One of the most well-grounded traditions of the Shī’ah is the composition of poetry for the Ahl al-Bayt. This practice was generally sanctioned by our Imāms who urged their Shī’ah to compose and memorize poems extolling their virtues and mourning their tragedies.
Nonetheless, there are only a handful of poems well-documented to have been recited specifically in the presence of the Ahl al-Bayt during their lifetimes. Among the Arabic poems of the Shī’ah that received the good fortune of recitation in front of the Imāms is the famous eulogy of al-Sayyid Ismā’īl al-Ḥimyarī (d. 179 AH) composed for Imam al-Ḥusayn (as). We have two historical narrations that mention this poem having been recited in the presence of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as), upon which he cried profusely. We quote these reports as below:
روى الأصفهاني: ذكر التّميميّ-وهو عليّ بن إسماعيل-عن أبيه قال: كنت عند أبي عبد اللّه جعفر بن محمد إذ استأذن آذنه للسيّد، فأمره بإيصاله، وأقعد حرمه خلف ستر ودخل فسلّم وجلس. فاستنشده فأنشده امرر على جدث الحسين قال: فرأيت دموع جعفر بن محمّد تتحدّر على خدّيه، وارتفع الصّراخ والبكاء من داره، حتى أمره بالإمساك فأمسك
- “Al-Iṣfahānī narrates: ‘Alī ibn Ismā’īl al-Tamīmī told me on the authority of his father: I was in the presence of Abū ‘Abdillāh Ja’far ibn Muḥammad (as) when his porter asked for permission to enter for al-Sayyid [al-Ḥimyarī]. He (as) ordered for his reception and had his women sit behind a curtain. He then entered, greeted, and sat down. Then the Imām (as) asked him to eulogize [for Ḥusayn] and he recited, “Pass by Ḥusayn’s grave, to his pure bones implore…” He said, “I saw the tears of Ja’far bin Muḥammad streaming down his cheeks. The wails and cries rose in his home to the point that he (as) ordered him to stop reciting and thus he did so.””
حدثنا ابو العباس القرشي عن محمد بن الحسين بن ابي الخطاب عن محمد بن اسماعيل عن صالح ابن عقبة عن ابي هارون المكفوف قال : قال ابو عبد الله يا ابا هارون انشدني في الحسين ، قال فانشدته فبكى. فقال : أنشدني كما تنشدون ـ يعني بالرقة ـ قال فانشدته امرر على جدث الحسين وقل لأعظمه الزكّية قال فبكى ثم قال زدني ، قال فأنشدته القصيدة الاخرى ، قال فبكى وسمعت البكاء من خلف الستر ، قال فلما فرغتُ قال لي : يا ابا هارون من أنشد في الحسين شعراً فبكى وأبكى عشراً كتبت له الجنة ، ومَن انشد في الحسين شعراً فبكى وابكى واحدا كتبت لهما الجنة ، ومَن ذكر الحسين عنده فخرج من عينيه من الدموع مقدار جناح ذباب كان ثوابه على الله ولم يرض له بدون الجنة
2. “Abū al-‘Abbās al-Qurashī narrated from Muḥammad bin al-Ḥusayn bin Abī Khaṭṭāb from Muḥammad bin Ismā’īl from Ṣāliḥ ibn ‘Aqabah on the authority of Abū Hārūn al-Makfūf that he said: “Abū ‘Abdillāh (as) said to me, “Oh Abū Hārūn, eulogize to me for al-Ḥusayn (as).” I did so and he wept. Then he said, “Recite like you all tend to recite—as in, with passion—thus I recited, “Pass by Ḥusayn’s grave, to his pure bones implore…” He then cried and said, “Go on further.” Thus, I recited to him another eulogy. He then wept and I heard wailing from behind the curtain.
Then Abū Hārūn said, “When I completed it, he told me, “Oh Abū Hārūn! Whoever composes for Ḥusayn (as) and cries while making ten others cry, Heaven is written for him. [Nay], whoever composes for Ḥusayn (as) and cries while making one other person cry, Heaven is written for them both. [Nay], he around whom Ḥusayn’s name is mentioned such that he sheds a tear the size of a fly’s wing, his reward is incumbent upon God—and God will not be pleased to give him anything less than Heaven.”
