Wardija: Arabic translation of a modern Maltese poem

This is a poem by a contemporary Maltese poet, Ġakbu (James).

He posted the poem in a previous article on the oldest Maltese literary work, Il-Cantilena. I translated the Cantilena into English using only my knowledge of Arabic and trying to decipher the old orthography and the modern orthography of Maltese.This was a nice mental challenge, and an experiment in culture, history and of course, linguistics.

Wardija, a contemprary Maltese Poem

So, I am presenting this translation as a continuation of that exercise, using a modern work of Maltese literature.

It is called: Wardija, which is a place in Malta, with the name derived from the Arabic word for Rose ("Ward).

1. U morna darba kaħlana fuq l-għolja tal-Wardija

و ... كحلانة فوق العليا تا الوردية

And ... ... "eye shadow" on top of the high place of Wardeyya

I can't  make out what "morna darba". It could be "Umurna" meaning "our affairs" and "darba" is derived from the root "darab" "hit" but can mean many things.Unless it is from Darb, which narrow or unpaved road.

Alternatively, kahlana could start with a q, and then it would mean : و مرنا درب قحلان  "And we passed a barren road ..." . But Darb is masculine in Arabic but it looks feminine in your poem.

2. b’sidirna mġemmda fix-xemx musulmana

بصدرنا مجمدة في الشمش مسلمانة

In our chests frozen/solid, in the sun it handed us to?

3. ta’ nofsinhar,— torbot u tagħmlek ilsir għal waqt,

تا نفسي نهار تربط و تعملك السر عالوقت

... day, it ties? and do for you the secret on the time

4. għaliex il-gawwi jofroq ix-xefaq bi ġwienħajh.

عاليش الجو يفرق الشفق بي جوانحها

For what the weather splits the twighlight in her wings/areas

5. Kullimkien mgħotti bil-velu umbgħad mill-Wardija

كل مكان معطى بالفيلو امبعد من الوردية

Every place covered in "velu" faraway from Wardeyya

velu is a non Arabic word, given the V.

6. qalb in-namra ta’l-għasafar u ż-żgħażagħ,

قلب النمرة تالعصافر و زعزع

The heart of the number/tigress? of the birds and singing?

Note "ghasafar" and not "ghasafeer" (proper plural in Arabic)

7. kollha kemm’huma b’wiċċhom ħerqan għall-għajnejn

كلها كم هما بوجههم حرقان عال عينين

All ... they with their faces burning/itching on the eyes

8. il-maħbub ħadrani w ikħal maqtugħ mis-sema.

المحبوب حضرني و كحل مقطوع من السما

The beloved has come [in my presence] and ... cut from the sky

Not sure about ikhal, could be derived from Arabic Kohl (eye shadow for makeup).

9. U hu beda jrażżnilha lsiena w xuftejh bdew jerqgħu

و هو بدأ يرزن لها لسينا و شفته بدو يرقعوا

And he started to (sing?) his tongue and I saw him wanting to (hit) him?

The root RZN is not clear to me. Also the root RQ' means in classical Arabic to mend (patch a torn garment) or to beat (colloquial).

10. ma’kull ħarsa li hi tagħtu; l-għasfura sfat

مع كل حرصة لي هي تاعته لعصفورة صفت

With every ... his ... the bird flew/spread its wings

Interesting here that "sfat" means to fly or spread its wings, which is not used in modern Arabic, but used in Quranic Arabic.

11. fix-xejn tal-waqt imbiegħed, u n-nifs, ħadu nifs.

 فيش شين تالوقت إمباعد وننفس حدو نفس

... now  ... far away ...

12. Kollox waqa’ f’ħemda fuq il-għolja tal-Wardija,

كلش وقع في حمدة فوق العليا تال الوردية

All this happened ... on top of the high place of Wardeyya

13. għaliex kien wasal il-poeta w dan kien diġà

عاليش كان وصل البويتا و دان كان ديجة

For what have the poet reached and he had come?

14. sfa, ‘mma m’hux bħall-għasfura, iżda bħan-namrati.

صفا اما ماهوش بحالعصفورة ازدا بحن نمرتي

... the bird ... my number/tigress

 

So, the above is my attempt, but there are still some blanks that need to be filled.

Contents: 

Comments

A Good General Translation

This is the English translation that I had written when I had first wrote the poem in Maltese:

And we went once indigo upon the hill of Wardija
with our chests ashened by the muslim sun
of midday,— it ties and enslaves you for a moment,
for the dove sunders the horizon with its wings.

Everywhere's covered with a veil then below Wardija
among the amatory embrace of birds and youths,
all of them with their faces eager for the eyes
of the green and indigo lover rived by the sky.

