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  • Translating Dickinson's "There came a Day at Summer's full" into Arabic
  • Nabil Alawi (bio)

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[End Page 84]

Lakad Ja'a yaumun fi Iz assif There came a Day at Summer's full,
kuluhu min ajlee Entirely for me—
Waqad thanantu anna mithlu hathihi al ayyam Lil qideeseen I thought that such were for the Saints,
Haithu ya kunu al irtika'. Where Resurrections—be—
Ash shamsu qad ghabat wara' al hudud The Sun, as common, went abroad,
Waz zuhuru ka a'datiha tatayarat The flowers, accustomed, blew,
Wal i'itidal allathi yujadidu al ashya'a As if no soul the solstice passed
Marra duna an yashhada anna liruhin wujood That maketh all things new—
Walam y'aba' alwqtu bilhadith The time was scarce profaned, by speech—
Ith anna al hajata lidalalat al kalimat kanat The symbol of a word
Ka hajat al rub limalabisihi Was needless, as at Sacrament,
Inda al asha' al a kheer. The Wardrobe—of our Lord—
kullun kan lil akhar kanisatan mughlaqatan Each was to each The Sealed Church,
Sumeha lana an natahawar hathihi al marra Permitted to commune this—time—
Fa d'ana la nakunu muz'ijeen Lest we too awkward show
Fi hadarat al asha' arrabbani At Supper of the Lamb.
Wa marrat ass sa'at haithu anna ass sa'at tamurru The Hours slid fast—as Hours will,
Wa ta'ankna bi ayden shariha Clutched tight, by greedy hands—
Haithu wajhein ala safinntayn yanthurani ila al khalf So faces on two Decks, look back,
Mutawajehayni ila aradin muta'akisa Bound to opposing lands—
Wa indama nazafa al waktu kulahu And so when all the time had leaked,
Duna sawten khariji Without external sound
Kulun minna salab al akhar fi wijhatehi Each bound the Other's Crucifix—
Dun an ya'tiyahu wa'dun bil khalas We gave no other Bond—
Wa yakfina al wa'ad ba'annana sa nas'adu Sufficient troth, that we shall rise—
Wa nanfudu al qabra ala tulihi Deposed—at length, the Grave—
Ila az zawaj al akheer To that new Marriage,
Musadaqun Ôalihi bilhub al maslub. Justified—through Calvaries of Love—

An Early Interest in Dickinson's Poems

Arabic interest in Emily Dickinson's poetry began immediately after the publication of the first collection of her poems, Poems by Emily Dickinson, in 1890 under the editorship of Mrs. Mabel Loomis Todd and Colonel Higginson. In 1891, the July 16th issue of Nation wrote about "an Arabic translation of Dickinson's poems made in Syria" and that it had "passed through several issues." The same news was repeated in the Critic and in the Christian Union two days later and two weeks later in Kansas City Star.

The news about an Arabic interest and a consequent translation of the poems of Emily Dickinson surprised the editor of the Kansas City Star; he wrote: "Emily Dickinson's poems, which are not well-known even in this, her native country, are said to have passed through several editions in the [End Page 85] Arabic." Today, however, the news ceases to surprise. The nineteenth century witnessed an active movement of translating literary and religious texts from English into Arabic. The Bible took a major part of their concern; following the Bible were religious sermons, hymns, or prayers. Several religious texts from the nineteenth century that were translated from English into Arabic survived. The most well-known is "Sablib al Masih" (Christ's cross), a collection of twenty hymns which was translated by an anonymous translator. Arab philologists such as Nasif al Yaziji (1800-1971) and Butrus al Bustani (1819-83) were employees at the American mission in Beirut in the 1840's, and their jobs facilitated contact with American culture. These figures were contemporaries of Emily Dickinson. Al Bustani went to Abeih Seminary, which was similar to Dickinson's Mount Holyoke Seminary. However, both Al-Bustani and Al-Yaziji died before the publication of Emily Dickinson's poems and after they laid the foundation for an interest in theological literature coming from the United States among Christian Arabs.

Emily Dickinson's familiarity with the Middle East, particularly the Arab World, seems to have been strengthened...


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