Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
leading incidents of the Romance was an afterthought. Even if Hamilton's volumes were readily accessible, which they are not, few mere English readers would care to go through his diffuse translation, which is rendered more unreadable by the magnificent poetry being printed without a break, often for two or more pages together. But the Epitome included in this volume will perhaps satisfy the curiosity of readers generally regarding a work of which assuredly a complete English translation will never be attempted.
The Shorter Arabian Poems, translated by Dr. Carlyle, and entitled, "Specimens of Arabian Poetry"—first published in 1796, and again in 1810—are confessedly paraphrases in English verse rather than translations. The selections, together with the translator's anecdotal notices of some of the authors, furnish, nevertheless, a concise history of Arabian literature during the most flourishing period of the Muslim empire.
But this volume must possess an interest and value far beyond what might otherwise possibly attach to it, in containing the famous Burda Poems of K‘Ab and El-Būsīrī, which are here presented for the first time in English, by Mr. J. W. Redhouse, whose high reputation for scholarship will be a sufficient guarantee to the English reader that the translations are as accurate as it is possible to render such enigmatical compositions into our language.
It may perhaps be thought somewhat strange that a mere English scholar—for my knowledge of
Arabic is as "nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity"—should have undertaken the task of editing a thesaurus of Arabian Poetry. But the original plan was very simple; and, to be perfectly candid, I thought myself not altogether incompetent to judge of what would likely be of interest to intelligent English readers. How the task has been performed, readers will, of course, decide for themselves.
The want of uniformity in the spelling of Arabic proper names in the several sections of the book is thus explained: Sir W. Jones’ translation of the Mu‘allaqāt is reprinted literatim as well as verbatim; and the same has been done in the case of Carlyle and others whose translations have been reproduced. Nearly every English Arabist of eminence has his own pet system of transliteration; and where doctors differ, who shall decide? In the Introduction, however, I have generally adopted Mr. Redhouse's system, confident that in so doing I followed a safe guide.
The subjects of the Introduction are necessarily treated with brevity: the volume exceeds in bulk by two-thirds the limit originally proposed; but the Appendix Notes will be found to supply much of what may appear wanting in the introductory matter.
I take this opportunity to gratefully acknowledge the valuable help which Mr. Redhouse has rendered me in the course of my work: I had but to make known to him my difficulties in order to have them promptly removed; but all the shortcomings and blunders must be ascribed to myself alone.
I have also to express my best thanks to all who have supported this humble attempt to popularise Arabian Poetry among English readers. By members of the Royal Asiatic Society generally the project has been warmly encouraged; and—although it can add nothing to their reputation—it affords me great pleasure to record that Mr. William Platt, Colonel W. Nassau Lees, Sir William Muir, Professor E. B. Cowell, of Cambridge, Rev. Professor R. Gandell, of Oxford, Professor W. Wright, of Cambridge, Rev. Professor W. P. Dickson, and Rev. Professor James Robertson, both of Glasgow University, were among the foremost to kindly express an interest in this little enterprise. I can but regret that the result, as here presented, should fall so far short of what it might have been in abler hands.
It only remains to add, that, in the course of this work, much out-of-the-way information had to be sought for, and I must have sorely tried the courtesy of my obliging friends: Mr. J. T. Clark, of the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh; Mr. James Lymburn, of the Glasgow University Library; and Mr. F. T. Barrett, of the Mitchell Public Library, Glasgow; who afforded me all the assistance in their power—directing my attention to little-known works, and furnishing me with useful bibliographical notes.
W. A. CLOUSTON.
Glasgow, December, 1880.