When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Asking a Mother's Permission

Poems composed and recited by Sād Sheyl and recorded by Sam Liebhaber at one of Sād’s seasonal camp sites in the mountains (śḥēr) above Ḥawf, March 2004. Translated with the help of Muḥammad bir Nǧēma ʾĀmr Ǧīd al-Mahri in Ṣalālah, February 2012.

The following poems were exchanged between Sād Sheyl and Mnē (Ar. Muna), the mother of Mḫeyleh, whom Sād may have fancied. Given the discrepancy in age between Sād and Mḫeyleh, it is possible that Sād’s purpose isn’t entirely romantic. Rather, I suspect that he is using Mḫeyleh’s beauty as a pretense to seize an opportunity to exchange poems with a poet as formidable as Mnē (Mḫeyleh’s mother, about whom I have no further information). The exchange goes on much longer than the three poems I have transcribed and transliterated below; time constraints prevented me from completing my analysis of this exchange.

Sād Sheyl:Translation
1) ġlē ṣwāḳār // bāl ḳatf ǧrohLook at the falcon // possessor of a wing, it happened by
2) ḥōm šūk merḍāt // w-ḳāṭen ʿālehI want to entrust a message with you // and then fly over the Ḳāten!
3) ʾefēḳ ṣʾābūb // ʾefēḳ w-ǧrehCut across the mountain of Ṣʾābūb // cut across it and pass by it quickly
4) we-l-birt sʿīd // ǧreh l-zebdehTo the daughter of Saʿīd // pass by to Zebdeh
5) we-ǧwērhem sād // bālī yehǧēb lehAnd their neighbor Sād // may God protect him!
6) ġeyǧ heh meǧtəmīl // we-ǧmeylet ḏ-hehA [decent] guy, he is virtuous // and virtue is [an intrinsic part] of him.
7) we-l-birt ʾawźān // le-mḥeyleh ǧrehAnd to the daughter of ʾAwźān // to Mḫeyleh pass
8) we-ḫṭāf le-sheyl // w-kel ḏ-heh šehCall out a greeting to Sheyl // and everyone who is with him
9) maṭlāt ḏe-ḥdīd // kel ḏ-heh behMaṭlāt, [a mountain who knows] for certain // everyone who is there.

Response to the previous poem by Mnē, mother of Mḫeyleh (incomplete):

1) ʾāḳbənōt // eǧezyeš ḫeyrLittle bird // May God reward you
2) ʾār twīǧ ley sɛ̄t // nḥā b-seyrHave a quiet chat with me for a moment // and then take [the message] in safety
3) we-tḫeyṭef l-sād // ḏ-laḥna ġeyrCut across the narrow canyon to Sād // the one who has “a different tune
4) šeh mɛ̄ken ʾātūm // ḏ-leh enṭəweyrHe’s got an abundance [of poetry] // which comes to him from every direction
5) hem-ḏe šeḫbūr // mḫeyleh b-ḫeyrIf he asks the news // [say:] Mḫeyleh is doing well!

Response to the previous poem by Sād:

Sād Sheyl:Translation
1) aṣbaḥk ʾīmoh // haǧsī ġeyrI woke up today // my mood was strange
2) we-ġlē ṣwāḳār // bāl ḳaṭf yʿayrLook at the falcon // possessor of a wing, it flies straight up
3) aḥōm šūk merḍāt // we-ġrōy meťḥayrI want to entrust you with a message // and well-crafted speech
4) hēt hel metǧɛ̄t // w-ʿālī ḏ-ḥeyrWhen you are at Metǧɛ̄t // at the heights of the Ḥeyr
5) w-ġeyr ḥdīd // ʾād ḳāṣem ḳreyr(uncertain meaning) // [the weather?] is still always cold
6) l-birt ʾawźān // le-mḫeyleh tǧeyrTo the daughter of ʾAwźān // to Mḫeyleh, pass by
7) hīs ʾārwāġāb // ḏ-ʿēś b-heyrLike a little, swaying branch // which sprouts on top of an inaccessible spot
8) ḫob ʾeyn ḏe-ḥsūd // men kel ḏīhṣeyrAvoid the eye of the envious // and from anyone who “hits the target.”
9) w-berk rīḥōm teh // sād yešḏeyrAmongst everything beautiful // Sād is discriminating (of it)
10) we-ḳlēb ley red // w-hoh mentəṭ̌eyrTurn back to me an answer // I’ll be waiting
11) hēm ṭ̌ār menśūt // ʾaw hēm wetḫeyrAre they getting ready to follow the rains // or will they remain in the same place?

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