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Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded PDF E-mail

Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded

by Yusuf al Shirbini’s

translated by Humphrey Davies


I’ll flee your country for a thousand years,

Traveling each year for a thousand miles,

And were you to give us a thousand Egypts,

Each watered by a thousand Niles,

Our hearts would be so sick at you,

Your lands we’d gladly for good eschew

And, taking leave, this lay,

Passed down by noble hands, I’d say,

“When a boor alights at their tents,

It’s time for the tribe to go thence!”




We are a tribe whom the wide-eyed pupil

Melts, though we melt iron ourselves.

In war, you’ll find us noble men;

In peace, we’re slaves to singing girls.


Ma‘n ibn Za’ida


Raising the skirt from off her cunt

I found the hair thereon as black as any Moor.

“What’s this I see?”  I asked.

 “A eunuch,” she said, “who writes down every visitor.

But now the weather’s cold, while hair is warm,

So go to it, good fellow, without demur, and slam that door!”




I saw a leper deep down in a well

And another with vitiligo whose shit on him fell.

Said I, “Behold what your Lord hath wrought—

The like of a thing attracts its own sort!”




I loved, I was abased.

Starvation made my body waste.

Two years it seemed to last,

That day my heart made its unlawful fast.[1]

By Him before whom the hills collapse,

The penniless lover deserves a volley of slaps!




When friends lie down to sleep, leave me alone

With a boy who’s ripe for a stealthy poke.

The sweetest of fucks are without consent,

When the lover says no, or for fear of prying folk.


Abu Nuwas.


When I think of you whom I adore

The snot my beard goes running o’er.

Would you were with me when I empty my gut—

You’d push your tongue right up my butt.

The rain in the skies has been stopped by your breeze,

Which also with phlegm has filled my knees.

If you don’t save me, I’ll throw in the towel,

For love has gone and loosened my bowel!




Your miller’s a radiant beauty -

Can’t get him out of my mind!

With waist so slim I wish I knew

How much he charges per grind!




Harun al-Rashid one day passed a young slave girl who was for sale and said, “By God, were it not for a few freckles on her face and a snubness to her nose, I would buy her!” at which the girl recited:


The gazelle for all his beauty is not without,

Nay, nor the moon with whom the poets are besotted:

The gazelle has a snub nose for all to see

And the moon, as all know, is spotted.


Unnamed slave girl.


It happened that someone fell in love with a Jewish youth who was very keen on bell-ringing.[2]  One day he passed him as he was ringing the bells and uttered the following verses:


I saw him ring the bell and said,

“Who taught this fawn to ring the bell?”

And, “Soul,” said I, “Which like you best?

The (w)ringing of the bell, or of your heart? Think well!”




“Fornicator” they call the one who loves cute girls

While the lover of smooth boys they call “Bugger,”

So chastely to bearded men I turned

For I’d rather be neither one nor t’other!




Bearded now is the lad who

Once with himself was so smitten.

“Comely” once was his face

But soon it got re-written.[3]

How my sight was gladdened

When it saw him thus and was cured!

Thanks be to God for a beard

That a nape, from a face, procured!




He plundered us all with his charms,

Till God put his beauty to sack.

His beard appeared and that was it—

“God spared the Believers attack.”[4]




God did not do to the Jews

Nor to "Ad or Thamud[5] and their race,

Nor yet to Pharaoh when he defied Him,

What hairiness does to the face!




I see Fate lifting every scoundrel high

And humbling those with noble traits—

Just like the sea, which drowns all living things

While every stinking carcass to its surface levitates,

Or like the scale, which raises all that’s light

But sinks with weights.




Patience! You’d rush to thank the Lord of Every Boon,

If you but knew what benefits in patience lie!

And know that should you not endure with grace

What by the Pen is writ, you will perforce comply!




“One kiss!”  I asked the full moon high in the sky. 

“By Him who draped the clouds,” he said, “I will comply!”

But when we met with none about,

I reckoned wrong and lost all count!




And I myself said on the same theme:[6]


I saw upon his cheek a stippled mark that beauty held—

He whom an earring had made yet sweeter to behold.

“I want a kiss” I said. Said he, “When we’re alone!”

And on that “stipulation” I kissed a thousand-fold!


Yusuf al-Shirbini


Would that you’d seen me and my darling

When like a deer he from me fled

And ran away, and I gave chase;

Would you’d seen us when after hot pursuit he said,

“Will you not leave me be?” and I said, “No!”

And he, “What would you of me?” and I, “You know!”

And he then stayed aloof and shyly turned his back,

And proudly turned, not to me, but away -

For then I almost kissed him, right in front of everyone.

Ah would I now could do what then I should have done!




