Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Pretty Little Girl With a Red Dress On

Carmina Burana 177 (tr. G.F. Whicher):
There stood a girl, in red she was gowned,
Her dress if you touched it made a
Swishing sound.

Like a little rose-tree there she stood —
Her cheeks blown roses
And her mouth a bud.

Stetit puella
rufa tunica;
siquis eam tetigit,
tunica crepuit.

Stetit puella
tamquam rosula:
facie splenduit,
et os eius floruit.
A poem by Ibn al-Ṣābūnī (13th century; tr. A.J. Arberry):
She is coming, coming,
So soft her tread,
A moon in gloaming

As if her glances
My lifeblood shed,
And wiped their lances
In her robe of red.
Arberry's discussion of Ibn al-Ṣābūnī's poem:
This is a very short poem, and at first reading perhaps appears very simple; the simplicity is a delusion. Take the phrase 'a moon in gloaming': this conjures up images which only a familiarity with Arab convention can illuminate. The 'moon' is the accepted metaphor for a beautiful face, pale and glowing; the 'gloaming' is a reference to the dark tresses which throw into relief the brilliance of the 'moon'. In the second stanza the poet elaborates the well-loved comparison of the glances of the beloved with spears aimed at the lover's heart; his heart is pierced by them, and her robe is crimsoned with his lifeblood. The poet, using hackneyed themes, has combined and refined them into a new and satisfying synthesis.

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