One of the close companions of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as), al-Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī is known to have been one of the most prolific Arab poets of Shī’ah history. He received the highest laudations from Imām al-Ṣādiq (as) who is reported to have said to him, “Your mother named you Sayyid and you have succeeded in being worthy of this title. You are indeed the Master of Poets.”
Below, the reader will find our humble endeavor to translate the full poem of Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī regarding Imām Ḥusayn (as) recited in front of Imām al-Ṣādiq (as). At a lengthy twenty-three lines, this poem can be considered one of the earliest extant eulogies dealing with the tragedy of Karbalā in a holistic fashion. Prior to this poem, Ḥusaynī eulogies were nearly all characterized by brevity, not exceeding five to ten lines in length. They nearly always dealt with simply one to two themes of Karbalā. On this background, al-Ḥimyarī’s detailed lyrical exposition of Imām Ḥusayn’s tragedy was perhaps one of the first of its kind. Furthermore, given the visitation of Imām Ḥusayn’s grave was considered a threat by the ruling Umayyads and Abbasids, the invitation of Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī in these lines to stop at his gravesite and mourn was indeed quite a daring political move.
We have rendered our translation in the form of rhyming couplets (as well as one triplet). While the elegance of the original Arabic is truly irreplicable (each stanza rhymes on an ending ‘yā’), we hope to have done justice in rendering the meaning in a manner appreciable to an English-speaking audience. As is our usual custom, we have adorned this translation with footnotes to explain some more delicate historical and Arabic rhetorical points.
|أُمْرُرْ عَلَىْ جَدَثِ الحُسَيْنِ وُقُلْ لِأَعْظُمِهِ الزَّكِيَّةْ||Pass by Ḥusayn’s grave, to his pure bones implore:|
|يَا أَعْظُمَاً لَا زِلْتِ مِنْ وَطْفَاءَ سَاكِبَةً رَوِيَّةْ||“Oh bones, be you drenched in tears evermore!”|
|مَا لَذَّ عَيْشٌ بَعْدَ رَضِّكِ بِالجِيَادِ الأَعْوَجِيَّةْ||When steeds trampled you, life lost all its sweetness—|
|قَبـــــرٌ تَضمّــــــنَ طيّبّـــاً آبـــاؤُهُ خَيـرُ البرِيّه||A tomb for a saint whose fathers were peerless!”|
|آباؤُهُ أهـــل الرياســـةِ والخِلافَــــــةِ وَالوصيّه||His fathers were leaders, caliphs, successors|
|وَالخَيرِ والشِّيــــمِ المهذَّبـــةِ المَطيّبةِ الرّضيّه||Of virtue and traits—most refined—the possessors!|
|فإذا مَرَرْتَ بِقبــــــرِهِ فأطِـــل بِهِ وَقفَ المَطيّة||When you pass by his grave, then arrest your mare,|
|وَابْكِ المُطَهّــر للمطهَّـــــرِ والمطَهَّرةِ الزكيَّة||And mourn for the pure, son of purity squared:|
|كَبكــــاءِ مُعْــــوِلَةٍ غَدَتْ يَوماً بِواحِــدِها المنيَّة||The cry of a mum bereaved of her toddler;|
|وَالعَنْ صَــدى عُمَرَ بْن سَعْدٍ والمُلمّــــع بالنَقيّه||And curse bin Sa’d, then that blade flaunter:|
|شِمْرِ بنِ جوشــــنٍ الذي طاحــت بهِ نَفْسٌ شقيّة||Bin Jawshan, whose evil led him to slaughter!|
|جَعَلوا ابنَ بنْتِ نَبَّيِهم غَرَضاً كما تُرْمى الذَّرِيّة||They shot at the son of their Prophet’s daughter|
|لمْ يَدْعُهُــــمْ لِقِتـــــالِـــهِ إلا الجعــــالةُ والعَطِيّة||Not doing so but to gain prizes plastered|
|لَمّا دَعــــوْهُ لِكــــي تُحّكّـــمَ فِيــــهِ أولادُ البغيّة||When they called him to cede the rule to bastards:|
|أوْلادُ أخْبثِ مَنْ مَشى مَرَحــــــاً وأخْبثهِم سَجِيّه||The sons of the lewdest, in traits the most lewd—|
|فَعَصــاهُمُ وأَبَتْ لَـــــــهُ نَفْسٌ مُعَــــزّزةٌ أبيّة||He promptly refused, with such honor infused!|