And he began subduing her tongue and his lips started
to drown with each stare that she gave him; the
female bird vanished in the remote moment, and the
breath, they took a breath.

Everything fell into quietude on the hill of Wardija,
for the poet had come, and he (the poet) had
already vanished, but not like the female bird, but
like the amorous youths.

Now regarding some parts of your interpretation...

kaħlana= in Arabic you said it is 'eye shadow'; is it indigo eye-shadow? In Maltese a word which is written similarly is "kaħħal" which means 'to plaster walls' or 'to colour something in blue'. Perhaps that is from where the Maltese derivation of the word comes. "Kaħlana" comes from "ikħal" which means indigo.

darab= it is interesting that you mention 'to hit'; in Maltese, 'midrub' means to be injured, which I am sure comes from darab.

musulmana= it means muslim; (female, because it is describing the sun which in Maltese is of a female gender)I do realize though why you thought it meant 'handed us to'. The "us" part of course you derived from the 'mana' part in "muslmana" which in Maltese would be "magħna" (with us).

"ta’ nofsinhar,— torbot u tagħmlek ilsir għal waqt,"

There is an interesting story behind this. The word 'ilsir' which means 'slave', comes from the Arabic word 'jasir', just like the Maltese word 'lemin' (on the right) which comes from 'jamin'. I am not 100% aware of the name of this process, but I think it is called 'agglutination of the article'. Another basic word that has from Arabic that has also undergone the same process is "ilma" which means 'water'. It comes from the Arabic word for water 'ma'. In Maltese, the article "il" was joined with "ma" and over time it became "ilma". We have words like 'misħun'(boiling water)(sħun meaning warm in Maltese) then, which have not undergone the same process as the root word (in Arabic I believe it is 'masħun').

Gawwi= I believe a form of the word is also foundn in Berber; it originally comse from the Latina 'gavia' if I remember correctly.

umbgħad= Again, very interesting. You made your translation based on the 'bgħad' part, which in Maltese would be related to the word 'bogħod'which means 'distance/far away', but here with the 'suffix' of 'um' it relates to time, i.e. 'then'.

qalb= In Maltese 'qalb' is also used when one says 'among' or 'amongst'.

Namra= amatory/amorous embrace

ħerqan= eager; burning --- you got the sense of the word there, it can be said that way also. But you probably took it from the Arabic word 'to burn' which in Maltese would be 'taħraq' but its derivations can look similar to 'ħerqan', with words such as 'ħruq' (burning) and 'maħruqin' (they are burned).

ħadrani= from the word 'aħdar' which means 'green' in Maltese.

jrażżnilha= from the Maltese word 'trażżan' which means 'to subdue' or 'to supress'.

ħarsa= 'a gaze' in Maltese, from the Maltese verb 'ħares' (to look).

għasfura= it is a bird, but specifically a female bird; a male bird is 'għasfur'.

sfat= to 'vanish into thin air'; there are the 'to fly/spread wings' connation to it.

nifs= 'a breath' in Maltese; "ħadu nifs" = to take a breath; ħadu comes from the Maltese verb "ħa" (to take)

You keep mentioning tigress; what Maltese word alludes to that?

'mma= but; comes from 'imma'; 'mma is used when the word follows a word that ends with a vowel.

Again, you get the main jist of the poem. Obviously the Romance influenced words you cannot figure out (besides the obvious ones like 'poeta). Most of this poem was from Semitic-derived Maltese. It was interesting for myself again to see the inteprations of some of the Maltese words by yourself. I once heard a Disney song from the Hunchback of Notre Dame in Arabic (I do not know which form of Araibc though) and I understood around half of it, with words like:

nar: fire
tiqtil: killing
dalma: dark
itlaq il-barra: get out
ja Rabbi: Rabbi in Maltese is a sort of religious leader that is found in the Bible, a title to be exact, also given to Jesus in the Bible.
xagħrha= her hair
gism= which in Maltese would be 'ġisem' which means body
ħmerija= something foolish or stupid
idduq= to taste
la tħallix= do not let
ħaddan= to bring down or destroy
taħraq= to burn
fik= something inside of someone or someome
ħalliha tbati hawn= let her suffer here
ħarbet= she escaped

This is the link to the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXBqQtrbdKI

I would appreciate if you would tell me what variant of Arabic this is. Thanks a lot.

Ġakbu.

Comments

Thank you for your comments.

Here are some answers:

kaħlana= in Arabic you said it is 'eye shadow'; is it indigo eye-shadow? In Maltese a word which is written similarly is "kaħħal" which means 'to plaster walls' or 'to colour something in blue'. Perhaps that is from where the Maltese derivation of the word comes. "Kaħlana" comes from "ikħal" which means indigo.

