Serenades of a Somali nomad

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!


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