M.A. Sabir (1862-1911) Poems in English

1.     For sale

People won’t be silent, uncle, when they hear the tale;

Bah! It doesn’t matter, does it, what sneers it may entail.

Write it down on paper on a wall to nail:

I’ve opened here in Reh a new tremendous sale!

Dirt cheap, the wares my shop displays for sale;

Come buy! The whole of Reh today’s for sale!

And what is more, I do not sell that article alone,

But with the Jami-Jam, Reh’s subjects, Kubbad’s throne,

Although I’m somewhat hindered, I must own,

By certain Young Iranians well-known.

But never mind them – wholesale and retails,

Come, buy, the whole of Reh today’s for sale!

What shall I do with all that bric-a-brac?

So many cares it brings, it sure will break my back.

That “Salty Water” – not much use, alack!

I’ll better sell it all before the sky looks black!

The palace of Shiraz, the heritage of Reh today’s for sale!

Come, buy! The whole of Reh today’s for sale!

I hate the light – I offer gloom for sale,

I love to see Iran under its veil.

I want to leave the city – deserts, hail!

I’d be a khan – being a shah seems stale.

Sabsivarah and Meyameh’s for sale!

Come, buy! The whole of Reh today;s for sale!

My will mine, my words,  my home as well,

My honour, self-respect, the shame into which I fell.

My wealth – who else but me its fate may spell?

My Kajar crown and state today I sell.

Whose business what goods I displays for sale?

Come, buy, the whole of Reh today’s for sale!

Instead of being constitutional shah,

A publicly elected guiding star,

The army’s puppet – not a sovereign by far,

Instead of always saying Oh! And Ah!

I’d drink wine as a khan – my crown today’s for sale!

Come, buy, today the whole of Reh’s for sale!



2.     The Odd Sneeze 

As soon as we start to realise things

It sounds among wise men—that mighty odd sneeze.

When we say we have got to normalise things,

It sounds among nobles, that mighty odd sneeze.

Or else we decide on some fine enterprise

For years keep discussing it, buzzing like bees.

It’s time to get money and start, say the wise,

But then all through the country it sounds, that odd sneeze.

This misfortune happens not only with us—

It sweeps all the Caucasus like a foul breeze.

If Gakh, Kazakh or Sheki start to fuss—

In Shusha and Shirvan it sounds, that odd sneeze.

It never stays in one place, but goes on,

It changes its residence with the utmost ease.

They say it was heard in Ganje, but it’s gone

Away to Salyani, that mighty odd sneeze.

That unlucky odd sneeze—be it ever accursed—

It won’t let us speak, it resounds without cease,

As if thunder has sounded and lightning must burst,

All over our squares sounds that mighty odd sneeze.

It won’t think of decency—never a bit;

At meetings, assemblies—wherever you please,

There’s nothing like shame or fear for it:

In mosque cells, in shops sounds that mighty odd sneeze.



3.     To the Workers of Baku

The wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays:

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.They poke their noses everywhere and always nowadays.

What are we coming to when working men breathe freer nowadays?

They fight for rights and disobey the overseer nowadays!The wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.Now tell me, why do you demand respect, a simple worker?

Why raise your voice, and what can you expect, a simple worker?

All you should do is serve the rich, though they neglect a simple worker.

Well-paid or not, you must be gratefully subdued, you simple worker.But the wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.Don’t plunge yourself into distress, take care, beware, rich man;

If any worker speaks the truth, don’t give him ear, rich man!

Don’t let the poor breathe freely – lon’ you dare, rich man!

Don’t yield, don’t budge an inch, don’t give in anywhere, rich man!For the wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays!Don’t pay attention, even though they may complain, the poor.

They’ve no expensive clothes nor homes – they’ve got no brain, the poor.

No property, no riches d they ever gain, the poor.

All they possess are ragged coats, shoes torn, clothes plain, the poor.But the wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.If you intend to be both free and merry in this world,

Just think about yourself, don’t have a worry in this world.

If you would have no load of woe to carry in this world,

Forget that other people’s lots are sorry in this world.Yet the wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.To think about the plight of your poor nation? By no means!

To sooth poor orphans and to stop their lamentation? By no means!

To help the poor, to give them consolation? By no means!Yet the wheel of fortune’s turning in a new way nowadays;

The working men begin to think they’re human nowadays.



4.     Questions and Answers

“My friend, in what state is your glorious city today?”

“God be blessed, it’s the same as it was in Noah’s day.”

“Have you new schools for the young- of your country to learn in?”

“No, we’ve only Madrassahs, which stand since the year Adam was born in.”

“Do the citizens in your land read newspapers every day?”

