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The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: I was passing through one of the towns of Ahwaz when my supreme object was to capture a stray word, 6 or add to my store an eloquent expression. My journeying led me to a vast open space of the town where lo!

p. 74

there was a company of people gathered around and listening to a man who was tapping the ground with beats which varied not, I knew there must be a tune with those beats. So I withdrew not, in order that I might enjoy the song or hear a chaste expression, but remained among the spectators, shouldering this one and pushing that one, until I reached the man. I passed my eye over him 1and I found him to be a person short and portly like a beetle, 2 blind, and wrapped up in a woollen blanket, whirling round like a top, wearing a burnous 3 too long for him, and supporting himself with a staff to which were attached a number of tiny bells. With this he was beating the ground with a rythmical sound, while with plaintive air and pathetic voice proceeding from a straightened breast, he sang:--

'O people my debt weighs down my back, 4
And my wife demands her dowry,
After abundance and plenty, I have become
A dweller in a barren land and an ally of penury.
O people, is there a generous man among ye,
Who will aid me against the vicissitudes of time?
O people, because of my poverty my patience is exhausted,
While now no flowing robes my state conceal,
Time with its destroying hand hath scattered
What I had of silver and gold;
In the evening I repair to a house the size of a span,
My lot is obscure and my pot is small.
If God but seal my affair with good,
He will send me ease after difficulty.
Is there among ye a worthy youth of noble origin,
Who will acquire through me a great reward?
Even though he value not thankfulness?'

Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: By Heavens! my heart became tender towards him and my eyes were filled with tears for him.

p. 75

[paragraph continues] So I gave him a dinar I had with me. And he delayed not but said:--

'What beauty is hers 1 and how intensely yellow.
Light, stamped and round,
Water almost drops from her lustre,
A noble mind hath produced her,
Yea, a soul of a youth possessed by generosity,
Which makes him do what it will.
O thou for whom this praise is meant,
Exaggeration cannot describe the extent of thy worth.
I therefore refer thee to God 2 with whom is thy reward.
May God have mercy upon him who will bind her to her pair
And associate her with her sister.'

The people then gave him what they were disposed to give. Then he left them. But I followed him, for I knew by the quickness with which he recognized the dinar that he was feigning blindness. As soon as we were alone 3 I stretched forth my right hand, seized his left arm and said: 'By Heavens! thou shalt disclose to me thy secret, or else I will assuredly expose thee.' Then he opened his pair of almonds. 4 I drew his veil from his face and behold--by Heavens! it was our Sheikh Abú’l-Fatḥ, al-Iskanderí. Said I: 'Art thou Abú’l-Fatḥ?' He answered: 'Nay;

I am Abú Qalamún, 5 In every hue do I appear,
Choose a base calling, For base is thy age,
Repel time 6 with folly, For verily time is a kicking camel.
Never be deceived by reason, Madness is the only reason.' 7



73:6 To capture a stray word: The collecting of () rare words was a favourite pursuit.

74:1 I passed my eye over him: Literally, from him to.

74:2 Like a beetle: The Qarambá is an insect resembling the beetle called Khanfasá. It is said 'the Qarambá in the eye of its mother is beautiful.' Arab Proverbs, ii, 253.

74:3 Burnous: Worn by devotees in the first age of Islám; any garment of which the head forms a part. Some say it is from meaning cotton and the augmentive. It appears to be a foreign word.

74:4 O people my debt weighs down: Metre, rejez.

75:1 What beauty is hers! Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 34. Metre, rejez.

75:2 I refer thee to God: Literally, go to God.

75:3 We were alone: Literally, seclusion strung us together.

75:4 Pair of almonds: Figurative for both eyes.

75:5 I am Abú Qalamún: Metre, mujtath.

Abú Qalamún: a kind of variegated Greek fabric. The expression is used to describe a very fickle person. (Ibn al-Athír, Kunya Lexicon (Kitab al-Muraṣṣ’a, Edited by Seybold, p. 175.)

This maqáma has been translated by De Sacy, Chrestomathie Arabe, iii, 251.

75:6 Repel time: Cf. De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 304,

75:7 Cf. This maqáma with De Sacy, Ḥarírí, i, 75, where the impostor also feigns blindness.

Next: XVII. The Maqáma of Bukhára