Saturday, June 03, 2006

A little Algerian Arabic folk poetry

I recently came across a nice book (in English for once!) on the Algerian folk poet Muhammad ben Tayeb el-Alili, The Graying of the Raven. It's titled after this stanza, from a poem about a drought:
məššərq ləlməɣrib
fiha lɣ°ṛab yšib
a `aləm əlɣib
wətħənn bəttisir

من الشرق للمغريب
فيها الغراب يشيب
ها عالم الغيب
وتحن بالتيسير

From the east to the west
The raven turns white
O Knower of the Unseen
Grant us respite

(I've substituted my slightly more literal translation.)

His works are not particularly famous, and, while worth a look, are not in the top rank of the genre - but I'll bet they're the only ones available in English. For a perhaps better example, consider Dahmane El Harrachi's famous song - I was going to try and translate the whole thing, but frankly it's not easy, so I'll just give a sampler:
šħal šəft əlbəldan əl`amrin wəlbərr əlxali
šħal ð̣iyyə`t əwqat wəšħal tzid mazal ətxəlli

اشحال شفت البلدان العامرين والبر الخالي
اشحال ضيعت اوقات واشحال تزيد مازال تخلي

How many crowded cities and empty wilds you've seen,
How much time you've wasted - and how much more will you waste?

Incidentally - yes, the pessimism of both examples is characteristic.


Anonymous said...

Did you find it in print or just the review? It looks really interesting. I wish I would have had it when I did my research paper on Algeria last year.

Is it available in stores in the UK? I've not been able to find it in any stores (it is on Amazon though).

Thanks for the heads up. This will be a gift for my ba this year. :)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I found it in SOAS library here in London - I doubt it's still in print, but you never know. There are other books on melhoun poetry, but mostly in French and extremely old, or even in German, like the one I came across the other day:

So what's your BA gonna be on?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link. I will look for some in the university libraries around here.

I will probably study Middle Eastern Studies (or European studies) or International Relations. I want to minor in history. I am trying to decide either Middle East or European (I have this thing about the Napoleonic Wars and that whole Congress of Vienna period), but it will probably end up being ME Studies. I want to study Arab intellectual history primarily, I also like German intellectual history, so I am not sure yet, but one or the other! What did you study?