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T. E. Lawrence to H. H. Banbury


I'm writing to everybody this week. For months letters have been rolling in: now they are knee deep. Nine in ten have answered themselves by mere lapse of time (the simplicity of it!). The balance are for it, instantly.

Your Tarka, the otter book, has not yet come along. Someone borrowed it. Dozens of my books go out, that way. I am, as they put it, easy. Patience. It is a good book.

I hope you will not have too much fighting. It's all right from behind armour-plating: but I bar the open-air stunt. [Three lines omitted].

The last Montague (Right off the Map) was technically admirable, but carping in spirit. I thought it did not do him much honour. After Fiery Particles and Disenchantment he should have been large minded, always.

I haven't an Arabia Deserta: but The Seven Golden Poems are very famous. We call them The Moallakat - the things that were hung up - presumably at Mekka in the great temple before Mohammed came. They are seven in number, and quite peculiar in form. Imr el Kais wrote the jolliest of the seven: but Lebid is good, and Antar, and parts of Tarafa. It was Tarafa who likened Death to a blind camel lounging about in the dark.

There is a Lahore edition, in Arabic, interlined with an English translation by a Colonel Johnson, I think it was (twenty years since I saw the book). The English was rather halting, so you had to peer and guess at the beauty of the Arabic lines.

There is a good translation, into English poetry, by Wilfrid Blunt, a great old man who died lately. His wife, Lady Anne, was an Arabic scholar. She made a prose translation: and Wilfrid, who could speak some Arabic, and liked Arabs, put them into very fine verse. I do not know how far it is at present obtainable in England. The Chiswick Press published them then, as a separate book, and later of course they were included in the two-volume collected edition of Blunt's poetry. But neither can be said to be an easy book to find.

The Moallakat are pagan: pre-Moslem desert verse; sometimes warlike, sometimes sententious, sometimes prosy, sometimes humourous. There is a queer vividness and sense of life about e.g. Amr el Kais' one. Whether the seven poems were really written by seven poets or not, Heaven alone knows. They are on one model; and feel much the same to me: but are vastly different in spirit.

There is much early Arabic poetry. You get snatches of it, (very brief and occasional) in Gertrude Bell's Desert and the Sown, a vivid, appealing book: and Nicholson's big work has a lot more: and Lyall has translated some: but you know how difficult it is to translate mannered foreign verse into English easy-go-here and there. Only a Fitzgerald once greatly succeeded. Though Blunt has done well. The shorter poems sing, with an intensity which is almost a wail and a sob, at their climaxes. Not The Moallakat. They are formal performances. Imr and his girl ate a camel by the pools of Jelajil and pelted each other with strips of its fat! As formal a story as the deed was informal.

The seven poems put together wouldn't make fifty pages of medium print. Quite short. If I have a chance I'll get some private press to reprint them. Sometimes they ask me for poems (of my own!) and I reply with good advice if I feel kindly.


Source: DG 584-585
Checked: dn/
Last revised: 10 January 2006

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