Today, I want to share my favorite poem of all time, a Lebanese-Arabic original on the theme of love. Doing the right thing in life often boils down to love. Love of God (The First Commandment). Love of others (The Golden Rule). Love of self (Psychology 101). The poem, Be Like Balsam, so elegantly and eloquently captures the beauty and stakes of love in this life. Something is always lost in translation, but I think my friend Frankie did an excellent job translating this one. This poem has been hanging on my wall for the last 6 months! Love is a challenge, and it takes great strength to love when we experience hostility from other people.
I’ve posted the English translation, followed by the Arabic, followed by a print-out on my wall with the English and Arabic side by side. I also included a video of the Arabic recitation for the few of you who speak Arabic or enjoy recitation in a foreign language.
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.
Be Like Balsam (By Elia Abu Madi; Translated By FrankieFalah)
When fate conspires to smother you, be like balsam.
And if others are bitter, be sweet.
Indeed, life has loved you with all her treasures,
So who are you to be stingy in return?
Though the world is blind, multiply beauty.
Does the fragrant flower wait for a bribe?
Does a nightingale weigh the cost of each note?
Does the pouring rain expect a reward?
Gather the generous and count their ways,
Yet who among them can measure up to life?
Take from them the knowledge of love,
For that knowledge alone is precious.
Were it not for feelings, people would be like dolls.
Love, and by dawn the whole cosmos will fill your dwelling.
Hate, and by evening the whole universe will become a dark prison.
If only the desert could love, each grain of sand would blossom and every mirage would be a pool of water.
A cup without wine is nothing but glass, and man without love is nothing but skin and bones.
كن بلسما “إيليا أبو ماضي”
كُن بَلسَماً إِن صارَ دَهرُكَ أَرقَما
وَحَلاوَةً إِن صارَ غَيرُكَ عَلقَما
إِنَّ الحَياةَ حَبَتكَ كُلَّ كُنوزِها
لا تَبخَلَنَّ عَلى الحَياةِ بِبَعضِ ما
أَحسِن وَإِن لَم تُجزَ حَتّى بِالثَنا
أَيَّ الجَزاءِ الغَيثُ يَبغي إِن هَمى
مَن ذا يُكافِئُ زَهرَةً فَوّاحَةً
أَو مَن يُثيبُ البُلبُلَ المُتَرَنِّما
عُدَّ الكِرامَ المُحسِنينَ وَقِسهُمُ
بِهِما تَجِد هَذَينِ مِنهُم أَكرَما
يا صاحِ خُذ عِلمَ المَحَبَّةِ عَنهُما
إِنّي وَجَدتُ الحُبَّ عَلَماً قَيِّما
لَولا الشُعورُ الناسُ كانوا كَالدُمى
أَحبِب فَيَغدو الكوخُ كَوناً نَيِّراً
وَاِبغُض فَيُمسي الكَونُ سِجناً مُظلِما
لَو تَعشَقُ البَيداءُ أَصبَحَ رَملُها
زَهراً وَصارَ سَرابُها الخَدّاعُ ما
ما الكَأسُ لَولا الخَمرُ غَيرُ زُجاجَةٍ
وَالمَرءُ لَولا الحُبُّ إِلّا أَعظُما