Articles and Translations

Selections from Ibn ‘Arabi’s Tarjuman al-ashwaq (Translation of Desires)

Michael Sells

Michael Sells is a professor of Islamic Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. He is an authority on Ibn al-'Arabi as well as one of the most distinguished contemporary translators of classical Arabic poetry. His books include: Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes (Wesleyan); Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago); Early Islamic Mysticism (Paulist Press); The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia (California); Approaching the Quran (White Cloud); and The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Andalus (Cambridge) as two full translations of Ibn 'Arabi’s Tarjuman al-ashwaq, Stations of Desire (2000) and Bewildered (2018).


Articles by Michael Sells

Ibn Arabi’s Poem 18 (Qif bi l-Manazil) from the Translation of Desires

Ibn Arabi’s “Gentle Now, Doves of the Thornberry and Moringa Thicket” (ala ya hamamati l-arakati wa l-bani), Poem 11 from the Translation of Desires

Selections from Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman al-ashwaq (Translation of Desires)


Podcasts and Videos by Michael Sells

Bewildered – A New Translation of Ibn Arabi’s Tarjuman Poems

Selected Readings from the Poetry of Ibn Arabi

Life in Ibn Arabi’s “Ringsetting of Prophecy in the Word of Jesus”

Ibn Arabi's Lyric Mysticism and the Persian-Arabic Love Affair

Interview with on WBAI Radio

The Poetry of Ibn Arabi – Recitations from the Tarjuman al-ashwaq

The Young Woman at the Kaaba – Love and Infinity


Amid the Scent of Absinthe and Moringa Blossoms


The friends we treasured are gone and with them our patience

gone and they had been alive in the black core of the heart

I asked where the riders halted and knelt their camels

Amid the scent of absinthe, they said, and moringa blossoms

I told the wind to track them down

in the shade of the thicket where the wings of their tents

were spread

To bring them greetings from the brother of grief

When the tribe scattered his heart was torn.


In Memory of Those Who Melt the Soul Forever


Their meadows of spring are desolate now
yet desire for them
lives always in our heart
never dying.

These are their ruins.
These are our tears
in memory of those
who melt the soul forever.

I called out, following after
You so full with beauty
I’ve nothing!

I rolled my cheek in the dust of love
tender, in rage
By appeal to the right of desire for you
don’t shatter the heart

Of a man drowned in his words
burned alive
in sorrow.
Nothing can save him now

You want a fire?
Go easy. This passion
is incandescent. Touch it.
It will light your own.


Rivers Meandering like Snakes


Lightning flashed for us
in Abraqayn.
Thunder clashed
between our ribs.

The clouds let down a fine rain
over sand slipped hills,
over quivering branches
bending toward you.

The stream banks burst
amid a rush of fragrance.
Doves let out their cry,
the green sprigs tender.

They tied down their red tent cupolas
between the rivers
meandering like snakes,
placed among them

Demoiselles radiant
as suns rising,
dark-eyed, graces,
understanding, tender.


I Saw the Cords of Fated Death


The ringnecked dove cooed.
A lover yearned,
saddened by the echoing

At the sound of her desire,
eyes welled,
sudden as underground springs

I responded
like a mother stripped of her only child.
Loss is the loss
of your one and only.

I called back a cry
but grief was between us,
I revealed myself.
She stayed hidden.

I felt love’s sting
on the sands of ‘Alij
white tents along the slopes,
the large-of-eyes,

glances killing,
eyelids sheathes
of swords that glisten.

I choked back tears
from what was hurting me,
hiding my love from the blame-monger,
acting well,

Until the crow cawed
separation, and parting exposed,
for all to see,
the passion of one grieving.

The riders rode, cutting
the nose-rings,
red roans beneath the saddle,
cries of yearning.

Before my eyes
I saw the cords of fated death,
as they loosened the reins
and cinched the saddle strap.

In love fever
separation kills.
Finding her
would ease the burning.

No one blames me
wanting her.
I love her
beauty wherever she turns.


Reproduced from the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, Vol. XVIII, 1995.
The poems were part of a presented at the 11th annual symposium of the Muhyiddin lbn Arabi Society in the UK, “The Perfectibility of Man”, Oxford, 8–10 April 1994.
The titles of the poems were supplied by the translator.