From 'al-Khansaa, Inniy ariqtu fa-bittu-l-layla sahiritan


Originally translated May-June, 1981 by C. E. W.; revised slightly May, 1985; I just added one more tweak or two, 2008

'al-Khansaa was from Arabia, during the time of Mohammed []; she wrote this poem upon the death of a half-brother which occurred before her conversion to Islam; women poets' wrote poems of grief apparently which is what it is.¹ The meter and rhyme scheme and part of the theme in this poem is echoed in Bertran de Born's Planh or 'lament' for the 'young king'². [Sorry for any roughness in the phonetic transcription; I'm obviously limited in my knowledge of Arabic & do need to get some help with the voweling--since vowels are not normally written in Arabic texts all my vowels are inferred from the vocabulary in the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary (ed. Cowan) and the grammar in Abboud et. al.'s Elementary Modern Standard Arabic, vols. 1 & 2.]


'in-nii 'ariq-tu fa-bit-tu l-layla saahirit-an/
ka-'anna-maa ''ayn-nii bi-''uwwaar-i//

'ar''iy{! ? or 'ar''iyu or 'ar''ayu or 'ar''aa ?? } [']a[l]n-nujuum-a wa maa kullif-tu ri''ya{! still unsure of vowels }-tu-haa/
wa ta'art-an 'ataghashsha{! need to ask wordreference if this a a form V verb and its exact meaning } [']at.maar-i//

wa qad sami''-tu wa lam 'abjuh. bi-h-i xabar-a-n/
muh.addith-a-n jaa'a ya-nmii{! or form II verb 'yu-nammii' still unsure why it is in the imperfect indicative ???} rajja''a{!? or raja''a form I??} [']axbaar-an//

ya-quul-u S.axr-u-n muqiim-u-n thamma fii jadath-i-n/
ladaa [']a[l]d.-d.ariih.-i s.arii''-u-n bayna [']ah.jaar-i //

fa-[']adhhab fa-laa yu-ba'' ''id{! ? a ?}-na-ka{! ?? did God in these days take a feminine plural form; alternately this is yu-ba''id{!? a ?}-n-a-ka form IV ? but what about gender?} 'allaah-u min rajul-i-n/
taraak{! ? still unsure think this is a form I verbal noun but not one I know ? }-i{! ?-n?} d.aym-i-n wa t.allaab-i{!?-n?} bi-[']awtaar-i//

qad kunta ta-h.mal-u(indicative){! that is a form I imperfect indicative, 2nd person singular; alternately maybe ?tah.ammul-a-n(verbal noun, form V) ?} qalb-a-n ghayra{! ?}/
murakkib-a-n fii nis.aab-i-n ghayra xawwaari//

mithla [']as-sinaan-i tu-d.i'-u [']ul-layl-a- s.uwrat-u-hu/
murr-u [']ul-mariirat-i h.ur-u-n wa 'abn-u [']ah.raari

fa-sawfa [']abkii-ka maa naah.-at mut.awwaqat-u-n/
wa maa [']a[']d.aa'-at nujuwm-u [']ul-layla li-s-saarii//

wa lan 'us.aalih.-a qawm-a-n kunta h.arba{! ?}-hum/
h.ataa tu-''uwdu bayaad.-a-n ju'nat-u [']ul-qaarii


'Indeed'-'I' 'sleepless(perfective)'-'I' 'thus'-'spend['the night'](perfective?)'-'I' 'the'-'night' 'vigil keep'-'ing'/
'as(or 'like')'-'I'-'one' 'were painted(NOTE: as with kohl)'-'they(non-human)' 'eyes'-'my' 'with'-'pus' {Or 'like-blackened ruts'??}//

'I keep watch(present stem){or 'I shepherd'}' 'the'-'stars'-(accusative) 'and' 'not' 'be charged(perfective)'-'I' 'to watch'-'them'(perfective is infinitive here)/
'and' 'sometimes' '?' 'remnants' 'rags(idaafa--genitive)'.//

and (perfected action) heard(perfective)-I and not(past) 'I rejoice(present stem)' 'in-it(genitive)'/
'one who tells/one telling'-[accusative]-[indefinite] 'came(perfective, 'he')' 'he-'advances'{? or an 'assimilated' 3-root verb but I can't figure out which, or why the ending appears to be of the 'defective' class ?} 'carried(perfective, 'he')' 'news'.//

'he'-'says' 'Sakhr'-[nominative]-[indefinite] 'one who'-resides('dwells,' 'lives')-[nominative]-[indefinite] 'there' 'in' 'tomb'-[genitive]-[indefinite]/
'in front of' 'the'-'grave'-[genitive] 'thrown to the ground'-[nominative]-[indefinite] 'between' 'stones'.//

'then'-'go'(imperative) 'then'-'not'(present) 'he'(?)-'keep far'(or 'banish')-[? (is this just a 'nuun' indicating a special tense, or does this 'nuun' indicate a plural feminine verb?)]-[jussive or subjunctive?]'-'you' 'God'-[nominative] 'being one of the type' 'man'-[genitive]-[indefinite]/
'leaver-behind'-[genitive]-[indefinite] 'harm'-[genitive]-[indefinite] 'and' 'seeker'-[genitive]-[indefinite] 'for'-'revenge'(?)-[genitive]//

