New poetry by Robin Moger—Two versions of ‘Poem Six’ from The Interpreter of Desires by Ibn Arabi

The following two translations are responses to the sixth poem in The Interpreter of Desires, a cycle of sixty-one poems by the prolific Sufi poet and philosopher Mohieddine Ibn Arabi (1165–1240 AD).

Both are taken from a project of translation-in-correspondence between me and the poet and translator Yasmine Seale, in which we each write a translation of the same poem then send the text to our correspondent. The second version is written as a response to this text, and the third to the second, and so on until we are exhausted.

Poem Six’ is a complaint, the poet mourning the departure of a group of travellers and haunted by their absence. A plain translation of the poem’s first line might be rendered: ‘All fortitude and patience gone, now they have gone; / They have gone, yet they dwell in my heart’s dark heart.’

Ibn Arabi’s mystical religious preoccupation with the absence and presence, distance and proximity, of the beloved divine is the paradoxical and generative conceit at the heart of the poem and the collection as a whole: distinctions between here and there are collapsed; communion and intimacy are rooted in loss and distance. These are conceits which speak directly to the questions raised by the act of translation and which through translation find new homes in personal and political preoccupations.

The first translation might be regarded as a close rendition of the Arabic original, the second, no less a translation of the text, is written for Cape Town where I live as a non-resident resident.

—Robin Moger



No more standing it
Or bearing now
They are no more.
Are no more here
Yet they stand in the dim hall still of your heart.

Ask after them to hear
They rest. That baan and sheeh
Perfume their air. You might
Touch words to wind:
Run after them and there
As they sit in the dim still shade of the trees
From this heart growing shades as they leave
Make them hear.




II. [For Cape Town]

Little soul little stray
little drifter
now where will you stay
all pale and alone
after the way
you used to make fun of things

              —Hadrian, translated by WS Merwin

The strength it takes to stay
When they got clear

I gave it up. Their ghosting
The dark hollow

                     O my heart

In haunted wondering
Is shown. They idle

In a
      (Pillowed by airs:
Acetic wormwood and
Cool ben)
                 Shade Paradise

Where only wind can reach them
I command it, Bring them

Brokenly my plea:
Among us
Is grief to me

Who holds you


Previously unpublished, © Robin Moger, 2019

  • Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic into English. His translations of prose and poetry have appeared in The White Review, Tentacular, Asymptote and The Washington Square Review, among others. He has translated several novels and prose works into English, including Youssef Rakha’s The Crocodiles and Iman Mersal’s How To Mend. His translation of Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book Of Safety was awarded the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.

The JRB Poetry Editor is Rustum Kozain

Header image: Francisco Arnela/Unsplash

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