The Poetry of Ibn 'Arabi

Poetry is an essential dimension of Ibn 'Arabi's work. His well-known Tarjuman al-Ashwaq is entirely made up of poems, but there is a great deal of verse in his other writings. Roger Deladriere found that there were more than 7000 lines of verse in the Futuhat al-Makkiyya, for example. For more in depth about the place of poetry in Ibn 'Arabi's writing, see the article by Claude Addas, The Ship of Stone.

The year 2011 is the centenary of the publication of R.A. Nicholson's translation of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq.

A garden among the flames

O Marvel,
a garden among the flames!

My heart can take on
any form:
a meadow for gazelles,
a cloister for monks,

For the idols, sacred ground,
Ka'ba for the circling pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the scrolls of the Qur'án.

I profess the religion of love;
wherever its caravan turns along the way,
that is the belief,
the faith I keep.

From Poem 11 of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, translation by Michael A. Sells.


An Ocean without Shore

I marveled at an Ocean without shore,
and at a Shore that did not have an ocean;
And at a Morning Light without darkness,
and at a Night that was without daybreak;
And then a Sphere with no locality
known to either fool or learned scholar;
And at an azure Dome raised over the earth,
circulating 'round its center – Compulsion;
And at a rich Earth without o'er-arching vault
and no specific location, the Secret concealed...

From the Kitab 'Anqâ' mughrib, one of the earliest surviving works by Ibn 'Arabi. Read the whole poem.


I laid my little daughter to rest

With my very own hands I laid my little daughter to rest because she is of my very flesh,
Thus am I constrained to submit to the rule of parting, so that my hand is now empty and contains nothing.
Bound to this moment we are in, caught between the yesterday that has gone and the tomorrow that is yet to come.
This flesh of mine is as pure silver, while my inner reality is as pure gold.
Like a bow have I grown, and my true posture is as my rib.
My Lord it is who says that He has created me in a state of suffering and loss.
How then can I possibly hope for any rest, dwelling as I do in such a place and state?

Read more here: Two poems from the Diwan


The hand of trial

I wonder at the house He has built and shaped,
placing therein a noble spirit, putting it to the trial.
He destroyed it utterly, as if He had not built it.
Who can put it together for me, who can make it last?
He knew full well what He had set up –
Would that I knew what He knew!

Why did He not from the first build that house
as a lasting structure whose life does not disappear?
It did nothing to make it deserve ruin,
so why did He raise it up, and why did He lay it waste?
The hand of trial toyed with us and it
and after a time restored it and raised it high.
Returned to the house, the spirit mounted upon its throne
as a king, making its inhabitants immortal,
Blessing it with an Eden and an everlasting Garden,
causing it to dwell in paradise and shelter.

From the translation of Chapter 317 of the Futuhat al-Makkiyyah (a pdf file), p.5.


Wild is she, none can make her his friend

When she kills with her glances, her speech restores to life, as tho she, in giving life thereby, were Jesus.
The smooth surface of her legs is (like) the Tora in brightness, and I follow it and tread in its footsteps as tho' I were Moses.
She is a bishopess, one of the daughters of Rome, unadorned: thou seest in her a radiant Goodness.
Wild is she, none can make her his friend; she has gotten in her solitary chamber a mausoleum for remembrance.
She has baffled everyone who is learned in our religion, every student of the Psalms of David, every Jewish doctor, and every Christian priest.
If with a gesture she demands the Gospel, thou wouldst deem us to be priests and patriarchs and deacons.
The day when they departed on the road, I prepared for war the armies of my patience, host after host.

From Poem 2 of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, translated by R.A. Nicholson.


Poem 14

He saw the lightning in the east and longed for the east,
but if it had flashed in the west he would have longed for the west.
My desire is for the lightning and its gleam, not for the places and the earth.

The east wind related to me from them a tradition handed down successively,
from distracted thoughts,
from my passion,
from anguish,
from my tribulation,
From rapture,
from my reason,
from yearning,
from ardour,
from tears,
from my eyelid,
from fire,
from my heart,
That "He whom you love is between your ribs; the breaths toss him from side to side."

I said to the east wind, "Bring a message to him and say that he is the enkindler of the fire within my heart
If it shall be quenched, then everlasting union, and if it shall burn, then no blame to the lover!"

Poem 14 of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, translated by R.A. Nicholson.


Approach the dwellings of the dear ones

Approach the dwelling place of the dear ones who have taken covenants –
may clouds of incessant rain pour upon it!

And breathe the scent of the wind over against their land,
in desire that the sweet airs may tell thee where they are.

I know that they encamped at the ban tree of Idam,
where the arar plants grow and the shih and the katam.

Poem 60 of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, translated by R.A. Nicholson; see The Ransom and the Ruin.


Listen, O dearly beloved

What follows is not a poem in the Arabic, but part of a chapter from the Kitab al-Tajalliyat. However, since it was translated in the form of a poem by Henry Corbin in Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi, it has become deservedly famous.

Listen, O dearly beloved!
I am the reality of the world, the centre of the circumference,
I am the parts and the whole.
I am the will established between Heaven and Earth,
I have created perception in you only in order to be the
object of my perception.
If then you perceive me, you perceive yourself.
But you cannot perceive me through yourself,
It is through my eyes that you see me and see yourself,
Through your eyes you cannot see me.

Dearly beloved!
I have called you so often and you have not heard me
I have shown myself to you so often and you have not
seen me.
I have made myself fragrance so often, and you have
not smelled me.
Savorous food, and you have not tasted me.
Why can you not reach me through the object you touch
Or breathe me through sweet perfumes?
Why do you not see me? Why do you not hear me?
Why? Why? Why?