“He Shuns Me” by Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy

Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy


I’m shunned by my own husband, though I’ve done nothing shady.
He thinks of me as ancient. He relishes young ladies.
He’s hated by their boyfriends for how he snatches babies.
Youth, who’s peddling you lately, so I can go out and buy you?
This precious man of mine sticks around but I’m suspicious.
It’s exhausting after a while, getting massaged every minute.
What reason is there to smile? Why must you be fictitious?
It’s not right that your missus must be the one to guide you.
You wanted this to happen, getting captured by cupid.
As smart as you are, imagine, winding up so stupid.
She blinded you with passion. You spent a whole year clueless.
Now you’re finally lucid, begging me to advise you.
So if she goes—let her go! It’s up to God in the end.
And don’t start missing her so. You only feed your heart pain.
When grief is left all alone, it makes bitterness its friend.
Laugh all you want, my friends. Trouble is what we’re tied to.
Translated from the Swahili by Richard Prins

from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Tribute to Translation


Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy (1776–1840) was the earliest secular Swahili poet whose identity is known. He has been credited with bringing Swahili verse “out of the mosque and into the marketplace” with his depiction of daily life in Mombasa, and he popularized the mashairi quatrain form that serves to this day as the predominant form of Swahili verse. | Richard Prins: “I began translating Swahili poetry during the early stages of the pandemic because I couldn’t get the chorus of an old Zanzibari taarab song out of my head. A year and a half later, translation has taken over as my major creative outlet—and the brunt of my efforts have been devoted to Muyaka, this virtuosic voice from 19th century Mombasa. Muyaka’s work combines some of the qualities I enjoy most about the Swahili language—it is so playful, versatile, and intensely social. As an English-language poet, I always felt my purpose was showing something new to this tongue I was born with. Swahili is a language spoken by some hundred million people, with a rich poetic tradition whose manuscripts date back as far as the 17th century. But very few English speakers have had the chance to appreciate it, as translations are rare and often overtly academic. Suffice it to say, I think Muyaka has a lot to show us.” (web)

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