Outside & Subterranean Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (56): Some Quatrains from Sidi Abderrahman el Mejdub (Al Jadida, early 16C. –Meknes 1568)

Translation from Arabic by Abdelfetah Chenni & Pierre Joris

[As originally published in Joris & Tengour, Poems for the Millennium, volume 4: The University of California Book of North African Literature, 2012]

dirty and ugly they saw me there goes an empty head they said
in fact I am more like an open book        there’s much useful stuff
        inside this head

*

o my heart I burn you       and if you want I will do more
o my heart you shame me             because you like who doesn't
        like you.

*

neither think nor search too much        don’t always be
        despondent
the planets are not fixed                and life’s not eternal

*

don't play with your best friend's feelings          & if people insult
        him, ease his mind
who loves you, love him more      but if he betrays you, don't ever 
        be his friend again

*

all I’ve had in life is one goat                    but I’ve written beautiful 
        quatrains
many are fulfilled through God’s favor              yet claim those favors as
        their own labors

*

travel and you’ll get to know people       and owe obedience to the
        noble
the fathead with the pot-belly      sell him for a dime

*

my heart’s between a hammer & an anvil        & that damned 
        blacksmith has no pity
he keeps hammering & when it cools     he kindles the fire
        with his bellows

*

my weak heart can’t bear any pain          and by God you are
        barbarians
you supported me when I was strong                  and let me down
        when I grew weak

*

o you who sows the good grain by grain o you who sows
        the bad lot by lot
the good multiplies and rises        the bad withers and wastes
        away

*

don’t think of this time’s tightness         see how wide time is
        in God
difficulties wipe out the weak       but men wipe out difficulties

*

I suggest to you devourer of sheep heads         throw those
        bones in a well
laugh & play with the people         but before all shut your
        mouth

*

silence is abundant gold    and words destroy good
        ambiance
say nothing if you see something            and if they ask say 
        no, no

*

o friend, be patient             hide your burden
sleep naked on thorns        wait for a brighter day

*

the good old days are gone           hard ones are here
who dares speak the truth            will have his head cut off

*

don’t get in the saddle before you bridle          and tie strong
        knots
think twice before you speak        or you’ll live to regret it

*

I made snow into a bed                  & covered myself with the wind
I made the moon into a lamp                   & went to sleep in the
        starry night

*

misery should be hidden away                & covered under a veil
cover the wound with the skin                 & the wound will soon heal

COMMENTARY

 [Writes Pierre Joris in summary]: Sidi Abderrahman el Mejdub (also transcribed as Majdoub,) was a Moroccan sufi poet, whose poems or at least stanzas thereof have become part of popular culture throughout the Maghreb, & given rise to a range of proverbs (e.g. "doubt is the beginning of wisdom"). Born (exact date unknown) in Tit Mlil, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean between Al Jadida & Azemmour, he lived during the rise of the Saadi dynasty under the reign of Mohammed ash-Sheikh and Abdallah al-Ghalib & died in 1568 in Merdacha, Jebel Aouf. His tomb, which attracts many visitors even today, is in Meknes. The surname — El Mejdub — refers to someone who is illuminated, mad, enraptured; the “jdub” was the dancer who led the dancers of ecstatic sufi brotherhoods into the “jedba,” i.e. the dance that resulted in trance. If someone stays in this trance state his whole life, he is called a “mejdub.” The French scholar Alfred-Louis De Prémare wrote in his 1988 book La tradition orale du Mejdub: "Epileptic kid, or young man surprised by the irruption of mystic ecstasy? Exalted Malâmati secretly affiliated to an active politico-religious grouping, or respectable sheikh of a rural zaouïa? Miserable trouble-maker from El Qsar or missionary preacher of a sufi current in full expansion? Holy man or con man? Popular bard or composer inspired by a dhikr? Sidi Aberrahman was doubtlessly all of the above at different points of his life… or was these according to how he was judged, or recuperated. At any rate, this kind of personage is deeply rooted in the Moroccan landscape, in its social ramification, in its mental environs.”]