Will Pewitt translates Ḥafṣa bint al-Ḥājj ar-Rukūniyya

If He Were Not a Star

ولو لَمْ يكن نجماً لما كانَ باظري       وقد غبتُ عنهُ مُظلماً بعد نورِهِ
سـلامٌ على تلك المحاسنِ من شَجٍ       تناءت بنعماه وطيبِ سرورِهِ

If he were not a star
             I’d be unaware,
                          now he’s gone,
             that I’m here floating in the black.

Do we wish peace
             upon the lights
                          who leave us,
             longing for the warmth of illumination?



سار شعري لك عنّى زائراَ     فأَعرْ سَمْعَ المعالى شِنْفَهُ
وكذاك الروضُ إذْ لم يَسْتطعْ    زَورةً أَرْسَلَ عنه عَرْفَهُ

I sent my poem to visit you,
              a beggar before majesty—
like scents affected from a garden:
              Reaching, yet touchless.


Jamil & Buthaina

أزوركَ أم تزورُ فإنَّ قلبي        إلى ما تشتهي أبداً يميلُ
فثَغري موردٌ عذبٌ زلالٌ         وفَرْعُ ذُؤَابتي ظِلٌ ظَليلُ
وقد أَمَّلتُ أن تظما وتَضْحَى      إذا وافى إليك بيَ المقِيلُ
فَعَجل بالجوابِ فما جميلٌ         أنَاتُك عن بُثينةَ يا جميلُ

Come for me
             or shall I come to you
for my inclination curls
             toward whatever you prefer

So let me
             be the recess to restore you
and my embrace be the branches
             that melt you into shadow 

I wish only
             that my sacrifice stirs in you
a sough satisfying enough 
             to stifle any slander

Now give me
             a lovely mouthed reply so I may elude
being the latest adulterous iteration
             of Buthaina beholden to her Jamil



ثنائي على تلكَ الثّنايا لأنّني     أقول على علم وأنطق عن خُبْرِ
وأُنصفها لا أكذبُ الله إنّني     رشفتُ بها ريقاً أرقَّ مِنَ الخمرِ

You come to come
I know you know
             these folds.

Tell me true, tell me
I love sipping your words,
             thinner than wine.



سـلامٌ يفتحُ في زهرةِ ال            كمامَ ويُنْطِقُ وُرقَ الغصونْ
على بازح قد ثَوَى في الحَشا       وإن كان تحرم منهُ الجفونْ
فـلا تحسبوا البُعدَ يُنسيكمُ            فذلكَ والله ما لا يَكونْ

your peace opens me to phosphor,
              to unmuzzle as yet unpronounced blooms
even in eyelids deprived of vision
              or the dispossessed sheltering in the soil
forget distance, my ardor’s as undiminishing 
              as God’s to we, the undeserving


Translator’s Note:

Ḥafṣa bint al-Ḥājj ar-Rukūniyya was born around the year 530 AH (1135 CE) to a wealthy family in the city of Granada, which underwent substantive sociopolitical changes during her lifetime after the Almohad invasion that occurred when she was still a child. She famously initiated an affair with Abū Ja’far, a court poet also serving as secretary to the Almohad governor who unfortunately also fell in love with Ḥafṣa. According to legend, court politics and jealousies led Abū Ja’far to side with a rebellion that ended with his capture and execution. Before his death, he often sent Ḥafṣa customary love poems, to which she responded in varied tones (sometimes coy, sometimes passionate, sometimes cerebral), showcasing her famed range as a poet. She spent her last years, after leaving her homeland, in Marrakesh where she tutored young noblewomen. Although only around 60 lines of her poetry have survived to the present, Ḥafṣa (along with Wallāda bint al-Mustakfī and Nuzhawn bint al-Qilāʿī al-Ghirnātiyya) has long been acclaimed as one of the three greatest of women poets in the Andalusian tradition. Ḥafṣa’s remarkably enigmatic style not only has drawn scores of readers to her work but also has allowed for vastly different translating interpretations of her work over the centuries.


Ḥafṣa bint al-Ḥājj ar-Rukūniyya was a noblewoman from Granada known for her legendary love affair with a vizier that ended tragically when an envious ruled killed him. She later became a royal tutor in Marrakech for daughters of the Almohad dynasty. Only about 60 lines of her poetry have survived to the present.

Translator Will Pewitt teaches global literature at the University of North Florida and publishes in a variety of genres, from poetry and fiction to history and philosophy. More of his work can be found at WPewitt.com.