May 2009


Having a disabled daughter taught me a very good lesson early on.

After she was born, her mother and I used to take her to an early intervention centre. With the best of intentions, we were keen to push to her do the best she could as early as possible, which was a reasonable aim.

However, we pushed much too hard. We were always encouraging her to go one step further, physically and intellectually. We weren’t unkind to her, but children are very sensitive, and we caused her a lot of unnecessary stress. When she was about 3 years old, she started to develop behaviour problems, she was always unhappy and she lost a lot of hair (Down’s Syndrome kids are prone to this). So we mellowed our own behaviour, we enrolled her in a much more fun and relaxed special learning centre, her hair grew back and she became the happy kid we have now.

I learnt something quite important from this.

She has her limits. We can help to achieve her maximum, but she is disabled, she’s got a limit beyond which — barring a miracle from God — she isn’t going to go. She’s not going to be a great academic or an athlete.

And that’s OK.

And then I thought, well, I have my limits, too. I’m never going to Einstein or Newton, and that’s OK too. We all have our maximum. God created us with certain gifts, some of them in one area and some in another, but, as Jesus said, none of us can make ourselves taller just by thinking about it, and none of us can go further than the furthest we can go.

We can fulfil our potential, or at least try, but we’re never going to go beyond it.

It was good to realise that. It made me more relaxed about myself, and more relaxed about my other daughter. Living in Japan now, where most parents place a lot of unnecessary pressure on their kids, I am even more glad to have the chance to learn that.

The one who tastes, knows

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

– Rabia al-Adawiyya

What are you going to do with your ego?

Suppose you can recite a thousand holy
verses from memory.
What are you going to do
with your ego, the true
mark of the heretic?

– Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

To your mind

To your mind feed understanding,
to your heart, tolerance and compassion.
The simpler your life, the more meaningful.

– Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

Best forgotten

Those with no sense of honor and dignity are best avoided.
Those who change colors constantly
are best forgotten.

– Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

“The broken ones are my darlings”

Let sorrowful longing dwell in your heart,
never give up, never losing hope.
The Beloved says, “The broken ones are My darlings.”
Crush your heart, be broken.

– Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

Burn me in Hell

O Lord,
If I worship You
From fear of Hell, burn me in Hell.

O Lord,
If I worship You
From hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship You for Yourself alone
Then grace me forever the splendor of Your Face.

– Rabia al-Adawiyya

Spring Morning

Opening my eyes
On a cozy spring morning,
Woke up so late,
The sunlight is already high above
Every corner filling with the sounds
Of birds singing outside cheerfully.

Last night
In my half-woken dream
I heard
The wind blowing,
The rain drops spattering down
On roofs. On petals.
How many flowers have been
Blown down and smashed by the ruthless rain?

Who would be concerned about that?

–Mèng Hàorán
translation: Peng Qiu Lin [ May 2009 ]

Another beautiful translation by Qiu Lin.

The theme of this poem is very meaningful to me. Good times are so wonderful, they make us forgetful.

Life is full of sorrow. All our happiness happens against a background of sorrow. The human spirit is in a continuous battle against despair. All our eras of prosperity have been preceded by eras or suffering or war. Happy times make us forget the sadness that came before: the loved ones who aren’t with us, who died: so many of them.

Perhaps that forgetfulness is a good thing. How could we ever enjoy a lovely Spring morning if we mourned for every flower smashed by the rain?

Late Spring

Late Spring:
Petals. Fallen. Whirling. Constantly.
Even if withered
They still try to blossom;
In more and more passions.

Swallow’s nest under the
Dwarfish roof of my thatched cottage.
Every day, the birds are flying, coming and going.

Deep, late in the night,
the cuckoo was still singing:
So devoted! So shrilly,
Until she was bleeding.

The songbird doesn’t believe that
With her enthusiasm,
she cannot bring back
The spring now passed away.

–Wang Ling
translation: Peng Qiu Lin [ May 2009 ]

My friend Qiu Lin made this translation.

She says Chinese classical poetry is usually translated very badly. The translations try to be exact, but the effect they create is very dry; quite unlike the feeling of the original Chinese. Chinese is rich in connotation; and the vocabulary of these short poems is rich in layers of subtle meaning, which she has attempted to convey in her freer translation.

I think it’s very good. The result in English is a very beautiful poem. Qiu Lin has a great intuition for the right word to use in English. I’ve read translations Chinese poetry before, but none of them have touched me until now.

This translation also makes much clearer the many levels of metaphorical meaning in the poem — much more so than a dry translation would. Getting older, I feel like that songbird, trying to call back past times with her defiant but futile enthusiasm!

