One of the great mystics of all time, Muhyiddin Ibn al-‘Arabi was a prolific author who wrote on every aspect of medieval Islamic thought. Among the most widely read of his works, and certainly his most famous collection of poems, was his volume of odes, The Translator of Desires (Turjuman al-Ashwaq), which is regarded as a masterpiece of Arabic and Sufi love poetry.
Michael Sells’s Stations of Desire contains the first translations of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Turjuman into modern poetic English. The translator of a highly praised volume of pre-Islamic qasidas, Desert Tracings, and the newly controversial Approaching the Qur’an, Sells carries into his translations the supple, resonant quality of the original Arabic, so that the poems come to robust life in English. He also provides an insightful introduction along with a selection of his own original poems, which are modeled on the Turjuman and serve as further commentary to the medieval odes and their extension into the present climate of poetry.
“These poems can be read with the finest love poems of the Middle Eastern tradition, the same tradition that, through the Arabic poets of Spain, influenced the Troubadours. This is also the tradition that stretches from the oldest Majnun Layla poems to the Layla of Eric Clapton (which was inspired by the English bluesman’s encounter with the Nizami version of Majnun Layla in a London bookshop). As high literature the poems of the Turjuman embrace and bring to life centuries of classical Arabic poetic tradition. As love lyrics they are also as straight-to-the-heart as a song played on the street corner.”
from the Introduction
“These translations show the twelfth-century Muslim mystic at his very best. This is … truly a collection to be treasured.”
“Quietly elegant … The love [Ibn ‘Arabi] evokes is variously human and divine, elevating in the former case and grounding in the latter. In between the two major parts of Ibn ‘Arabi’s work, surprisingly, appear eleven poems by Sells himself, but the effect of this interjection is less audacious, less disruptive than one might think: Sells’s compositions, clearly written from the present day, successfully connect our own time to that of the 800-year-old verses that flank them.”
MUHYIDDIN IBN AL-‘ARABI was born in Murcia, Andalusia in 1165 and died in Damascus in 1240. He is the author of more than two hundred works.
MICHAEL SELLS is an authority on Ibn ‘Arabi as well as one of the most distinguished contemporary translators of classical Arabic poetry. His books include: Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes(Wesleyan); Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago); Early Islamic Mysticism (Paulist Press); The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (California); Approaching the Qur’an (White Cloud); and The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Andalus (Cambridge). He teaches at the University of Chicago.
We are extremely pleased that Princeton University Press’s Lockert Library has issued a new, complete edition of Michael Sells’s translation of the Ibn ‘Arabi collection, with facing Arabic, titled The Translator of Desires: Poems. To order: click here.