled “Night,” it opens:

Night casts its veils on me
time and again
like waves of the sea—
a host of cares
to try me.

Keep reading Abu-Zeid’s translation on Popula.

You can also compare Abu-Zeid’s translation to a number of translations online, including this translation by scholar F.E. Johnson:

Many a night has let down its curtains around me amid deep grief,

It has whelmed me as a wave of the sea to try me with sorrow.

In his short essay on Popula, Abu-Zeid writes:

Rather than trying to mirror all the specific musical qualities of the Arabic, I’ve sought to capture the poetic feel of the Arabic through a modern musicality that uses internal rhyme (spine/hind) assonance (hind, rise, I), consonance (Seven Sisters, stables, solid stone), and other effects, including the occasional use of strong and weak end rhyme (me/sea and night/respite).

On his website, Abu-Zeid has listed 2021 as an “expected publication date for The Hanging Poems: The Classic Works of Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetry.

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