The following is a transcription from an anthology of translated Somali poetry¹. Being a translation of an eloquent language that only had mouths and minds as mode of transmission,as books and ink,as a legacy – it goes without saying that the intricate beauty cannot be transported to another country,another language. One particular poem that soothed me was preceded by this short commentary :
It was the custom that when a man was seeking a girl in marriage and her family looked on him with favour, he would pay a visit to her homestead,bringing gifts. With him would come some of his kinsmen, to add solemnity to the visit and protect him, and the gifts, on the journey. In his youth, Cumar Ostreeliya accompanied his cousin Maxamed on such a journey to the home of Weris, Maxamed’s bride-to-be, and he composed this poem in her honour.
If in these verses, linked by the sound of ‘S’
I were to give a true account, O Weris, of your qualities
Unlocking the coffers of my skill
And opening my breast where clocklike beats my heart,
And were I to describe your appearance
Just as it was first created-
Why,the men who dwell in distant Sirow
Would all come here to seek you out!
But since the evil eye of jealousy
Is not wont to miss its aim,
I shall instead speak simply
Listen, then, to my words tonight,
For this is no time to sleep-
See,we have brought fire and pulled aside
The barrier gate of the thorny fence!
It was for your sake, Weris,
That my body was scorched and thirsty in the waterless plain,
That Maxamed’s skin was burnt in the sun’s fierce heat,
That our backs were torn by the belts and bandoliers we wore!
Time and again we barely survived the dangers we had to meet
From hostile warriors,from spies who roamed the land,
From the silent-footed lion-
All for your sake, Weris!
For you we had picked out horses,powerful geldings,
Then from among the camels we chose some females
And threesomes of suckling,dam and foster-dam
And more young females not yet mated.
If we are such men as this,
Then the sheer love you must feel for us
Will surely make you abjure your food!
I have not botched these verses-
Have I not steered them along the proper path?
Men who have not learnt to compose verses linked ‘S’
Will digress and lose their way
But I- have I not linked like a chain
That was made by an Indian goldsmith?
I have more to speak in praise of Weris,
Words which I warrant to be true.
In our party there are Cismaan and Jibriil
The finest ribs of the Jaamac family,
Young men fashioned by God to be of equal stature
Who are like the tall siiq trees by the river-
Elegance has been our lot, and the gift of nobility!
Eight cousins we are , armed with Martini rifles
And bringing two bundles of dates wrapped up in fibre mats
And rolls of silk protected well with skins
Here at her people’s encampment we had been expected,
And a courtyard screened from sweeping winds was given us
With a well-sheltered place to stack our firearms
We have been offered the guest food proper for marriage-kin-
Dishes of cooked grain,sour camel’s milk,ghee in a painted bowl-
But our eyes are for her and her alone
As the man brings in the food and carries it away again
We are overcome as we look at her,
Her body is as erect, it seems to us,
As a ladder standing upright.
They have adorned her with jingling armbands
And an amber necklace has been placed around her throat.
A long dress covers her form,
And a shawl of calico, brought from Berbera,
Allows nothing to be seen but her eyes,
A striped shift of many colours
Enhances the beauty of her apparel.
Her sandals, solidly-soled and finely-balanced,
Are cut from the finest cow-flank leather.
As she passes along an encampment lane
The clatter of her jewels
Makes the sound of bullets or a cracking whip.
In salute we fire three times into the sky.
Then greetings are exchanged, and pleasant conversation.
The words a dimwit chooses come out garbled
But not so those of Weris-
Is it not true that by the age of nine
She had been taught to learn by heart
The lines of the Sacred Knowledge?
Her eyebrows are closely knit,
Her face suffused with radiance.
Both a pure body and a beauteous shape
Were given to her by God.
See how her hair is plaited,
Like the feathers of an ostrich cock
When he has folded them smoothly down!
A man who has gazed on her for even one hour
Will need no other joy until he enters Paradise
Are her lips not outlined
As if they were drawn with charcoal ink?
O,they are such wonders!
See how the flying dust never settles upon her form-
Can it be that she is a kinswoman of the Turkish sultanss
Or perhaps of the lords of Arabia?
O Weris, thanks to the pattern in which God shaped you
And the wealth that your family possesses,
No woman is your peer,
You who appear as a lantern shining bright!
¹ An Anthology of Somali Poetry ( 1993)
Translated by B.W. Andrzejeweski with Sheila Andrzejewski
Poem by Cumar Xuseen Ostreeliya