Exploring Arab Folk Literature

By Pierre Cachia | Go to book overview

11
Karam il-Yatīm:
A Translation of an Egyptian Folk Ballad

Egyptian narrative mawwāls are so long that they seldom lend themselves to rounded treatment within the confines of an article, and I have myself turned to the same texts more than once to develop different points of interest in them. Even then, I remained aware that I had left in readers’ minds questions unanswered, or even unformulated. Among the most basic of these must be questions about the priorities and the skills–perhaps also the inherited conventions–displayed in the poet’s gradual unfolding of the narrative.

It eventually occurred to me that I could render a substantial service to readers by making available to them–without comment–an integral translation of one such text drawn from a source not easily tapped from outside Egypt. It would then be open to anyone to ask him- or herself and debate with others whatever issues provoked or stimulated him or her.

For this purpose, the translation need not be accompanied by a transcription of the entire Arabic text; yet when first published, it was. This was done by a student of mine, Ali Obali. I should have liked to involve him in the updating that all the other items in this book have undergone, mainly to ensure that the same system of transcription was used throughout. Alas, all my attempts at reaching Ali failed, and I have no right to reuse his work myself. All factors having been weighed, I find it best to omit Ali Obali’s work from the present collection, at the same time pointing out that it is still available in the July 1992 number of the Journal of Arabic Literature.

The translation that follows is one of four songs sung by Yūsuf Šitā, recorded on commercially produced cassettes. As is characteristic of Egyptian narrative folksongs, a great deal of the poet’s concern is to devise polysyllabic paronomasias, but his way of unfolding the stages of the narrative is also worthy of attention.

Karam il-Yatīm

The pen has traced Admonition and wise sayings, And art composed Melodies and tunes.
5A story which people have told and retold– Some have sung and some have heard it– A story… a story the telling of which was a sensation!

-130-

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