Translator's Note: Mu'allaqa
Imru al-Qays (?-540?), Arab poet, author of the most famous of seven poems long prized as outstanding examples of the Arabian Peninsula's poetic tradition before the rise of Islam in the 7th century. This collection of poems, known as the Mu'allaqat, served as the linguistic precedent for the language of the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred scripture of Islam. For this reason, the poems have come to assume a canonical status—the works by which all others are judged—within the Arabic literary tradition.
—Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia
Muhammad is said to have admired the poem.
My poem is a John Philip Sousa "Stars and Stripes Forever" cross-species salute to Imru' al-Qays, the faraway of his great poem, the utter foreignness, the monorhymes which I have been trying and failing to translate for twenty years, the magnificence.
MORE FROM THIS ISSUE
This poem originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Poetry magazine