A Beautiful Ode for Lady Zaynab (as)

Below we have translated a beautiful qaṣīdah by the poet—Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyā al-‘Āmilī (1154-1214 AH)—in honor of Lady Zaynab.[1] The poet was one of the students of the famous Shī’ah scholars Shaykh Mahdī Baḥr al-‘Ulūm and Shaykh Ja’far Kāshif al-Ghiṭā’. As usual, we have appended some footnotes on deeper points of Arabic linguistics/eloquence where appropriate for more advanced readers:

يـا دوحة بسقت في المنبت الزاكي

حـيا الـحيا ربعك السامي وحياك

Oh evergreen sprung from the purest vein:

May spring rain salute you and your terrain[2]

حاكيت شمس الضحى والبدر مكتملا      أبـاً وأمـاً وكـان الفضل للحاكي You match a Sun blazing, a full moon in brightness

In father and mother—nay surpassed is this likeness[3]

أبــوك حـيـدرة والأم فـاطـمة

والـجد أحـمد والـسبطان صنواك

Your father is Ḥaydar, while Fāṭim’s your mother

Ahmad’s your grandfather, and Sibṭayn your brothers

فـخر لـعمر الـعلى مـا ناله أحد

إلاك يــا بـضعة الـزهراء إلاك

Yes for Hāshim, you bear such laud and such plume

That none but the spawn of Zahrā’ can assume[4]

لـك الـمقام الـذي ما زال مشتملا

عـلـى مـلائـكة غـر وامـلاك

A status not ceasing towards it to bring

Archangels in throngs and many a king

يـقـبلون ضـريحاً ضـم نـاسكة      تـرعرعت  بـين زهـاد ونـساك Who do kiss a grave that carries a saintess[5]

Raised in the midst of ascetics, most stainless

يـبكون  مـن خـيفة والثغر مبتسم

مـن  الـمسرة يـا للضاحك الباكي

Who cried in God’s fear, whilst smiling for neighbors

Who had been most grand in both hardship and favor[6]

ويـصدرون وفـي أيـديهم سـبب

مـن الـمحامد مـوصول بذكراك

Bestowing all while their bearing connection

To praises that hinge on your recollection[7]

أولاك مـولاك مـجداً لا يـرام فما      أحـراك بـالغاية القصوى وأولاك Your Lord did bestow you such eminent glory

That none can achieve: for which only you’re worthy[8]

لـجيد مـجدك أطـواق الثنا خلقت

جـل  الـذي بـحلى الفضل حلاك

The pendant of praise for your collar was crafted

Exalted is He who your excellence granted[9]

طـوبى لمن شم يوماً من حماك شذا      لأن مـن جـنة الـفردوس ريـاك Lucky is one who smells from your tomb’s dew

For indeed Firdaws with your scent is imbued[10]


[1] This poem can be found in the work Adab al-Taff by Shaykh Jawād Shubbar, volume 6 pages 62-63.

[2] The reader will notice that in the entire address of the poem, the speaker never mentions his addressee by name even once. Instead, he utilizes descriptors for Lady Zaynab that are so unmistakable as to leave no doubt in the mind of the listener as to whom he is referring. The word al-dawḥah in Arabic refers to any tree whose branches are abundant and wide-spreading. We see the benediction of al-suqyā being employed in this couplet: that is, asking God to bestow abundant fertility on the terrain of the beloved.

[3] The speaker employs a type of hyperbolic simile (al-mubālaghah) here. There is a beautiful instance of a disambiguate construction (al-tamyīz) being utilized here with the accusative use of “in father and in mother” (aban wa umman).

[4] The term in Arabic used is ‘Amr al-‘Ulā which is one of the laudatory epithets of Hāshim ibn ‘Abd Manāf, the great grandfather of the Holy Prophet (saw). The speaker refers to Lady Zaynab more literally in this couplet as “the piece of Zahrā” (biḍ’ah al-Zahrā), as an allusion to the fact that she represented the epitome of Lady Fāṭimah’s personality and ethics in her life.

[5] The allusion to the grave of Lady Zaynab here is perhaps to the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque of Damascus. Of course, there is some historical dispute regarding Lady Zaynab’s grave, with some believing she was buried in Madīnah and others believing she was buried in Egypt.

[6] The speaker casts wonder here at the antithesis (al-ṭibāq) latent in the great men who raised Lady Zaynab: while they would appear to others as happy and comfortable, they would tremble in fear of God in their private lives.

[7] In this line we can see an example of harmonious imagery (murā’āt al-naẓīr): the word aṣdara means more literally “to draw forward something by its reins,” and here we can see that the speaker then employs the words sabab (rope) and mawṣūl (connected) as an extension of this imagery.

[8] In Arabic, there are different forms of alliteration (al-jinās) that are lost in English translation. First there is incomplete alliteration between the words awlāki (he granted to you) and mawlāki (your Lord). Furthermore, there is a case of complete alliteration between the words awlāki (he granted you) at the start of the couplet and awlāki (how worthy are you) at the end of the couplet.

[9] We again see examples of murā’āt al-naẓīr being employed here: a necklace (aṭwāq) is paired with the neck (jīd) and jewelry (ḥuliyy) while the words glory (majdiki), praise (al-thanā’), and merit (al-faḍl).

[10] We see that the speaker again returns to the trope of the tree with which he started to refer to Lady Zaynab, here referencing the paradisical tree of Tūbā.  He ends by a strong rhetorical poetic device known as ḥusn al-ta’līl (translated by some scholars as “fantastic etiology”),