In Arabic, Kohl is a black substance used in medicine (has antiseptic properties) and for cosmetics, specially lining the eyes. It is widely used from Afghanistan, Iran all the way to Morocco.

So, kaħlana means something "having black shade in its eyes".

Kaħħaal (long latter A) would be a family name indicating an ancestor who was treating the eyes of others (ophthalmologist).

In colloquial Egyptian, the same word, yekaħħal means to put black highlights on white limestone in a building, very similar to one of your uses.

Indigo has another name in Arabic: Neela.

musulmana= it means muslim; (female, because it is describing the sun which in Maltese is of a female gender)I do realize though why you thought it meant 'handed us to'. The "us" part of course you derived from the 'mana' part in "muslmana" which in Maltese would be "magħna" (with us).

The word Musulman is indeed used for Muslim, but is antiquated in English now.

I initially thought it means what you meant, but given that Islam is not current in Malta now, nor seen in a favorable light, I chose the other interpretation.

My mistaken interpretation would be مسلمانة using contemporary dialects such as Egyptian. The proper Arabic for female Muslim would be Muslima مسلمة.

Both "Muslim/Islam/Salam" and my interpretation of musulmana are from the same Semetic root of S-L-M which means peace, surrender, hand over. The salutation Salamu Alaikum (Peace be upon you) and Shalom (Hebrew: Peace) are derived from that.

"ta’ nofsinhar,— torbot u tagħmlek ilsir għal waqt,"

There is an interesting story behind this. The word 'ilsir' which means 'slave', comes from the Arabic word 'jasir', just like the Maltese word 'lemin' (on the right) which comes from 'jamin'. I am not 100% aware of the name of this process, but I think it is called 'agglutination of the article'.

Yasir ياسر is a proper masculine name. It comes from the root Y-S-R which means wealth or ease. I have not seen it used as "slave", but the first person I know who was named Yasir is Yassir Ibn Amer.

Unless you mean "Aseer" أسير, which means prisoner or detainee. It comes from another root A-S-R.

Interesting transformation there, and thanks for the example.

Another basic word that has from Arabic that has also undergone the same process is "ilma" which means 'water'. It comes from the Arabic word for water 'ma'. In Maltese, the article "il" was joined with "ma" and over time it became "ilma". We have words like 'misħun'(boiling water) (sħun meaning warm in Maltese) then, which have not undergone the same process as the root word (in Arabic I believe it is 'masħun').

sħun is سخن "hot" in Arabic. misħun is derived from it, but not used for boiling water. The classical word for boiling water is Hameem حميم but not in colloquial dialects.

umbgħad= Again, very interesting. You made your translation based on the 'bgħad' part, which in Maltese would be related to the word 'bogħod'which means 'distance/far away', but here with the 'suffix' of 'um' it relates to time, i.e. 'then'.

Yes. With proper Semitic languages, you can look at the root and know what it means or at least alludes to.

Now I see what this means: بعد (bagħd) with no vowel on the middle consonant. This means the same in Arabic: "after" or "following".

qalb= In Maltese 'qalb' is also used when one says 'among' or 'amongst'.

Yes, since the heart is in the middle of the body, it is also used as "among" or "center" as well. For example, "the heart of the army" is its center.

Namra= amatory/amorous embrace

This is what I thought would be نمرة"number" or "tigress" (female tiger), although the latter would be Nimra more properly.

Embrace would be ħodn حضن or għenaq عناق (with many derivatives) in Arabic. So this may be Romance derived?

ħerqan= eager; burning --- you got the sense of the word there, it can be said that way also. But you probably took it from the Arabic word 'to burn' which in Maltese would be 'taħraq' but its derivations can look similar to 'ħerqan', with words such as 'ħruq' (burning) and 'maħruqin' (they are burned).

Burning does not mean fire, it also means a burning sensation, e.g. when your skin itches. The ħerqan words is also used for this too.

So, "itching to" as you describe.

ħadrani= from the word 'aħdar' which means 'green' in Maltese.

See, this is another example of the same Maltese letter being used for different Semitic sounds, and that is why this is confusing. I have always thought it is used for ح sound only, but in this case, it is used for خ as well. I have noticed that in other consonants as well. I have not heard Maltese being spoken, but perhaps the difference is very subtle between both as to be indistinguishable.

Yes, ħadrani would be خضرانة meaning "turned green", but that form is not used in Arabic. aħdar is used in Arabic.

jrażżnilha= from the Maltese word 'trażżan' which means 'to subdue' or 'to supress'.