An amusing story has it that one day Abu Nuwas was walking in the streets of Baghdad when he saw a beautiful youth and kissed him in front of everyone. He and the youth were brought before the judge Yahya ibn Akyam[7] and the youth brought charges against Abu Nuwas.  After bowing his head in silence for a moment, the judge recited:[8]


If you object to being groped and kissed

Don’t go to market without a veil;

Don’t lower lashes o’er a forelock

And don’t display upon your temple a scorpion-curl,

For as you are you slay the weak, drive the lover to delerium,

And leave the Muslims’ judge in dire travail!


The youth in turn bowed his head in silence for a while and then recited:[9]

We came to you first for justice between us,

But after hope there followed despair.

When will the world and its people go right

If the judge of the Muslims fucks boys in the rear?


Various attributions.


Hate not the flea—

Its name is Charity

And though you know it not

It also helps a lot:

In sucking bad blood

Its charity lies;

By rousing you at dawn for prayer

Its help it supplies.


Al-Jalal al-Suyuti.


O you who’re stoned on dope for lack of wine

(That vap’rous draught around whose fires men meet)

When you are high, I do advise you, Don’t

Taste what’s sour, do taste what’s sweet!




O Lord, relieve us of our woe – O Lor!

O Lord, seize upon our shaykh, with facial hair galore!

His testes when he’s bended o’er

Are like two chickens pecking grain up off the floor.



I wonder at one has sex with girls

When there’s a beardless boy in sight.

Aren’t we all agreed from the start

A stallion’s the better mount in a fight?


Abu Nuwas.


I crept up at night on a boy most cute

And rode like a hawk with his back in my clutch.

Waking, he asked “Who’s this who’s won his suit?”

Said I, “A blind man, poking with his crutch!”




They hold you high on your debut—

Something dear for a dear hand to hold.

But Muslin, when you fade, they toss you out—

And so it was for me, when I grew old.




And a boy like a bough

On which my heart is ever descending.

Sweet his speech

But with a sweetness heart-rending.

I both protest, and praise, its work—

Marvel, then, at one complaining and commending!


Ibn al-Farid.


Yusuf al Shirbini was a celebrated 17th century Egyptian satirist. Humphrey Davis is a noted translator from the Arabic.




[1] The poet plays with the idea that the day on which the lover is unsure of whether his beloved returns his affections (yawm al-qakk “the day of doubt”) is a “fast.” However, to fast on such a day would be forbidden, since the “day of doubt” is also the name given by the jurists to that day of which one doubts “whether it be the last of one [lunar] month or the first of the next” (Lane 1865 s.v. qakk), especially when that day falls at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan or at the start of the next month of Qa"ban, fasting being forbidden under such circumstances.

[2] “Bell-ringing” (darb al-naqus): literally the beating of a plank with rods, the functional equivalent of bell-ringing in the West; elsewhere the youth is described as a monk, which fits better (al-Ibqihi II, 231). Though anonymous, the verses are well known, occurring in Alf Layla wa-Layla (1836 II, 436), and have been set to music in modern times and sung by the Iraqi Sa"dun al-Bayyati. In the verse, the poet plays on the homonyms darb al-nawaqisi (“the ringing of the bells”) and darb al-nawa qisi (“the wringing of your heart (literally, the pain of separation)? Think well!”).

[3]  I.e., the letters of the word حسن “comely, handsome” have been re-written with the addition of dots above the two first letters, so that the word becomes خشن “coarse.”

[4] “God spared the Believers attack”: Qur'an XXXIII, 25.

[5] "Ad and Thamud: ancient tribes of Arabia, both mentioned in the Qur'an as having been wiped out by disasters in punishment for misdeeds (in "Ad's case, by a violent storm (Qur'an VII, 65; XI, 58, etc.) or a draught (Qur'an XI, 52), in Yamud's by an earthquake (Qur'an VII, 78) or a thunderbolt (Qur'an XLI, 13 and 17)).

[6] “I myself said”: in fact, the verses are very similar to others written by Ibn Nubata (686/1287 to 768/1366) about an Abyssinian youth and the last hemistich is identical to Ibn Nubata’s (al-Ibqihi II, 230). 

[7] Died 242/857, chief justice of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun and representative in adab literature of the “supposed inclination of judges towards forbidden homosexuality” (Rosenthal 1997 p.30; Zirikli VIII, 138).

[8] These verses occur in varying forms in a number of disparate contexts; see, e.g., Ibn Kallikan VI, 152ff, where they are described as having being addressed to a youthful Hasan ibn Wahb (later an important official in the Abbasid bureaucracy) after the latter objected to the judge’s own advances.

[9] These verses are quoted, with different frame stories and differences of wording, by, e.g., al-Mas"udi (1958: IV, 23) and Ibn Kallikan (VI, 152ff), who attribute them to Raqid ibn Ishaq (240/854—?), and by al-Isfahani (XVIII, 91), who attributes them to Ibrahim ibn Abi Muhammad al-Yazidi.

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