In 1201, Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi arrived in Mecca. Among the many people who impressed him one drew his attention above all others: Niz m, the daughter of a prominent religious teacher. As Beatrice did for Dante, Niz m soon inspired a sequence of love poems that are Ibn 'Arabi's poetic masterpiece, Tarjum n al-Asw q (The Interpreter of Desire).
Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi was known as Shaykh al-Akbar (the Greatest Shaykh), a title given him due to his profound knowledge as a mystic, theologian, philosopher and legalist. Scholars are devoting much labour to translating and interpreting Ibn 'Arabi's voluminous prose writings, but his poetry remains little known by Western readers compared with that of his fellow Sufis, Rumi, Attar and Hafiz.
This collection reveals that with his intense feeling, vivid imagery, and the playful way he reworked the conventions of Bedouin desert poetry, Ibn 'Arabi wrote poems that deserve to be placed alongside the best of his illustrious Sufi compatriots. Keith Hill's engaging new English language versions will be welcomed not just by those attracted to Sufi literature, but by all who enjoy enchanting love poetry.
THE LOVER'S LAMENT
I wish I knew if they knew
whose heart they had captured.
I wish my heart could know
what mountain pass they travelled.
Is it through living or dying
that they have endured?
Perplexed, lovers lose the path;
lost in love, they die enraptured.
A LOVER'S PLEA
When they departed, my patience
and endurance departed,
yet that absent traveller still
lives inside my churning chest.
I asked my guides where riders
at noon make their rest.
They answered: "Where desire
and absence spread their scent."
So I begged the East Wind:
"Go and search through the estates,
find where in the groves they shelter,
shaded beneath their tents.
"There give them greeting
from one whose life is one long lament
due to the age that, from his heart
companions, he has been absent."