[perfective] 'you were' 'you'-'carry'{!? or 'one who bears/carries' ?} 'heart'-[accusative]-[indefinite] 'not' 'doing injustice'-[accusative]-[indefinite]/
'one which is set'(participle)-[accusative]-[indefinite] 'in' 'self'(or 'nature'? 'origin')-[genitive]-[indefinite] 'not' 'weak'//

'like' 'the'-'spear'-[genitive] 'it'(fem 3rd person, referring to 'its shape')-'lights'{! ? form IV or II verb }-[indicative ending] 'the'-'night'-[accusative] 'shape'-[nominative]-'its'
// ?('manly virtue'?? 'bitter'??)-[nominative] 'the-'resolution'-[genitive--idaafa] 'free-born(singular form)'-[nominative]-[indefinite] and 'son'-[nominative] 'free-born(plural form; idaafa, so that the phrase means 'son of free men')'//

'then'-'I go' 'wail for'(or 'lament')-'you(accusative)' 'just as' 'cried(perfective)-'it'(or 'she') 'ringdove'/
'and' 'just as' 'illuminate(form IV, perfective)'-'it'(or 'she') 'stars' 'the'-'night(accusative)' 'for'-'the'-'traveller'{! ? something to do with travelling, a noun}//

'and' 'not(future)' 'I pray with'( or 'I make peace with' )-[subjunctive] 'people'-[accusative]=[indefinite] 'you were' 'at war with'{! ? this looks like a form I verbal noun?}-'them'/
'until' 'it'-'turns'-[indicative] 'whitewashed' 'gulf'{! 'gulf-shaped' or ? ? } 'the'-'doing hospitality'-[genitive](idaafa)

Original Arabic

ٳني أرقت فبت ٱلليل ساهرة*
كآنمآ كحلت عيني بعار

أرعى آلنجوم و لم كلفت رعيتها
و تاره ٲتغشى فضل آطمار

و قد سمعت و لم أبجح به خبرا
محدثا جاء ينمى رجع آخبار

يقول صخر مقيم ثم في جدث
لدى آلضريح صريع بين آحجار

فاذهب فلا يبعدنك آلله من رجل
ترك ضيم و طلاب باوتار

قد كنت تحمل قلبا غير مهتضم
مركبا في نصاب غير خوار

مثل آلسنان تضىء الليل صورته
مرّ ألمريرة حر و إبن احرار

فسوف آبكيك ما ناحت مطوقه
و ما أضاءت نجوم آلليل للساري

و لن أصالح قوما كنت حرهم
حتى تعود بياضا جؤنة آلقار



(In my phonetic transcriptions of the Arabic, a '.' after a letter indicates that this sound is 'pharyngealized'--that is pronounced down in the pharynx) in Arabic; A 'pharyngeal' /h/ is indicated as /h./. Also Arabic has voiced pharyngeal and voiced velar fricatives--which I have no way to distinguish here--I'm using (1), /''/ to indicate the pharyngeal (or to me 'softer') fricative [ع], and (2), /gh/ to indicate the velar fricative [غ]; (3), the /'/ is used--for now--for glottal stops [ء & others]. (4), I use doubled (two) vowels to indicate long vowels although in the title I indicate long /i/ with /iy/--a vowel plus a glide. (5), /th/ indicates a voiceless interdental fricative [ث]; (6), /dh/ indicates a voiced interdental fricative [ذ]; (7), /sh/ indicates a voiceless palatal fricative [ش]; (8), /j/ indicates a voiced palatal fricative/affricate [in Levantine Arabic dialects it's a fricative; elsewhere it is an affricate actually] [ج]; (9), /q/ indicates the voiceless [? to my ear at least it's voiceless] uvular stop [a pharyngealized or uvularized k?; ق]. My phonetic transcription may have errors as my text from Arberry does not indicate vowels, or have any diacrtic marks. I am now getting some help with my transcription at, which I desperately need--as this is my third attempt to get the vowels and diacritic marks right; I first attempted to get this right in May of 1982 after a year of Arabic, when I started working on this translation; in 1985 as I was preparing to finish my M.A. I tried again & thought I finally had it all right; now one more try! The original poem appeared in A. J. Arberry, 1965, Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press]. For more on Arabic phonology, please see, Arabic Online (


* As noted this is from A. J. Arberry, 1965, Arabic Poetry: A Primer for Students [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press]. The display of the unicode characters is turning out o.k. so far; I am surprised; there do seem to be slightly different 'first' 'middle' and 'last' displays for each connected letter, so, it looks more like the typed copy I have than I really expected. (NOTE: the manuscript here deviates in one way from Arberry's because I've made a change; I've opted [someone please correct me if I am wrong] to indicate when an 'aleph' plus glottal stop has been elided with a previous vowel and become lengthened; to do so I use the unicode character for the long 'aleph' [U 0622]. If this is not correct, please correct me. It's to be noted that the Arabic character 'aleph' [ا] (without a seated hamza on/under it, or a long vowel mark on it) may be pronounced either as a vowel (as in the suffixes haa' 'her,' naa, 'our') or as an (which is the accusative indefinite ending after a noun, adjective, or participle--other case endings are not written in Arabic; case endings are not normally pronounced in spoken dialects but they are important in establishing the meter of classical odes. This poem is much more beautiful and moving than the rather leaden morpheme-by-morpheme translation suggests; but I did not see the point of including a translation for the purposes of showing how some browsers manage to align rtl text to the right??)