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Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems

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"Music of a Distant Drum" marks a literary milestone. It collects 129 poems from the four leading literary traditions of the Middle East, all masterfully translated into English by Bernard Lewis, many for the first time. These poems come from diverse languages and traditions--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew--and span more than a thousand years. Together they provide a "Music of a Distant Drum" marks a literary milestone. It collects 129 poems from the four leading literary traditions of the Middle East, all masterfully translated into English by Bernard Lewis, many for the first time. These poems come from diverse languages and traditions--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew--and span more than a thousand years. Together they provide a fascinating and unusual window into Middle Eastern history. Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, reveals verses of startling beauty, ranging from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love. Bernard Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, offers a work of startling beauty that leaves no doubt as to why such poets were courted by kings in their day. Like those in the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," the poems here--as ensured by Lewis's mastery of all the source languages and his impeccable style and taste--come fully alive in English. They are surprising and sensuous, disarmingly witty and frank. They provide a fascinating and unusual glimpse into Middle Eastern history. Above all, they are a pleasure to read.They range from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love. Lewis begins with an introduction on the place of poets and poetry in Middle Eastern history and concludes with biographical notes on all the poets. This treasure trove of verse is aptly summed up by a quote from the ninth-century Arab author Ibn Qutayba: "Poetry is the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom, the muster roll of their history, the repository of their great days, the rampart protecting their heritage, the trench defending their glories, the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument." In one hand the Qur'vn, in the other a wineglass, Sometimes keeping the rules, sometimes breaking them. Here we are in this world, unripe and raw, Not outright heathens, not quite Muslims. --"Mujir" (12th century)


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"Music of a Distant Drum" marks a literary milestone. It collects 129 poems from the four leading literary traditions of the Middle East, all masterfully translated into English by Bernard Lewis, many for the first time. These poems come from diverse languages and traditions--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew--and span more than a thousand years. Together they provide a "Music of a Distant Drum" marks a literary milestone. It collects 129 poems from the four leading literary traditions of the Middle East, all masterfully translated into English by Bernard Lewis, many for the first time. These poems come from diverse languages and traditions--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew--and span more than a thousand years. Together they provide a fascinating and unusual window into Middle Eastern history. Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, reveals verses of startling beauty, ranging from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love. Bernard Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, offers a work of startling beauty that leaves no doubt as to why such poets were courted by kings in their day. Like those in the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," the poems here--as ensured by Lewis's mastery of all the source languages and his impeccable style and taste--come fully alive in English. They are surprising and sensuous, disarmingly witty and frank. They provide a fascinating and unusual glimpse into Middle Eastern history. Above all, they are a pleasure to read.They range from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love. Lewis begins with an introduction on the place of poets and poetry in Middle Eastern history and concludes with biographical notes on all the poets. This treasure trove of verse is aptly summed up by a quote from the ninth-century Arab author Ibn Qutayba: "Poetry is the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom, the muster roll of their history, the repository of their great days, the rampart protecting their heritage, the trench defending their glories, the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument." In one hand the Qur'vn, in the other a wineglass, Sometimes keeping the rules, sometimes breaking them. Here we are in this world, unripe and raw, Not outright heathens, not quite Muslims. --"Mujir" (12th century)

