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The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq

Muhyi al-Din Muhammad ibn 'Ali Ibn al-'Arabi

tr. by Reynold A. Nicholson [1911]

This text is of great interest, aside from its literary merits as delightful (but highly encoded) Sufi love poetry, because the author supplied extensive commentary for each poem. This is key to disentangling the Sufi narrative from the exterior form of the work. At this level, rather than a series of love poems to a young woman, this book is actually a philosophical treatise with profound insights.

The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq or "Interpreter of Desires" by Ibn 'Arabi is acknowledged as one of the major works of Sufi literature, alongside those of the great Persian poets Attar, Jalaluddin Rumi, Hafiz and Jami.
In keeping with the poetical tradition of Islam, there is a continuing ambiguity in the verses as to whether they are love poems disguised as mystical odes, or mystical odes expressed in the language of human love. The timeless beauty and imagery of the verses cannot be denied, and may be interpreted at many levels. "Gnostics," says Ibn 'Arabi, "cannot impart their feelings to other men; they can only indicate them symbolically to those who have begun to experience the like." In response to the accusation by a religious scholar that these were just sensual poems, Ibn 'Arabi wrote a commentary on the Tarjuman which is partially translated here.

This was one of the first translations of a book by Ibn 'Arabi into a European langauage, made by the great translator of Rumi's Mathnawi, Reynold A. Nicholson. In both cases his translation was of such outstanding quality that it was more than fifty years before other translators began to try their hands at these texts, and his translations still stand the test of time.

One of the most prolific of the medieval Sufi writers, al-Arabi wrote over 150 books. Unfortunately, very little of this output was translated, up to the early 20th century. This is Reynold Nicholson's translation of the Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, or the 'Interpreter of Desires,' the first edition of which was completed in 611 A.H. (1215 A.D.).

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May 28, 2010 Initial Release

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