Every Soul Drinks of Death

Poem to my father.


I slaughtered my she-camel

on the grave of Mullawah

between brittle desert trees.


I did it after the riverbeds

of his friendships

had dried up. 


I said to her

Be my sacrifice, for the dawn

of coming day

I will walk

as yesterday by you

I was carried.


May God not keep you far

from me, oh father. I know 

that every soul of Death

does drink.




There Shone Laila’s Fire 


Near the oasis shone 

Laila’s fire.


Though you may journey

to Taounate, camel-back 

to the coast

you could not stray

under as 


infernal a gaze

as this.


A tribesman said:

I glimpsed a planet!

in the black it shone

like the bright star

of the Bear.


You are wrong to think so,

I said to him.

That blaze above you

is Laila’s fire. 


The further back

I crane my neck

the more fiercely appears

her light to me.


How useless this firewood

my tribesmen cut! If only

they had left the trees

intact, walking along us

in the dark.


Oh night—how often is it

that I run to your black face

with pressing need

only to forget 

when I turn to you

for what I came.


My companions, 

do not shake me

for more tears—  


When my eyes water

I reach for that friend

who, seeing my state,

will cry for me.


I do not chance upon

these vistas, except in 

agony. I do not chant upon

these lyrics except

to allay what I feel.


God may join together

those frayed threads

some day


even as they think

no reunion





God Curse the Tribes


God curse the tribes that claim

to have cured love, after decades

of trial.


Have they not witnessed 

my oath to Laila? 



she may be,

guiding our livestock

to the campsite at dusk.



may have grown

the hairs of her sons

and gray the hairs

of their sons, and yet


she hangs 

in my heart’s halls 


by Time’s passing.


This tribe beguiled me

with promises of friendship. 

I sat with them, and they fed me

gilded words


I sat with them and they flaunted

triumph over love!


This gathering

depletes me, I who spend


my prayers for rain

on the tribe of Laila,


on those rings of womenfolk,

their desires adrift


chasing the whims

of their flock 

through the sand.


There is no repentance

to be had from this love.

No poverty can move her

from my mind’s eye

and no wealth.


Though women dye their locks

her color, and show themselves

to me, I cannot forget

the one in my heart.


I am only 

a desperate man

enfolding the pillars of houses

with my weak arms.


My companions, my foresight

is as frail as I am. What God has meted

out for us, I claim 

no knowledge.


Original ↓

كل امرئ للموت شارب




عقرت على قبر الملوح ناقتي           بِذي الرَّمْث لَمَّا أنْ جَفاهُ أقارِبُه

فَقُلْتُ لها كُونِي عَقيراً فإنَّني          غداة غد ماش وبالأمس راكبه

فلا يُبْعِدنْكَ اللّه يابْنَ مُزَاحمٍ           فكُلُّ امْرِىء ٍ لِلمَوْتِ لابُدّ َشاربُه




















لاحت نار ليلا



بِثَمدَينِ لاحَت نارَ لَيلى وَصَحبَتي       بِذاتِ الغَضا تَزجي المَطِيَّ النَواجِيا
فَقالَ بَصيرُ القَومِ أَلمَحتُ كَوكَباً           بَدا في سَوادِ اللَيلِ فَرداً يَمانِيا
فَقُلتُ لَهُ بَل نارَ لَيلى تَوَقَّدَت                بِعَليا تَسامى ضَوؤُها فَبَدا لِيا
فَلَيتَ رِكابَ القَومِ لَم تَقطَعِ الغَضا       وَلَيتَ الغَضى ماشى الرِكابَ لَيالِيا
فَيا لَيلُ كَم مِن حاجَةٍ لي مُهِمَّةٌ           إِذا جِئتَكُم يا لَيلُ لَم أَدرِ ما هِيا

خليليَّ إِن لا تبكياني ألتمس             خليلا إِذا أنزفت دمعي بكى ليا 

فما أشرف الأبقاع إِلا صبابة           ولا أنشد الأشعار إِلا تداويا 

وقد يجمع الله الشتيتين بعدما           يظنان كلّ الظنّ أن لا تلاقيا




























































 لحى الله أقواماً 


لحى الله أقواماً يقولون إننا            وجدنا طوال الدهر للحب شافيا

وَعَهدي بِلَيلى وَهيَ ذاتُ مُؤَصِّدٍ      تَرُدُّ عَلَينا بِالعَشِيِّ المَواشِيا  

فَشَبَّ بَنو لَيلى وَشَبَّ بَنو اِبنِها        وَأَعلاقُ لَيلى في فُؤادي كَما هِيا

إِذا ما جَلَسنا مَجلِساً نَستَلِذُّهُ         تَواشَوا بِنا حَتّى أَمَلَّ مَكانِيا  

سقى الله جاراتٍ لليلى تباعدت      بهنّ النّوى حيث احتللن المطاليا

ولم ينسني ليلى افتقار ولا غنىً     ولا توبةٌ حتى احتضنت السواريا 

ولا نسوةٌ صبغن كيداء جلعداً         لتشبه ليلى ثم عرَّضنها ليا

خليليَّ لا والله لا أملك الذي            قضى الله في ليلى ولا ما قضى ليا

Translator's Note

While there are many adaptations of Majnoon’s story, most famously by the twelfth century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, this Arabic edition is purported to be the original as composed by Majnoon himself. While many English translations have been made of the story’s Persian adaptations, few have translated the “original” Arabic poems—a lacuna I intend to fill, one poem at a time. There has yet to be a complete translation of the Arabic Majnoon poems compiled by al-Walibi, though a handful have been translated in isolation.

The work below was produced during New York City’s pandemic lockdown earlier this year. As such, there is an undeniable escapist urge that permeates the lines—the translation is more free and “modern” than many would expect, and I privileged the surfaces of words (their alliterations, assonances, oblique rhymes) over their semantic exactness. Also, given the compact and rich nature of some Arabic formulations, I decided to loosen the verse structure, and take up as much space on the page as a line needed to carry its meaning into the English language. As a result, one could say the ghazal nature of Majnoon’s poems is lost in my rendition, as the original couplets are transformed into stanzas of varying length. As with all translation efforts, this work was a balancing act: trade-offs and sacrifices were necessary to do justice to the unparalleled eloquence of al-Mullawah’s passion and pain.

Aya Labanieh


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