Further reviews:

Articles in the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabî Society, are listed on the Journals page.


Stations of Desire - Love Elegies of Ibn 'Arabi and New Poems, Michael Sells

Ibis Editions, Jerusalem, 2000. Paperback, 136pp.

This small book of poems contains 24 new translations from Ibn 'Arabi's Tarjuman al-Ashwâq (Translators of Desires) by one of the best translators of early Arabic poetry around today.

The Tarjuman in its 1911 translation by R. A. Nicholson was one of the first works of Ibn 'Arabi to be translated into English, and is therefore a well-known work in the west. It is usually accompanied by the commentary which Ibn 'Arabi himself wrote - a dense and often baffling text intended to elucidate the mystical meaning of the verses. But here, Sells presents the forms of the poems by themselves, and makes no attempt to provide a scholarly context for them, by placing them, for instance, in the ancient Arabic tradition of the nasib. Instead, he lets the images and the sentiments speak for themselves, and in his short introduction, and final glossary, gives just a few clues to the symbology of the Arabic love poem, centred as it is upon the desert and the 'abandoned camps of the beloved', whose fleeting presence and inevitable departure is represented by the figures of gazelles and elusive maidens with henna-tipped fingers. In the course of translation, he found himself writing poems himself, and some of these are also presented here, sandwiched between his renditions of the Tarjuman. This is his rendering of a section of poem 48:

In Memory of those who melt the soul forever

Their spring meadows
are desolate now. Still, desire
for them lives always
in our heart, never dying.

These are their ruins.
These are the tears
in memory of those
who melt the heart forever.

I called out, following after
You are so full with beauty,
I've nothing.

I rubbed my face in the dust,
laid low by the fever of love.
By the privilege of the right of desire for you
don't shatter the heart
of a man drowned in his words,
burned alive
in sorrow.
Nothing can save him now.

You want a fire?
Take it easy. This passion
is incandescent. Touch it.
It will light your own.