30 review for Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ivan Granger

    This is a very nice, compact sampler of poetry from the near east. Muslim poets, like Hafiz, Rumi, Attar, and al-Hallaj; and Jewish poets, like Hanagid, ibn Gabirol, and Halevi. The translator, Bernard Lewis, is a western scholar of Near East studies, and his perspectives have come under criticism in recent years for representing an older "Orientalist" world view that can be used to support continued western domination of the region. But this collection of poems is free from that wrangling. Ques This is a very nice, compact sampler of poetry from the near east. Muslim poets, like Hafiz, Rumi, Attar, and al-Hallaj; and Jewish poets, like Hanagid, ibn Gabirol, and Halevi. The translator, Bernard Lewis, is a western scholar of Near East studies, and his perspectives have come under criticism in recent years for representing an older "Orientalist" world view that can be used to support continued western domination of the region. But this collection of poems is free from that wrangling. Questions of social and academic politics aside, there is an elegance to Lewis's poetry translations in this collection. Recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    With a caravan of cloths I left Sistan with cloths spun from the heart, woven from the soul cloths made of a silk which is called Word cloths designed by an artist who is called Tongue every stitch was drawn by force from the breast every weft separated in torment from the heart. These are not woven cloths like any cloth do not judge them in the same way as others... This is no cloth that can be spoilt by water this is no cloth that can be damaged by fire its colour is not destroyed by the earth's dust nor With a caravan of cloths I left Sistan with cloths spun from the heart, woven from the soul cloths made of a silk which is called Word cloths designed by an artist who is called Tongue every stitch was drawn by force from the breast every weft separated in torment from the heart. These are not woven cloths like any cloth do not judge them in the same way as others... This is no cloth that can be spoilt by water this is no cloth that can be damaged by fire its colour is not destroyed by the earth's dust nor its design effaced by the passing of time. --Farrukhi (d.1037), native of Sistan, poet at the court of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elevetha

    If not something I would regularly read nor a favourite of mine, this was somewhat fascinating. I've read very little translated poetry, let alone centuries old poetry!, and a glimpse into the lives and the heart and the history of these cultures and individuals from so long ago is really quite intriging. To be honest though, much of what these poets wrote about is pretty eternal. Which honestly was part of the fun. Wine, women, and religion are the predominant topics, with wine giving me the gr If not something I would regularly read nor a favourite of mine, this was somewhat fascinating. I've read very little translated poetry, let alone centuries old poetry!, and a glimpse into the lives and the heart and the history of these cultures and individuals from so long ago is really quite intriging. To be honest though, much of what these poets wrote about is pretty eternal. Which honestly was part of the fun. Wine, women, and religion are the predominant topics, with wine giving me the greatest amusement, seeing as how the majority of the authors would have been forbidden imbibing due to...religion. Which in a way also applies to much of what was going on in the 'women' themed poems, but it didn't tickle my funny bone nearly as much. Maybe because the poets were as enthusiastic regarding the wine as they were the women and reading someone wax dramatically about their favorite (not to mention forbidden) beverage really just spoke to me. Preferred the Persian poems best, with the Hebrew in close second.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    With a title taken from a Khayyám quatrain, I was hooked before I started. There is much in here that is wonderful, and much that I simply don't understand. Whether the latter is due to a lack of cultural and religious understanding, or a more general poetetic (is that a word?) dullness on my part, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable and re-readable anthology, spanning centuries, cultures and countries. With a title taken from a Khayyám quatrain, I was hooked before I started. There is much in here that is wonderful, and much that I simply don't understand. Whether the latter is due to a lack of cultural and religious understanding, or a more general poetetic (is that a word?) dullness on my part, I'm not sure. Nevertheless, a thoroughly enjoyable and re-readable anthology, spanning centuries, cultures and countries.

  5. 5 out of 5

    M. Jane Colette

    I'd rarely say a book is a "must read" for anyone--but this one is a must read for anyone interested in Persian, Arabic, Turkish or Hebrew poetry--if only for the introduction in which Lewis makes links between the cultures and linguistic history of each poetic traditions you don't usually get from a modern translator. Exquisite little book. I'd rarely say a book is a "must read" for anyone--but this one is a must read for anyone interested in Persian, Arabic, Turkish or Hebrew poetry--if only for the introduction in which Lewis makes links between the cultures and linguistic history of each poetic traditions you don't usually get from a modern translator. Exquisite little book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Muhamed

    I really liked the idea behind the book and was very excited to read it. But the selection of poems were very underwhelming. And I can say this with more confident regarding poets whose work I am familiar with. I don't think the poems for example by Hafiz are his best. I really liked the idea behind the book and was very excited to read it. But the selection of poems were very underwhelming. And I can say this with more confident regarding poets whose work I am familiar with. I don't think the poems for example by Hafiz are his best.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Henry

    Very interesting window into different cultures. Worth reading just for the (very long) introduction that gives a lot of historical context.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Albright

