Isaac Ben Khalifp 152

[Carlyle furnishes no particulars regarding this author, nor does he state whence the jeu d'esprit which he translates was taken. Mr. Lyall, in his "Translations from the Hamasa and AghanI," gives a fragment by Ishaq son of Khalaf, who was probably the p. 432

same with our author. This fragment is of a very different cast from the amusing epigram paraphrased by Carlyle: it expresses the author's anxiety as to the possible fate of his daughter when he is dead. Mr. Lyall infuses into his translations so much of the real spirit of Arabic poetry, and the verses in question are so peculiarly interesting, that the temptation to reproduce his rendering of them in this connection is simply irresistible:

1. If no Umeymeh were there, no want would trouble my soul— no labour call me to toil for bread through pitchiest night;

2. What moves my longing to live is but that well do I know how low the fatherless lies—how hard the kindness of kin.

3. I quake before loss of wealth lest lacking fall upon her, and leave her shieldless and bare as flesh set forth on a board.

4. My life she prays for, and I from mere love pray for her death— yea, Death, the gentlest and kindest guest to visit a maid.

5. I fear an uncle's rebuke, a brother's harshness for her:

my chiefest end was to spare her heart the grief of a word. (20 of 23)09/01/2008 16:04:55

These explanatory Notes on the above are also by Mr. Lyall:

v. 3. "Meat on a butcher's board" is a proverbial expression for that which is utterly defenceless and helpless.

v. 4. The scholiast compares the proverbs (both current in the Ignorance)—"An excellent son-in-law is the Grave," and "To bury daughters is an act of mercy;" the reference in the latter is to the practice of burying female children alive immediately after birth, which was still prevalent (though not widely spread) among the pagan Arabs at the time of the Prophet's mission. The lot of women among the Arabs of the Ignorance was a hard one; and it is most probable that the practice in question was perpetuated, if it did not begin, in the desire to save the family the shame of seeing its women ill-used or otherwise disgraced.

v. 5. He looks forward to the time when his daughter will be 'left fatherless, and find no love such as that which she found in him.

Of the author, Mr. Lyall has been able to ascertain nothing. The fragment, as shown in the rhyme of the first hemistich of the original, is the beginning of a qaslda. By his name (Ishaq), Mr. Lyall thinks the author should be a Muslim, since but one authentic instance is known of a biblical name being borne by an Arab, who was not a Jew; yet the sentiment of v. 4 is rather pagan than Islamic.]

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