Not used in Arabic dialects I know.

ħarsa= 'a gaze' in Maltese, from the Maltese verb 'ħares' (to look).

ħares would be حارس which means guard or protector in Arabic.

għasfura= it is a bird, but specifically a female bird; a male bird is 'għasfur'.

Same in Arabic in both cases.

sfat= to 'vanish into thin air'; there are the 'to fly/spread wings' connation to it.

There are two possible roots for this: Saff (S-F-F) and Safa (S-F-A). The former is "align in lines" as in prayer and army, as well as "spread wings". The latter means "to clear" as in the sky clearing from the clouds, which may be the one you used.

nifs= 'a breath' in Maltese; "ħadu nifs" = to take a breath; ħadu comes from the Maltese verb "ħa" (to take)

Nifs in colloquial Arabic means apetite. It comes from Nafs "soul", and Nafas, "breath" which is what you are using.

Again, I got confused by the ħ being a KH, and not a H.

Akhad and Yakhud are "take" in Arabic, and Khadu Nafas would be "[they] take a breath", which is what your doctor would say when using the stethoscope: Khod Nafas "take a breath!"

You keep mentioning tigress; what Maltese word alludes to that?

See above. Namra, or Nimra.

'mma= but; comes from 'imma'; 'mma is used when the word follows a word that ends with a vowel.

Same in colloquial Egyptian, but said as "Ya Imma" which means "but" and "or" depending on context.

As for the video snippet, the dialect is Egyptian urban (city), which is what I grew up talking.

itlaq il-barra: get out

Correct, but would be itlagħ barra. Note the għ not q, and without il-. At least in Egyptian which is what this video had.

ja Rabbi: Rabbi in Maltese is a sort of religious leader that is found in the Bible, a title to be exact, also given to Jesus in the Bible.

In Egyptian "ya Rabb" (Oh God) or "ya Rabbi" (My God!).

Rabb is used as master or head too, for example Rabb El Osra means head of the family.

The Rebb in the Bible is used today in Hebrew.

gism= which in Maltese would be 'ġisem' which means body

Yes. In Egyptian city dialect, there is no G as in George anymore. It is all converted to the G as in garden, and this is why he said it that way.

ħmerija= something foolish or stupid

I did not notice this word in the video.

idduq= to taste

Yes, but i- would be ye- (at least to an English speaker).

la tħallix= do not let

Would be "ma tħallix" in Egyptian.

ħaddan= to bring down or destroy

Could not locate this, unless it is giddan جدا (g=garden), which means "very".

fik= something inside of someone or someome

"In you".

ħalliha tbati hawn= let her suffer here

No, but phonetically for a non Arab, it can be heard as what you said.
خليها تباتي هون

ħateb'a btagħti aw ... naaaaaar.
حتبقى بتاعتي او نار
She will become mine, or ... fire ...

hey.. the maltese translation

hey.. the maltese translation into english is off at times.. do you need some help? :)

Post them

Yes, it is not perfect because I don't speak Maltese, but really fascinated by the close similarity with Arabic.

So, go ahead and post any corrections you have as a comment to this page.

Thanks in advance.

Regarding the English translation

Hello, yes, the English translation is off at times in the sense that it isn't a word-by-word translation of the original Maltese poem. I could have done it as so, but chose not to.

this is simply amazing you

this is simply amazing you really did a great job indeed.

Just a few remarks here and

Just a few remarks here and there.
The Maltese verb meaning "to go" is actually quite an interesting one.
The perfect tense goes: mort (1st and 2nd persons) mar (3P masculine), marret (3P feminine), and for the three plural persons: morna, mortu, marru.
Quoting from this paper:

IRREGULAR VERBS IN MALTESE AND THEIR COUNTERPARTS IN THE TUNISIAN AND MOROCCAN DIALECTS.

Aquilina states that this verb could probably be a hybrid form of the two
Classical Arabic verbs /mār/ ‘to go to and fro’, and /marra/ ‘to go/pass’. (Aquilina, 1979:
132). That would explain the anomaly of this verb involving the gemination of the radical /r/ for certain persons in the conjugation. It is interesting to note that in the dialects being
compared to Maltese this verb was not attested and the verb /meša/mšā/ is used with the meaning ‘to go’.

The word "gawwi" doesn't mean dove but seagulls (I use the plural since it's a collective form, the singular - or, more correctly, singulative - being "gawwija"). It certainly has a Latin origin (seagull being "gavia" in Latin) but the direct source seems to be unclear (probably some Southern Italian dialect or another Romance language; the Italian word for "seagull" is "gabbiano"). A direct borrowing from Latin would be unlikely in my opinion.