    For those who want to gain credibility as experts in a given field, this book is a good example of how to do so.  How does Lewis do it?  Well, he translates a series of poems from four different linguistic traditions in the Middle East and does so with considerable sensitivity and skill, demonstrating his breadth of knowledge concerning the cultures of the Middle East.  He does so without bragging, without being flamboyant about his knowledge, but demonstrating the sort of competence that others For those who want to gain credibility as experts in a given field, this book is a good example of how to do so.  How does Lewis do it?  Well, he translates a series of poems from four different linguistic traditions in the Middle East and does so with considerable sensitivity and skill, demonstrating his breadth of knowledge concerning the cultures of the Middle East.  He does so without bragging, without being flamboyant about his knowledge, but demonstrating the sort of competence that others could only dream of.  And he does so in a way that shows his humanity as well, taking a wide range of poets whose concerns show the broad scope of Near Eastern poetry from the rise of Islam onward, perhaps even including some pre-Muslim poets who were remembered in later ages, and certainly showing the sort of poets who deserve to be remembered here.  The writers included here are ones whose works are worth knowing even in translation, and they not only provide evidence of the author's own awareness of the worth of Near Eastern culture but also demonstrate that there is a tradition of worthwhile poetry that has lasted in cultures whose present achievements do not appear very impressive to many people. After a somewhat lengthy introduction that shows the importance of poetry to the world of the Near East even up to the present time, and demonstrates as well his own personal exposure to this longstanding poetic tradition, the author divides this work into the translation of four different languages of poetry within the Near East.  First comes the poems from the Arabic, and these include a few poems by a noted African descendant of a slave-woman whose poems point out the tension between religious and ethnic and social identity in the medieval Arab world.  After this comes Persian poems, which demonstrate the survival of the culture of that region despite a considerable period of Arab and a continuing period of Muslim domination.  Following this there are Turkish poems that point out that even the newest of the major cultures in the Near East have a great deal of worth in their poetic tradition, dealing with questions of love and politics.  And finally the author includes some medieval Hebrew poetry that shows the immense worth of that often-neglected culture as it survived under Muslim rule and demonstrated its own intense creativity.  Between the various sections there is artwork that is related to the cultures in question, which add to the worth of this little volume of a bit more than 200 pages, which is closed with notes about the poets, an appendix, a note on transcription, source notes, and illustration credits. This is a worthwhile book on a variety of levels.  For one, the poetry itself is easy to appreciate.  Even in cases where the poets are engaged in activities that are immoral and not worth endorsing, such as poets bragging about the ease of their finding diverse and sometimes inappropriate lovers, most of the poems tend towards the dignified, as the authors wonder about the impermanence of life or the problems of aging, and where one poet comments on a spectacularly unsuccessful effort at wooing a palace beauty with his poetry where he insults him for his ugliness and is not impressed.  The humanity that is showed by these poems points out that at least among those who are creative and literary that there is a great deal of understanding of immensely important issues of life and humanity.  It is to be regretted that these poets have seldom been rulers, and that the insight gained through witty lines has not led to more humane behavior on the part of those societies from which the poets came.  These poets, as is often the case with creative people, show a degree of insight that is not often translated into showing humanity to others.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    [Book #6] Bernard Lewis, 96, is arguably the world's greatest historian on the Middle East, and I've read many of his scholarly tomes as my college texts and "extra" reading. But somehow this book of his poetry translations had escaped me for 14 years...and I'm thrilled to have finally found this gem. Although the poems are not as well known as others from these regions, some of the poets themselves are quite prominent. Also includes a wonderful introduction, illustrations from the times of the [Book #6] Bernard Lewis, 96, is arguably the world's greatest historian on the Middle East, and I've read many of his scholarly tomes as my college texts and "extra" reading. But somehow this book of his poetry translations had escaped me for 14 years...and I'm thrilled to have finally found this gem. Although the poems are not as well known as others from these regions, some of the poets themselves are quite prominent. Also includes a wonderful introduction, illustrations from the times of the poets, and a short bio for each poet. Topics range from the bawdy to the divine with lengths from 2 lines to 2 pages. Borrowed this from the local library, but am thinking I need to get a copy of my own to reread at moment's notice. Here are just a few of the poems that I particularly enjoyed... War begins like a pretty girl with whom every man wants to flirt and ends like an ugly old woman whose visitors suffer and weep. ~ Samuel ha-Nagid (Hebrew, 993-1056) A cloud, heavy with water, came swaying astride the winds, streamed through the night, gushed and surged like blood from a wound. The sky, revealed at dawn amid its stars, seemed like a meadow of violets, moist with dew and burgeoning camomile flowers. ~ Ibn al-Mu'tazz (Arabic, 861-908) Kisses are like salt water: the more you drink, the more you thirst. ~ Rudagi (Persian, ?-940) Woman, they say, is deficient in sense so they ought to pardon her every word. But one female who knows what to do is better than a thousand males who don't. ~ Mihri Hatun (Turkish, ?-1506) Though my master speaks ill of me, I shall not mar my face with pain. I shall speak nothing but good of him so that we may both be seen as liars. ~ Kamaluddin Isma'il Isfahani (Persian, 1172-1237) One gray hair appeared on my head; I plucked it out with my hand. It answered me: "You have prevailed against me alone-- What will you do when my army comes after me?" ~ Yehuda ha-Levi (Hebrew, 1080-1140) With a caravan of cloths I left Sistan, with cloths spun from the heart, woven from the soul. Cloths made of a silk which is called Word, cloths designed by an artist who is called Tongue. Every stitch was drawn by force from the breast, every weft separated in torment from the heart. These are not woven cloths like any cloth; do not judge them in the same way as others... This is no cloth that can be spoilt by water, this is no cloth that can be damaged by fire. Its colour is not destroyed by the earth's dust nor its design effaced by the passing of time. ~ Farrukhi (Persian, ?-1037)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristyn

