In his classic poem, Macaan iyo Qadhaadh, Qassim - the late legendary Somali oral poet - in the spirit of poet-seers such as William Blake or Yeats- contextualizes his poetry on a universalistic character as opposed to the particularistic fixation of certain mundane topics that is the fashion of most contemporary Somali poets. His are classics in that they stand to time and space and address perplexing questions that are relevant to human kind no matter which geographic location that they are situated, or their belief systems or ethnicity: By that account, he is revolutionary in so many facets.
Macaan iyo Qadhaadh – a Poetic Reflection of Human Duality
(A poem by Ahmed Ismael Diriye (Qassim)
Reviewed by A. Duale Sii'arag
September 10 , 2009
Take Macaan iyo Qadhaadh, and one can discern Qassim’s revolutionary capacity to gauge the human spirit with all its warts rather eloquently. The poem speaks to the universal duality of the human constitution and the capacity of human beings to possess an inexplicable and acute propensity for both good and evil, with its inherent oppositional binaries and contradictions that subtlely steers it. It is a universal human trait that has for over a millennium brought down the saintly, the warrior, the generous hearted and all good and great men (and women)-a Hubris- and see them tumble mightily and tragically in a spectacle not unlike those of ancient Greek theatre.
Like Blake, Qassim here delves into poetic themes addressed by ancient Chinese Taoist poets even though there is no factual evidence that Qassim may have read Chinese literature, much less Taoist, Eastern or even Vedantic literature. His elaboration and exposition of the Yin/Yan duality of the human character or even soul is reminiscent of the constant theme of ancient Chinese and Eastern literature and philosophy that almost make him a kindred spirit of those ancient Eastern Maguses.
On another more local level, in Macaan iyo Qadhaadh, Qassim lucidly portrays not only himself but the duality of the complex Somali persona and the symbiosis of its innate split personality traits that are inherently in a state of perpetual love and hate relationships – a mere microcosmic mirror of the alternating feelings of amity and animosity between the Somali clans, the hardnosed, non-delivering political leaders and the emergent parvenu Sheikhs who are engaged in an ever-shifting alliances and allegiances.
As a matter of fact, Macaan iyo Qadhaadh could be construed as an artistic depiction of present day Somali politics at its raw stage which is neither cogent nor coherent. Unlike any other politics, it is not traceably principle-based or context-driven but rooted in shifting sands; often marred with inconsistence and the absence of a national platform. Like the Somali persona, it is characteristically dynamic and asymmetrical in its application. In his book, Warriors, Life and death among the Somalis, Gerald Hanley aptly describes the complexity of the Somali character. “Of all the races of Africa, there cannot be one better to live among than the most difficult, the proudest, the bravest, the vainest, the most merciless, the friendliest: the Somalis.”
Qassim was known for his outspoken exposition of national failings, philosophical erudition and foresight and for his knack of interpreting and conveying popular, groundswell sentiments of the populace through insurgent and expressive poetry. Humble, well-loved and congenial, throughout his life, he was the seminal voice for the downtrodden - a rebel with a cause who defied abusive authority and stayed course in trying times and in the face of adversity. In the spirit of H.L Mencken, his life was about “ afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted”.
Metaphorically, Macaan and Qadhaadh is a mere symptomatic reflection of the many shades, attributes and imperfections of the human being, while literally it connotes the aggregate summation of the poet’s life time quest to reconcile his opposite – often contradictory - distinguishing traits.
Ironically, in this classic poem, Qassim was a judge unto himself and an author of his performance appraisal. From this piece, one cannot help but think that Qassim has trained his poetic eye into the bowels and abysses of his very soul and found an uncanny commonality with a universal Human, and all too Human archetype.
Let us pay tribute to our legendary poet, Ahmed Ismael Diriye (Qassim), and celebrate his immense contributions to the Somali poetry through one of his best work of art – a work he hoped to be his legacy - Macaan iyo Qadhaadh (bitter and sweet). With entrancing, flowing lyrical beauty – a typical signature of Qassim, the poem attained a household fame in the Somali peninsula.
Macaan iyo Qadhaadh has been translated into English by B.W. Andrzejewski (with Sheila Andrzejewski). To the delight of music-loving young Somali generation, the poem was later immortalized by the melodic voice of our beloved late singer, oud player and lyricist Omer Dhulleh.