|فغدوا له بالسابغات عليهم والمشرفية||Then they charged in full gear with their rapiers|
|والـبيض والـيلب الـيماني والـطوال السمهريّة||With arrows, helmets, and lengthy spears|
|وهـم ألـوف وهـو فـي سـبعين نـفسا هـاشمية||In thousands, whilst his was a Hāshimite seventy|
|فـلـقوه فــي خـلـفٍ لأحـمد مـقبلين مـن الثنيّة||An Aḥmadite folk who raced to the enemy|
|مـسـتـيقنين بـأنّـهـم سـيـقـوا لأســبـاب الـمـنية||While knowing full well that death was their destiny!|
|يـا عين فابك ما حييت على ذوي الذمم الوفيّة||Thus cry, oh my eye, for that loyalty deep|
|لا عــذر فـي تـرك الـبكاء دمـاً وأنـت بـه حـريّة||No pardon be yours if blood you don’t weep!|
 A full exposition of the importance of poetry in Shī’ah tradition will require an entire treatise. We will suffice here to quote two traditions that illustrate this point. Firstly, a Prophetic tradition (saw) that states:
إن من الشعر لحكما، وإن من البيان لسحرا
“Indeed, in poetry there is wisdom and in eloquence there is magic.”(Amālī al-Ṣadūq volume 6 page 495)
We find Imām al-Ṣadiq (as) being reported to have said:
ما قال فينا قائل بيتا من الشعر حتى يؤيد بروح القدس
“No one says for our sake a line of poetry except that he is aided by the Holy Spirit” (‘Uyūn Akhbār al-Ridā, page 231)
 Kitāb Al-Aghānī volume 7 page 175
 An interesting point derived from this narration is that the nature of Sayyid al-Ḥimyarī’s poem was too much for the Holy Household to bear.
 Kāmil al-Ziyārāt pages 104-105, Biḥār al-Anwār volume 44 page 287, Wasā’il al-Shī’ah volume 14 pages 593-596, Thawāb al-A’māl wa-‘Iqāb al-A’māl page 84
 Two interesting points may be gleaned from this narration: firstly, that reciting poetry for the Ahl al-Bayt should be done in a deliberate and passionate manner. Secondly, that composition of poetry for Imām Ḥusayn (as) and lamentation for him is a highly commendable act. Of course, the promise of Heaven here is conditioned upon a proper adherence to their teachings, as mentioned in other aḥādīth.
 Rijāl al-Kashshī, page 288
 Arguably the most famous composition of al-Sayyid is his qaṣīdah regarding the Wilāyah of Imām ‘Alī (as) and the Pond of Kawthar, which we have had the tawfīq to translate entirely into the English language. It is narrated that Imām al-Riḍā (as) had entirely memorized this poem and encouraged his companions to do so as well. (Biḥār al-Anwār, volume 47, page 328). Perhaps God will grant us the success to publish it in the future.
 For more details on this point, see the excellent paper by Dr. Khalid Sindawi entitled, “Visit to the Tomb of Ḥusayn in Shi’ite Poetry: First to Fifth Centuries AH” in the Journal of Arabic Literature (2006).
 While it is usually customary for a poet to begin his composition with a rhapsody (al-tashbīb), we can see that the speaker does not employ this strategy here; rather he directly addresses his listener to pay heed to the magnitude of the tragedy. This direct style of delivery would later become a crystallized hallmark of much Arabic lamentation poetry for Imām Ḥusayn (as). It is curious that much of the early poetry about the Imām does not identify an embellished shrine per se; rather, the terminology of “passing by” (marra) and “pausing one’s mare” suggests that the gravesite was rather simple, although identifiable. Finally, we notice a classic Arabic trope of benediction employed here in supplicating for the copious drenching (al-suqyā) of Imām Ḥusayn’s bones. The tragic irony in juxtaposing a parched Imām’s bones with an unrelenting flood of tears is quite poignant.
