HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Who is Hussain and what happened on Ashura?
What happened after the Tragedy of Karbala?

 

These are the campsites of al-Ghamim so call to them,
And after long restraint shed lavish tears.

If you owe the trace-signs a debt, now pay it;
If you’ve ransomed your heart’s blood to the ruined abodes, redeem it now.

O, has a band of riders looking down from its highlands
Quenched yet their burning passion?

[Look! There is] a drainage trench curving like a bow,
Before which stand black-cheeked [women], heirs to its ashes,

And the place where the tent-ropes were tied, the place where [once] the young braves sat—
All the tribe’s firebrands are now extinguished except for them—,

And the place where the slave-boys trailed the halter-ropes of steeds
‘Til they veiled the tents with roans and bays.

At [these] abodes I detained a gallant band,
Whose hands were ever clutching at their hearts.

Grief-stricken, their eyes shed responsive tears,
And they rent their robes with sighs.

They halted there until their camels’ legs
Seemed fixed like tent-pegs in the ground.

At last they turned and went away,
Supplied with tears for water, burning grief for provender.

Each was girt in the sword-belt of a ringing [blade],
And teardrops ornamented each suspensory.

May there greet you, and revive your ruins, too, a rain unceasing
Whose vernal showers, like sorcerer’s spittle, heal what ails the spring abode.

May herbage burst forth in the morning, lush as the velvet
Of a Yemeni robe that fervid buyers haggle over.

What can you ask of the eyes, after they have gazed on you,
But tears, and sleeplessness?

There was no store of tears that was not spent on you,
Nor did any eye find sleep.

We were diverted from shedding tears for [ruined] abodes
By our weeping for Fatima’s weeping for her sons.

No sorrow was more grievous than hers for the martyr
Who had seen the sweet Euphrates gushing torrents but was kept from drink.

I wonder if she knew, when she gave birth,
That al-Hussain would fall prey to the Banu al-Tarda’s spears.

There were funerals in Iraq that Umayyads in Syria
Counted amongst their feast-days.

They did not fear the Prophet’s wrath, but thought
That what the Prophet sowed was theirs to reap.

They sold the clear path of religion for pathless error,
And for righteousness they purchased the perils of transgression.

They have made of God’s Messenger an enemy—
What an evil store they have laid by for Judgement Day!

The offspring of the Prophet on their horses’ [hooves];
On the heads of their lances the Prophet’s blood!

O woe is me for an ‘Alid band
Now subject to the [Banu] Umayyah after ruling them with might.

They placed in their noses the nose-bits of disgrace;
About their necks they tied the neck-ropes of oppression.

[The Umayyads] claimed that religion allowed them to kill [the ‘Alids].
Isn’t this the religion they got from their forefathers?

Invoking their Jahili legacy [they slew them]
And slaked [with blood] the burning thirst of ancient rancor.

They usurped the affairs of those that were absent,
And imposed their will upon those who were present.

God got to [the ‘Alids’] souls before you [Umayyads] could;
You obtained [nothing but] the sins of [slaying, defiling] their bodies.

If [the ‘Alids’] domed tents were pulled down,
Then surely the tent-pole of religion was toppled first.

The Caliphate has been wrested from its [true] people,
By those of the white [banners][Umayyads] and those of the black [banners][Abbasids].

Umayyad infidels have defiled its minbars,
Rapacious wolves, they mount the wooden [steps].

They are God’s elect to whom He sent His Revelation
And to whose noble [Imams] He related His decrees.

They took hold of glory at both ends,
So men and jinn are forgiven for envying them.

Their ruthless warriors are yet pious and forbearing,
And but for [fear of] Allah their pious would be ruthless warriors.

[They are] bands who swaddle their newborns with sword-straps,
Whose infants’ cradles are the backs of steeds.

Their virtuous deeds are recited by their foes,
Even though they ascribe them to their enemies.

O divine wrath, rise to defend God’s Prophet
And draw the white [blades] from their sheathes

Against a band between whose Yazad and Ziyad
The blood of Muhammad and his sons was lost.

The gifts of God’s money fill their hands,
While the hands of God’s people are in bonds.

With Muhammad’s sword they struck his sons
With blows like handmills that draw back only to return once more.

I said to [the driver of] the weary riders like dust-hued eagles
On lofty mountain peaks,

As he was urging on with song the bow-backed camels,
Whose stubborn ones obeyed him and subdued the docile ones,

Until you would imagine that their necks,
Bobbing as they run, were flowing streams,

Stop with me, if only for the time it takes to twist a waist-wrapper,
For mine is a heart afflicted by violent passion,

At al-Taff where once of a morning the heart’s blood flowed
And where their she-camels knelt for the sword-fight day.

The wasteland was their funeral tent, the vultures their visitors by night,
None but wild beasts came to call upon their sick.

For them tear-drops stream down,
But only in the grains of hearts can [grief] be weighed.

O Day of Ashura, how great the pains you bring!
Their burning fairly makes the insides dance!

You have not returned except to bring my heart once more
A passion that, however hard I try to cool it, yet still burns,

Like a snake-bit man, his hours filled with pain,
Whom the slit-eyed serpents revisit yearly with new pain.

O Grandfather! May the squadrons of sorrow never cease
To overwhelm the soul with their charging and pursuit

Forever over you, nor poured forth tears
That weeping brings, if not at evening, then at morn.

This is my praise, though I have not yet reached [the finish],
Rather [my lines are like] horses gathered at the starting-line when the swift steeds reins are loosed.

Shall I say, “May the spring rains pour down generously upon you,”
To you who are the spring rain of every abode?

Or shall I seek to increase your exalted rank through my praises?
—But how the mountains tower above the hills and plains!

How can one praise the stars when they are high above
The furthest distance that the eye can see?

The rising of the sun defies description
In its glory, its radiance, and its distant [splendor].

 

—Al-Sharīf al-Radī
Elegy for al-Hussain ibn ‘Alī on ‘Āshūrā’, 391 A.H (1000 C.E.)

Original Arabic Text + Translation