Macaan iyo Qadhaadh
1. Dacartuba marbay malab dhashaa ood muudsataa dhabaqe
2. Waxan ahay macaan iyo qadhaadh meel ku wada yaalle
3. Midigtayda iyo bidixdu waa laba mataanoode
4. Midi waa martida soora iyo maata daadihise
5. Midina waa mindiyo xiirayiyo mur iyo deebaaqe
6. Masalooyin talantaalliyaan maandhow leeyahaye
7. Nin majiira keliyuun qabsada hay malayninae
8. Marbaan ahay muddeex camal san oon maagista aqoone
9. Marna macangag laayaanahoo miiggan baan ahaye
10. Marbaan ahay muftiga saahidnimo mawlacaw gala'e
11. Marna Mukhawi waashoo xumaha miista baan ahaye
12. Marbaan ahay nin xaaraan maqdaxa aan marin jidiinkise
13. Marna tuug mu'diya baan ahoon maal Rasuul bixinne
14. Marbaan ahay maqaam awliyaad maqaddinkoodiiye
15. Marna mudanka shaydaanka iyo maal jinbaan ahaye
16. Marbaan ahay murtiyo baanisaba madaxda reeraaye
17. Oo ay weliba muuniyo dulqaad igu majeertaane
18. Marna reer magaal Loofaroon muuqan baan ahaye
19. Waxan ahay nin midabbeeya oo maalinbays rogae
20. Muuqaygu gelinkiiba waa muunad goonniyahe
21. Miisaanna ima saari karo nin i maleeyaaye
22. Muslinka iyo gaalada dirkaba waan micna aqaane
23. Malaa'iigta naartiyo jannadu waygu murantaaye
24. Ninkii maalmo badan soo jiree madaxu boosaystay
25. Ee inan rag maamuli yiqiin waa i maan garanne
26. ninkasta halkii kuula mudan ee ay muhato laabtaadu
27. Ee aanad madadaaladeed ugala maarmaynin
28. Iska soo mar waa kuu bannaan marinkad doontaaye
Bitter and Sweet
Consider the aloe - how bitter is its taste!
Yet sometimes there wells up a sap so sweet
That it seems like honey in your mouth.
Side by side the sweet and bitter run
Just as they do, my friends, in me,
As I switch from sweet to bitter
And back to sweet again.
My two hands, right and left, are twins.
One twin gives food to strangers and to guests,
It sustains the weak and guides them.
But the other is a slashing, cutting knife -
As sharp to the taste as myrrh,
As bitter as the aloe.
Do not suppose I am the kind of man
Who walks along one path, and that path only.
I go one way, and seem a reasonable man,
I provoke no one, I have the best of natures -
I go another, and I'm obstinate and bold,
Striking out at others without cause.
Sometimes I seem a learned man of God
Who retreats in ascetic zeal to a seclude sanctuary -
I turn again and I'm a crazy libertine,
Sneakily snatching whatever I can get.
I am counted as one of the elders of the clan,
Esteemed for my wisdom, tact and skill in argument,
But within me there dwells a mere townee, too -
A no-good layabout he is, at that.
I'm a man whose gullet will allow no passage
For food that believers are forbidden to eat,
And yet I'm a pernicious, hardened thief -
The property of even the Prophet himself
Would not be safe from me.
I have my place among the holy saints,
I am one of the foremost of their leaders,
But at times I hold high rank in Satan's retinue,
And then my lords and masters are the jinns.
It's no good trying to weigh me up -
I can't be balanced on a pair of scales.
From this day to that my very colour changes -
Nay, I'm a man whose aspect alters
As morning turns to evening
And back once more to morning.
Muslims and infidels - I know their minds
And understand them through and through.
"He's ours!" the angels of Hell proclaim of me
"No, ours!" the angels of Heaven protest.
I have, then, all these striking qualities
Which no one can ignore -
But who can really know my mind?
Only a grey-head who has lived for many days
And learned to measure what men are worth.
And now, my friends, each man of you -
If either of the paths I follow
Takes your fancy and delights your heart,
Or even if you cannot bear to lose
The entertainment I provide,
Then come to me along the path -
You're free to make a choice!
-Translated by, B. W. Andrzejewski with Sheila Andrzejewski, 1993
A. Duale Sii’arag
WardheerNews Contributing Editor
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