Writing up thoughts on Islam and violence got me rummaging through some Arabic files. I teach Arabic locally in college and love being in and around the language. And my son-in-law (married to my daughter Jessica) is a wonderful young Syrian man. Being that they’ve returned from Beirut only weeks ago and are living in our basement, I’m in Arabic every day.
Arabic is mysterious, mesmerizing, rewarding, excruciating, and addicting. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it for the past 36 years. While in Iraq a few years back I began translating through a few well-known Arabic poems. It’s in Iraq where I first met the work of Iraqi poet Badir Shakir Assayab (d. 1964). His work and influence are monumental in Arabic literature. This poem (Sifr Ayoub, “Job’s Book”) was written while Assayab was in the hospital being treated for deteriorating health (which resulted in his early death at the age of 38). In it he likens his years of suffering increasingly poor health to Job, and the odd references in the poem to the “skies,” “stars” and “moon” or to “carriage horns” and “sickly cries” all refer to sights and sounds available to him from his hospital room. No other English translation of it exists, so enjoy.