 That Imām Ḥusayn’s corpse was trampled to shreds by the enemy horses after Karbalā’s battle is a well-attested historical fact (e.g. cf. al-Khwārizmī volume 2 page 38). Al-a’wajiyyah were a specific breed of Arabian racehorses renowned for their speed and power. The reference here to “fathers” subsumes Imām ‘Alī and the Holy Prophet (saw). In Arabic “khayr al-bariyyah” is an intertextual reference to Sūrah al-Bayyinah verse 7.
 Given that Arab honor is quite inextricably tied with lineage (al-nasab), the listing of various merits of Imām Ḥusayn’s fathers is taken as a reflection of Imām Ḥusayn’s status itself. Of course, there is also an affirmation of the Shī’ite creed here in Imām ‘Alī’s being the legitimate successor of the Holy Prophet (saw).
 There is again a reference to the pure lineage of the Imām here; “the pure, son of purity squared” may more literally be rendered as “the purified one, son of the purified man and purified woman.” Of course, this is a reference to Imām Ḥusayn (as) being the son of Imām ‘Alī (as) and Lady Fāṭimah (as).
 In Arabic, the simile (al-tashbīh) is even more powerful, as the poet calls upon his audience to mourn Imām Ḥusayn (as) like a wailing mother who has just lost her only child. This is done using the grammatical force of the cognate accusative (uslūb al-maf’ūl al-muṭlaq), which serves to hyperbolize the simile.
 The word ṣadā here has been left untranslated, although in this context it means “the corpse (of) ‘Umar bin Sa’d.” Therefore, the poet is making an antithetical juxtaposition between the purified body of Imām Ḥusayn (as) and the accursed bodies of his killers. We may notice here that the command to curse the perpetrators of this crime is quite explicit, indicating that cursing (al-la’n) Imām Ḥusayn’s killers was an institutionalized practice a century after Karbalā. Although the full nickname of Shimr’s father is Dhū al-Jawshan, there is a truncation (al-ḥadhf) employed here to preserve the Arabic meter.
 The original import is somewhat obscured in English translation, however what is meant here is that the enemies took turns in rallying their blows at Imām Ḥusayn (as), treating him as though he were merely a bullseye for target practice. The epithet as the son of the Prophet’s daughter is used to accentuate the gravity of their crime.
 There is minor morphological derivation (al-ishtiqāq al-ṣaghīr) employed in these lines in the word ja’ālah compared with ja’ālū in the previous line. There is a second case of incomplete alliteration between the phrases lam yad’uhum (they were not called) and lammā da’awhu (when they called him).
 The reference here is most directly to Yazīd and his father Mu’āwiyah. One notices that the poet employs the plural as awlād al-baghiyyah (the sons of the prostitute) likely as a reference to the entirety of the Umayyad dynasty. This is meant to be an antithetical line (al-ṭibāq) with the previous mention of Imām Ḥusayn (as) as the pure son of immaculate forefathers.
 Although there is some dispute in the sources regarding the exact number of individuals who stayed with Imām Ḥusayn (as), it is surmised that they were anywhere from 72-145 individuals. For a more detailed discussion on this point, advanced readers may refer to the Arabic book “Yawm al-Ṭaff” by Shaykh Hādī al-Najafī pages 17-18. In Arabic, the phrase “muqbilīna min al-thaniyyah” is somewhat difficult to render in English translation; “al-thaniyyah” means an elevated and narrow mountain pass. Therefore, this phrase implies both that they took the moral high-ground while also signifying that they were murdered one-by-one.
 We see a personification here (al-isti’ārah al-makniyyah) of the eye as being accountable for the endless lamentation of Imām Ḥusayn (as). This couplet indeed bears a semblance to the famous statement in Ziyārah al-Nāḥiyah:
فـلأندُبَنَّك صباحاً ومساءً ، ولأبكينَّ عليك بدلَ الدموع دماً
“Then I shall mourn for you by morning and evening, and I will cry for you blood in place of tears.”
Muhammad Jaffer is a neurologist by profession, and his field of interest is Islamic literature. He enjoys translating Arabic poetry in particular.