“Some literate madmen do, but I don’t, I must say.”

“Now tell me, my friend, are there libraries in your town?”

“Young people opened a few, but we turned them upside-down.”

“Are the hungry helped in your country by other men?”

“God sees their sufferings himself—why should we help them, then?”

”Do you take care of widows and women that are in need?”

“To the devil with them—can’t they marry again, indeed?”

“Is the need for unity talked about in your land?”

“Yes, it is, but for eloquence’s sake, you must understand.”

“Is the nation split into shiites and sunnites still?”

“What do you mean? For such words, young man, you ought to be killed.”

“Well, there is nothing else I can say to you, so good-bye.”

“Good riddance! I wish you to fall in a pit and die!

“Just look at him! Look at his face—what a loathsome sight!

“The way he talks! Why, he can’t even put his cap on right!”



5.     Thanksgiving

Dear colleagues, thank the stars above for the luck we’ve had today!

The missionaries are our friends; now aren’t we glad today!

By every means we tried to close all schools until this day,

But lacked the power to gain our goal, poor fools, until this day.

Though we ordained that schools be closed, they scorned us till this day.

We lost authority and weight, my friends, day after day,

But now our lucky star again ascends day after day.

Things have improved and our position’s not so bad today.

For the missionaries are our friends, so aren’t we glad today!

The missionaries have ideas—they’re intellectual giants.

In Petersburg they’ve signed with us a business-like alliance.

Why have, they say, so many schools to serve our Moslem clients?

Can’t they get on just as they are? What use have they for science?

They’ll get acquainted with philosophy and history and so on;

Well, well, they say, we can’t permit this sort of thing to go on.

So let us see that schools enroll no girl or lad today,

For the missionaries are our friends, and aren’t we glad today!

And since the missionaries had performed such noble deeds,

How could we sit with folded hands and not take part, indeed.

In short, we Moslem clergymen, with our business to proceed,

A ban on certain sciences henceforward have decreed..

For children to be taught at school there surely is no need.

Of independent thought and arrogance we must stamp out the seed,

While there is still the slightest chance, let’s act, by god, today,

For the missionaries are our friends, so aren’t we glad today!

You curbed the Moslems, missionaries, Allah bless your souls!

And bring- you to the true faith, missionaries. Allah bless your souls!

Let Allah put the schools in ruins, missionaries. Bless your souls!

Let Allah’s holy will be done, 0 missionaries! Blessyour souls!

Let all of those who ever tried to open up new schools

Cry, rave, go mad, go wild with fury, idiots, poor fools!

Let teachers be thrown out of work throughout theland today,

The missionaries are our friends, and aren’t we glad today!



6.     Ploughman

Don’t wail, don’t cry, don’t pretend you’re unhappy, ploughman!

You old, sly fox, you won’t catch us napping, ploughman!

Under some pretext or other, daily you stand at my door;

Don’t beg, don’t ask me, don’t stretch out your hand at my door!

I’m sick of seeing the whole of your clan at my door!

Don’t get ideas, don’t wear out my patience, ploughman!

Be dumb and obey me while I am gracious, ploughman!

If the year brought you peasants no gain, what do I care?

If there was no rain and no crop of grain, what do I care?

If drought spoiled the rice and barley again, what do I care?

If last year your debt with your blanket you paid, what do I care?

Now carry your rug to the market to sell, ploughman!

Be dumb and obey, for assistance don’t yell, ploughman!

Don’t try to explain that from hunger you’re dying, wretch!

You’ll never persuade me, so no use trying, wretch!

Pay what you’re due—don’t tell me you can’t—lying wretch!

Bring me barley and wheat, and rice, ploughman,

Or I’ll take off your skin in a trice, ploughman!

Swear as much as you like that you can’t—I’ll have it!

By Allah almighty, I’ll get what I’m due—I’ll have it!

You’ll be whipped and flogged black and blue—I’ll have it!

Don’t forg-et yourself, pay your arrears, ploughman,

Don’t overreach yourself, don’t spill vain tears, ploughman!

Your job is to plough; eat millet yourself; give me wheat, ploughman!

As long as it’s softer than stone—any stuff you can eat, ploughman.

If you don’t have water, thcir’s plenty of snow to heat, ploughman!

You have never seen butter or cream or meat, ploughman,

You’re used to a simple life, like a beast, ploughman!

Haven’t I always declared that I want good relations?

All an aristocrat wants is leisure and relaxation,

Idling-, gambling, drinking and eating- without cessation.

Such is a gentleman’s life by tradition, ploughman;

It was Allah appointed to us such an earthly mission, ploughman!



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