More Sufi poetry…

The one who tastes, knows

In love, nothing exists between heart and heart.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

— Rabia al-Adawiyya

What are you going to do with your ego?

Suppose you can recite a thousand holy
verses from memory.
What are you going to do
with your ego, the true
mark of the heretic?

— Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

To your mind

To your mind feed understanding,
to your heart, tolerance and compassion.
The simpler your life, the more meaningful.

— Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

Best forgotten

Those with no sense of honor and dignity are best avoided.
Those who change colors constantly
are best forgotten.

— Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

“The broken ones are my darlings”

Let sorrowful longing dwell in your heart,
never give up, never losing hope.
The Beloved says, “The broken ones are My darlings.”
Crush your heart, be broken.

— Shaikh Abu Saeed Abil Kheir – “Nobody, Son of Nobody”

Burn me in Hell

O Lord,
If I worship You
From fear of Hell, burn me in Hell.

O Lord,
If I worship You
From hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship You for Yourself alone
Then grace me forever the splendor of Your Face.

— Rabia al-Adawiyya

More poems by Wadih Sa’adeh.

Life

        
Wasting time,
he sketched a vase.
He drew a flower in the vase.
Perfume rose from the paper.
He drew a jug.
Having sipped a little water,
he poured some over the flower.
He drew a room
with a bed,
then he slept.
        
When he awoke
he drew an ocean,
a fathomless ocean,
which swept him away.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn

The Dead Are Sleeping

        
They were innocent people.
They would caress their children’s hair in the dusk,
dropping off to sleep.

        
They were innocent, simple people,
sweating during the day and smiling.
On their way home they would pause before shop windows,
measuring with their eyes the size of children’s clothes,
then walk on.

        
They would take one step
in the early breath of dawn
to touch the tree trunks.
During January frosts,
while they were watching,
some branches would bear fruit.
Their scythes yearned for the fields,
the air in the village was waiting for their cries.
Suddenly their wheat became ribs,
the breeze and grass, rooted
in their bodies.

        
They were innocent, simple people.
Every evening the sun slid its silky mantle
over their souls.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn

If

        
The last thing he saw
was the cat, seeing him off at the door.
He had locked the door but he returned
and unlocked it,
so neighbours could enter as always,
if they wished to do so.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn

There’s a disconnect between the Middle East and the West: Wadih Sa’adeh is a highly regarded writer in Arabic, but in the West he’s almost unknown.

The poems above are from “A Secret sky”, a book of Wadih’s poems translated
from Arabic by Anne Fairburn. It’s a sad book, very gentle: about the war in Lebanon, the dead, the dispossessed and the refugees.

I met Wadih several times, at my friend, Fassih Keiso’s home. They would be drinking coffee, tea or Arak, speaking mostly Arabic. I would plunk away on the guitar, then we would converse in English for a while, then back to Arabic and plunking. It was all very relaxed and very normal, but special, too. He’s a very nice gentleman: extremely interesting and intelligent, with a deep, soft voice.

Sometimes you know people; you just think of them as people you like: it’s easy not to realise how special and precious moments are. You may feel a real bond of love or friendship with someone; spend time with them, that you enjoy very much; all the while living in the illusion that this is your normal life, that can be enjoyed at leisure, again and again.

Then, suddenly, maybe sometimes after the briefest of acquaintances, that phase of your life is cut short; gone forever.

The ironic thing is, during this time, we were discussing “The Secret Sky,” that had just been translated, and the theme of so many is the poems is just that: how life is full of seemingly ordinary moments are really something exquisite and rare, that at any time could be cut short, by death, disaster, or just …ordinary events. Then you look back, much later, and something that seemed so ordinary at the time you realise in distant hindsight, was something quite beautiful.

(truthhope.net)

Life There

There she buried
her child, and waited
to lie beside him for years.
When finally
they lowered her down
into that soil,
She was only one day old
while he was already
an old man.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
Translated from the Arabic by Sargon Boulus

Night Visit

         They were telling their children about
the guardian angel of plants;
about a nightingale that had flown there at dawn
to sing in the mulberry tree above their window.
         They were telling them about the grapes
they would sell to buy new clothes.
About the special surprise the children
would find under their pillows at bedtime.
But some soldiers arrived,
stopped their stories,
leaving red splashes on the walls
         as they departed.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
Translated from the Arabic by Anne Fairbairn

Threshold

         He was dead
but he could feel their fingers on his forehead.
They laid his body in the centre of the house
on a bed they had hired,
like the one he should have bought.
         They dressed him
in clothes like those he had seen in city shops.
When they carried him out to be buried,
he left something strange on the threshold.
After that, whenever they entered the house
they shivered without knowing why.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
Translated from the Arabic by Anne Fairbairn

Next Page »