Mysterious Arabic Woman

Culture, Race

I haven’t seen too many of Sakina Jaffrey’s films. I first saw her in the brilliant Canadian film, Masala, where she plays the daughter of her true life father, the famous Saeed Jaffrey. But she has appeared in nearly a dozen films since then. How unfortunate then, that her latest film role is to simply be the Mysterious Arabic Woman” with a painted face in this summer’s remake of the 1962 classic, The Manchurian Candidate.” Not only is the description rather offensive, but the appearance of this mysterious Arabic woman” serves absolutely no purpose in the film other than to make us feel disoriented. The film is well-made, but the story has such huge, gaping, holes in it that it is best not to think too much about it. Is it that hard to write a believable, or at least internally consistent screenplay?

Anyway … all this is actually an elaborate way to lead in to a book I picked up at the 73rd annual Woodstock Library Fair: Arabic & Persian Poems, edited by Omar Pound. Omar Shakespear Pound is the son of Dorothy Shakespear and Ezra Pound. The poems in this collection are wonderful, and I’ll transcribe a few below, but it is the preface by Basil Bunting (a friend of Ezra Pound’s) that seemed to capture my feelings about the appearance of the Mysterious Arabic Woman” in the Mancurian Candidate:

Persian poetry has suffered badly, Arabic rather less, from neo-platonic dons determined to find an arbitrary mysticism in everything. You would think there was nothing else in Moslem poetry than nightingales which are not birds, roses which are not flowers, and pretty boys who are God in disguise.

Here are a couple of poems from the book which are not about such arbitrary mysticism:

In the heart of the desert
by Al-Trimmah (660?-725?)

A foolish man rides here
with my saddle
and on my camel.

Unknown author, 9th Century?

the shore

to their king

and then

Complaint to a court poet
Rashidi Samarqandi (around 1100?)

You say my poetry
lacks spice
not enough Freud
ant too little vice.
You may be right.

My lines are soft and sweet as new-mown hay
just the place for nature’s play.

I leave to you the public’s taste
for sorrel, vinegar
and human waste.

I wonder what he translated as Freud”? You’d think this would deserve a footnote… But then again, Ezra Pound’s poems were often very liberal translations (if they can even be called that).

The compromise
Ibn Al-Rumi (836-896)

He dyes
his white hair black
in part,
believing some
will think him wise
and others

Slow giving
Ibn Al-Rumi (836-896)

re. that winter cloak
I often beg you for,
I never said shroud’,
and need it now
before my body leaves.

UPDATE: Here is an interview with Omar Pound.