Sunday, March 18, 2007

Return of the Thousand Verses

I decided to inflict upon my readers my attempt to translate the first 15 lines of Alfiyyat Ibn Mālik, a medieval poem summarising Arabic grammar which I described some time ago. The original may have been written more for mnemonic than artistic purposes, but at least it takes fewer liberties with the metre... For best results, I recommend using an alliterative residulator.
Muḥammad, who is the son of Mālik, says:
My Lord God, the best master, I praise,
Praying for the Prophet, the Chosen One,
And his noble relatives every one.
And I seek God's help in a thousand-line
Poem in which grammar's basics are outlined,
Simplifying the hardest, concisely distilled,
And offering gifts, with a promise fulfilled,
Bringing contentment without any misery
Surpassing the thousand-liner of Ibn Mu`ṭī
Which previously took first position,
Deserving my praise and recognition;
And abundant gifts may God decree
In the Afterlife's stages for him and me!
A meaningful utterance is a sentence, like “Stand up, [birds]!”,
And nouns, and verbs, and particles are words
(The singular is word), and speech has general sense -
And “word” may also be used to mean “sentence”.
By genitive, indefinite, vocative, and “the”
And predication the noun is seen clearly;
By the t of fa`al-ta1 and 'ata-t2, and the y of if`al-ī3,
And the n of 'aqbil-anna4, known the verb will be;
Apart from them is the particle, like hal5 and 6 and lam7.
A verb in the imperfect follows lam, like yašam.
Distinguish verbs' perfect by t, and recognise
By n the imperative verb, if imperatives arise.
And if in the imperative n has no place to dwell,
It's a noun, such as for instance ṣah9 and ḥayyahal10.
1. you did
2. she came
3. do! (f.)
4. approach!
5. question marker
6. in
7. not (past)
9. ssh!
10. over here!

Original text:

قال محمد هو ابن مالك * أحمد ربي الله خير مالك
مصليا على الرسول المصطفى * وآله المستكملين الشرفا
وأستعين الله في ألفيه * مقاصد النحو بها محويه
تقرّب الأقصى بلفظ موجز * وتبسط البذل بوعد منجز
وتقتضي رضا بغير سخط * فائقة ألفية ابن معطي
وهو بسبق حائز تفضيلا * مستوجب ثنائي الجميلا
والله يقضي بهبات وافره * لي وله في درجات الآخره
كلامنا لفظ مفيد كاستقم * واسم وفعل ثم حرف الكلم
واحده كلمة والقول عم * وكلمة بها كلام قد يؤم
بالجر والتنوين والندا وأل * ومسند للاسم تمييز حصل
بتا فعلت وأنت ويا افعلي * ونون أقبلنّ فعل ينجلي
سواهما الحرف كهل وفي ولم * فعل مضارع يلي لم كيشم
وماضي الأفعال بالتا مز، وسم * بالنون فعل أمر إن أمر فُهم
والأمر إن لم يك للنون محل * فيه هو اسم نحو صه وحيّهل


sillybahrainigirl said...

Oh MY!!! This poem is a recurring nightmare for me. I remember having to memorise parts of it for my ARabic grammar classes.
Jokes aside. Great post..and great blog!

bulbul said...

Oh the bittersweet memories :o) My professor recommended reading Alfiyya back in my second year at college. I gave up somewhere along وتقتضي رضا بغير سخط and opted to read al-Ḥāǧib's الكافية instead.

A wonderful translation, Lameen :o)

Lameen Souag said...


Anonymous said...

Superb Lameen! Excellent rendition into English which tries to capture the majestic Arabic lovely choice of translation style can't wait for the next one :) I memorised half of it a few years ago now you've renewed my interest in it again!!