Mohieddin IBn AraBi

translated by Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger

Poem 53

Tarjuman Al Ashwaq (The Interpreter of Desires)


When we come together, pressed
In parting, you would be forgiven
For thinking our locked shape
One letterform given stress.

True! We are two selves, but no
Eye can tell one from the other.
All down to my being lean and he light.
But for moaning I would not be seen.


We meet to part, are seen doubled figures, each its two
in the close press and twine: fold own; the eye holds us as one:
a doubled sign this is my slightness and your light.

then my keen moan; without which I
might be a thing not seen at all.


every time we meet to part we make a shape so furled we seem no more
than a sign swollen held for strength the knot where a word’s stress falls

what good is it our being two if eyes see nothing but one unspoolable us
made of my leanness and your light all unperceived but for my sighs


if we meet we will part
but in one moment
pressing and wrapping
we is emphatic

really there is space between us
eyes do not see it
instead the unity of us
in my sparse stuff and your light

by my thin cries loosed I am spied

>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.