The correct spelling for "umbghad" is actually "u mbaghad", with the conjunction "u" being separated from the word "mbaghad", written with the gh between two a's. I noticed a tendency in colloquial speech to use "umbaghad" as if it were a single word instead of "mbaghad/imbaghad" (the variant with prothetic vowel occuring in initial, postpausal position and after a consonant-ending word). For example saying "ghax umbaghad..." (Because then...) instead of "ghax imbaghad...".

Musulman/a (plural: Musulmani) comes from italian "musulmano" but it coexist with "Mislem" (feminine: Misilma, plural: Misilmin) which is less frequently used (I'm not sure whether it's an inherited word from the original Arabic stock or rather it was introduced by Maltese writers in the late 19th-early 20th century, when many Maltese men of letters tried to avoid vocabulary of Italian (i.e. non-originally Maltese) origin in order to revive and exhalt the language in its ideal pureness, but also in opposition Italian which was the official language and had been so for centuries.

In conclusion, I think you're right about the verb "safa", I've read a similar explanation in Martin Vanhove's "La langue maltaise: études syntaxiques d'une dialecte arabe périphérique".

Thank you!

Thank you very much for your comments that enrich the discussion.

It is my pleasure. I can

It is my pleasure.

I can confirm you that "darba" comes from the verb "darab", but in Maltese it took the meaning of مرّة (never attested in Maltese as far as I know) and the literal meaning of "hit" just faded out, replaced by "daqqa" ("daqqa ta' harta" = "a slap", "daqqa t'ghajn" = "a quick look, a glimpse" etc.).
Interestingly, "daqqa" is also used similarly to "darba" in expressions such as "xi daqqiet" (sometimes), which is synonimous of "xi drabi".
But while "darba" is a generic word, the abstract usage of "daqqa" still retains, to some extent, a nuance of abruptness and quickness related with the concrete meaning: "f'daqqa wahda" ("all of a sudden", possibly a calque from Italian idioms such as "d'un colpo" or "tutt'a un tratto") is not interchangeable with "darba wahda" ("once" in a narrative context, as in "once upon a time").

As for the verbs from which these words stem, "darab" has limited its semantic scope mainly to the concept of "hitting somebody with something", "sawwat" being the verb commonly used for "beating somebody".
Moreover, a quick research gave me the impression that "darab" belongs to a rather literary, possibly almost archaic register: most of the results are related with episodes from the Bible. The passive participle "midrub/a/in", "injured", are perhaps more commonly used than the conjugated verb.
Anyhow, here is a biblical quote containing "darab" for which I also found an Arabic version (note: "kellu" = "كان له") :

Xmun Pietru kellu sejf, siltu, u darab lill-qaddej tal-qassis il-kbir u qatagħlu barra widintu l-leminija.

ثم أن سمعان بطرس كان معه سيف فأستله وضرب عبد رئيس الكهنة فقطع أذنه اليمنى

On the other hand, "daqq" (imp.: "jdoqq") has come to be used mostly with the meaning of "playing an instrument" or for the ringing of church bells. It is used for all instruments including winds and strings.
I guess the word Arabic word for "minute", دقيقة, has the same root.
In modern Maltese "minute" is expressed by an Italian loanword, "minuta", but the Italian source is masculine ("minuto"). As "dqiqa" with the meaning of "minute" is attested in Maltese dictionaries and grammars from the 19th century and also in literature well into the first half of the 20th century, the attribution of feminine gender may have been influenced by the previously existing Arabic word.

http://www.melitensiawth.com/incoming/Index/Il-Malti/Il-Malti.%20012(1936)3/09.pdf

This poem, published in 1936 and presumably written in the same period, contains the following line:
"U malli tasal hdejh tghaddix dqiqa" (And as she gets by him, not a minute passes)
Worth noting the feminine gender of "il-mewt", probably by Italian influence ("la morte").

Finally, I'd like to point something about "ilsir" and "lemin". Their l's are due to similar but different phenomena, both involving the article.
In the first case the "l" is a former arcticle reinterpreted as the initial consonant of the word, while in the latter it's the result of an assimilation affecting ي .

Cases like "ilsir": langas=pears, labra=needle, lifgha=viper etc.

Like "il-lemin": illum=today, il-Lhud=the Jews.

"Illum" is written as one word by orthographic convention. Same goes for "illejla", a single word when it means "tonight" and hyphenated ("il-lejla") otherwise. When a preposition precedes "(i)llum" or "(i)llejla, the hyphen is inserted: "tal-lum" ("today's").