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255 255 A Visit to Heaven and Hell, by Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī 732 The maverick Abū l-ʿAlāʾ (d. 449/1057) has already appeared as poet, above. His prose works are no less remarkable than his verse. In his Risālat alGhufr ān (The Epistle of Forgiveness) he mockingly imagines how a contemporary of his, the philologist Ibn al-Qāriḥ, has entered (not without difficulty ) Heaven. There he converses with colleagues and poets, and during an excursion to Hell he meets further poets and heretics from the past. The story satirizes not only the protagonist but apparently also some popular conceptions of the Hereafter (as well as what seems to be medieval bureaucracy ). It is set in the imagined future and therefore told in the present tense in Arabic. Many of the discussions are on technical matters of linguistics and philology; some more accessible passages have been translated here. The text uses sajʿ occasionally, which has been imitated in the translation. At the beginning of the first passage, Ibn al-Qāriḥ is at the entrance of Paradise, on the Last Day; he is telling some fellow human how he arrived at that place. Then the shaykh says (may God make him speak meritoriously when he says something, if his Lord will him to say something): I’ll tell you my own story. After I got up and rose from my grave and had arrived at the Plane of Resurrection (“plane” being like “plain,” with a different spelling ),733 I thought of the Qur’anic verse, «To Him the angels and the Spirit ascend in a day the length of which is fifty thousand years. So be patient in a decent manner .»734 It did seem a long time to me; I got parched and torrid (meaning “very hot, with not a puff of wind”), as your friend al-Numayrī says:735 The girls, in their wraps, are like ostrich eggs exposed by drizzle and the heat of a sultry night. I am easily desiccated (that is, “quick to thirst”), so I thought about my situation, which I found quite unbearable. There came an angel to me, the one that had recorded all the good deeds I had performed. I found that my good deeds were 256 256 256 256 Prose as few as tussocks of grass in a destitute year (a tussock being a tuft of vegetation, destitute being a drought). But my repentance at the end shone like a light, bright like a lamp for travelers at night. When I had stood there for one or two months, fearing I would drown in my sweat, I persuaded myself that I should compose a few lines for Riḍwān, Paradise’s Porter Angel. I made them on the meter and rhyme pattern of Stop, you two, for the memory of a beloved, and the recognition…736 In them I incorporated the name of Riḍwān. Then I jostled my way through the people until I stood where he could hear and see me, but I don’t think he noticed what I said. I waited for a short while, perhaps ten days in earthly reckoning, and then I made some lines on the pattern of The gathered clans have parted. If I’d had my way, they wouldn’t have. They severed bonds of loving union.737 Again I mentioned Riḍwān in it; I approached him and did as before. But he did not appear to hear: it was as if I tried to move Mount Thabīr,738 or attempted to extract scent from cement (“cement” being a mixture of limestone and clay). Then I continued with all other metrical patterns that could accommodate “Riḍwān” until I had exhausted them. Still he did not help me and I don’t think he even understood what I said. When I had tried everything without success I cried out as loud as I could, “Riḍwān, who are trusted by the Omnipotent Almighty, charged with guarding Paradise! Can’t you hear me calling on you for help?” He replied, “I heard you mention Riḍwān, but I had no idea that you meant me. What do you want, poor wretch?” “I am a man who cannot endure to be dehydrated (that is thirsty); it is for the Reckoning that I have waited and waited. I’ve got my Document of Repentance, which cancels all my sins. I have...


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