Mohieddin IBn AraBi

translated by Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger

Poem 28

Tarjuman Al Ashwaq (The Interpreter of Desires)


Between the high dunes & the bright dinning mountain see
The gathered, tendrilled hill of sand where in deep bush
Gazelles graze hidden. Hooked moons lift from the rise’s line
& each time, timorous, wishing they wouldn’t
Like a spark thrown out by the bright shoals of stones
& we, feeling this way, wishing they didn’t.
Would tears stream. Would they never cease from my eyes.
Would my weak cry gather & rise. Would my heart
Slow, driver. In the spacing of my ribs
The fire, & now the tears, with all that’s led to this
Goodbye, are gone. & no eye spills even
On the point of our departure.

Get on, curve down into the soft valley
Where I’ll fall, where my loves live by
Full waters. Tell them: Here’s a boy now,
In love & turned away, tossed by cares
Into a chaos, the map of a bleak wild.

To the moon, beneath black cover: Take a thing
& leave him with another. Grant just a glimpse
From behind that pall; he cannot take such beauty
All revealed. Make him believe
That he may live, revive. This boy
A dead man now between
The high dunes and the mountain.

I am dead; grieved and desperate to death.
& I am motionless.

It was false,
Sweet breeze at sunup bringing visions.
The breeze may lie, may sound out sounds unmade.


Between Naqaa and La’la’,
the gazelles of Zaatal Ajra’
graze, unseen, on tangled brush.

No moons came over that rise my dread
didn’t wish unrisen, no glimmering stone
I, considering, didn’t want dimmed.

Flow, tears. Eyes, do not hold
back. Sighs, beat your wings.
Heart, crack.

But you, driver, slow down:
there is fire in the space
between my ribs.

Tears all spent on fear
of separation, we said

Go down, then, into the curving valley,
their pleasure garden,
my lions’ pit.

The ones I love are there,
by the waters of Ajra’.
Ask them who will help this boy
love took and left, this boy cares
flung into strange wastes.

Misty moon, give up one thing
for another: grant him a glance
behind that mask. He cannot weather
beauty’s full beam. Or feed him a drop
of quickening hope. Or he is nothing
but a dead man caught between
Naqaa and La’la’.

Undone by heartache,
like one nailed to the spot.

The east wind sings
deceitfully, unsounded
sound its trickery.


There Naqaa and there La’la’ and between them Zaatal Ajra’
where gazelles shift deep in snarled brier and browse.
Slim young moons
break from the line of the hill
always too soon,
against my will. I am not ready for,
nor do I want that flare
struck off bright rock.

Let my tears flow,
let my eyes not stop,
let my sighs climb up,
my loving crack in two.

Driver, slow.
The fire licks through my ribs.
The tears I shed to think of parting
all ran out. And when we did?
Not one eye crying.

down the soft valley where the settlements
and my deathbed, to my loved ones by the waters
there and call them: Who here will take a boy on
seared by love and cut loose, spun by sorrows
shapeless, to a sketch of nothing?

And to the covered moon:
Have something from him and something invest,
one look traded through the folds,
for he’s too weak for you unclothed.
Turn his head with hope, this dead man lain
between Naqaa and La’la’ may regain
his life and feeling. Hopeless and grieving
I died and am as I am
meant to be.

The wind came shamming airs.
And the wind can lie when it makes strains
of nothing.


there is Naqaa & La’la’ & between them
Zaatal Ajra’ & gazelles
& between them alphabets
of thorn for diet & ravelled
elaborate pillow & paddock

when the moon flashes its skew thin grin
over that shoulder I am not ready ever
what with this when the light goes
to work on the white rock
I am afraid

if tears could only run over their ducts
eyes roll free if only sighs
had legs a heart joins

driver not so fast
fire runs under ribs
no tears I spent them
all on fear & all I feared
came & found me dulled

go now to where the land folds & I fall
where others play & all my loves
are ranged around the lake & say
who will help this young man love
defeated deserted cast into hours
of darkness half-done backwoods

coy moon
let us come to
an arrangement
for once let him see
your face he’s too faint
for the rest anyway let him
have hope for food & fan for there
he is a dead man abandoned midway
between Naqaa & La’la’

here lies one who died
of heartache & no hope
& nevermore will move

winds warp
sirens of no song


Naqaa there & La’la’ there
& here between them, Zaatal Ajra’.
In bosky mazes buck reach, browse and leaf
And from the stack edge sprig moons
Spring to strike white brighter. I
Don’t like this, though, or
Want it. I want to cry,
To never stop
Crying. My
To climb
Up &
Up &
Not stop.
My love
To split.

To the driver,


See the fire
Fanned in my ribs,
My eyes, as we start,
Wept out at weeping to
Think on this parting moment.
Bring me dying down to lowlands,
To my friends by the waters, calling,
Who will take him, kindled then tossed
Burning then burning down, bush to brush
To dust?
Beseech a black-bound moon to give
As it takes. Like, lay one bright slice bare
Since the full round is insufferable
To weakness. Or a sip of hope
To bring him back or
Here between
Naqaa & La’la’,
Lying dead with sorrow. It’s
Like I am never going to move.
I recall the false winds coming in
With airs. Singing themselves.

>See translators’ note

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.

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.