Yasmine Seale & RoBin Moger

Translators' Note to The Interpreter of Desires

Mohieddin Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) was a prolific Sufi philosopher, mystic and poet known as The Great Sheikh. He was born in Murcia in modern-day Spain, and died in Damascus. The Tarjuman Al Ashwaq, or The Interpreter of Desires, is a cycle of 61 poems.

The poems of Tarjuman Al Ashwaq are, as the title suggests, about desire and longing, the object of the poet’s love both sensual and divine. Criticised for writing mere love poetry, Ibn Arabi himself was obliged to issue a second edition with a commentary clarifying the relationship of the text's eroticism and sensuality to aspects of the divine and embodied mystical-philosophical concepts.

These are poems, then, of distance and approach, of communion and the impossibility of union, of completion and the impossibility of completion. Our response is a project of translation as long-distance correspondence: a project of dissatisfaction and endurance and failure and repetition, and the engine which drives these cycles and aims beyond them.

The process is as follows. We each separately begin a translation of the same ode and then send the translations to one another. The second iteration of the ode is written as a response to this translation and sent in turn, and so on, until we are exhausted. Some of the odes have a couple of iterations each, some three or four or more. Each iteration is marked with an initial and a number.

> Go (back) to the translation of Poem 28
> Go (back) to the translation of Poem 53


Yasmine Seale is a writer and translator from Arabic and French. She lives in Istanbul.

Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic poetry and prose based in Cape Town, South Africa.