    This collection of poems was fascinating. When you read this, you are able to taste the flavors of the poetry that span the centuries in these four languages and cultures. The Arabic poems are intensely passionate. The Persian poems have moments of passion and moments of insight. The Turkish poems are rich in imagery and slightly self-mocking, and the Hebrew poems are tender. Love, wine, and praise to God or Allah are significant poems. Of them, I preferred the insightful Persian and Hebrew, in This collection of poems was fascinating. When you read this, you are able to taste the flavors of the poetry that span the centuries in these four languages and cultures. The Arabic poems are intensely passionate. The Persian poems have moments of passion and moments of insight. The Turkish poems are rich in imagery and slightly self-mocking, and the Hebrew poems are tender. Love, wine, and praise to God or Allah are significant poems. Of them, I preferred the insightful Persian and Hebrew, in particular this one from Persian: From evening till morning the fleas were dancing to the fluting of the gnats around on my body--and I joined with them merrily, scratching the harp.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ross Cohen

    This is an absolutely beautiful collection of poetry, which also includes a fascinating introduction to Middle Eastern poetry by the translator. If you've read a bit of Rumi or Hafiz and want to see who else might interest you, this is your book. The inclusion of the Hebrew poets, and the translator's rationale behind their inclusion, is welcomed and of note. This is an absolutely beautiful collection of poetry, which also includes a fascinating introduction to Middle Eastern poetry by the translator. If you've read a bit of Rumi or Hafiz and want to see who else might interest you, this is your book. The inclusion of the Hebrew poets, and the translator's rationale behind their inclusion, is welcomed and of note.

  12. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    An unexpected find. Elegant and very lovely translations of Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Hebrew poetry by one of the last of the old school of Orientalist scholars. Worth having, worth reading aloud.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Austin Wright

    5-stars. Cannot wait to read again. One of the the best lesser-known work by Lewis!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Clivemichael

    Some compelling works, some beauty and some strange and confusing messages. An interesting blend of personalities from the past.

  15. 4 out of 5

    tima

    truly beautifully.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed Lotfy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Noa

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin Wiseman

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Reese

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zish

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ameliedanjou

  23. 4 out of 5

    Esraa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eliana

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Wolf

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tajy George

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cody

  29. 4 out of 5

    Far Ha

  30. 4 out of 5

    Moriyah Nurieli

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