Robin Moger Translates Salah Abdessabour

The Daybook of Bishr the Barefoot

Abu Nasr, Bishr bin al-Harith, sought out debate and discussion and heard all that was said and so inclined to mysticism. And one day he was walking through the market when, taking fright at the people there, he removed his sandals and slipped them beneath his arms and set off running through the sunbaked stones and sand, and none could keep pace with him. This was in the year 227 AH.

Leopold Müller, A barefoot man in robes running while holding a stick, 1878. Source: Wikipedia


When we lost our peace

with what Fate gave us

the rain stopped falling,

no tree sprung into leaf,

no fruits hung gleaming.

Now discontent,

now laughless,

our eyes burst

into weeping. Grown restless

upon contentment’s broad mattress,

on the pillows a devil’s head lay,

a wicked hate, embracing me,

sharing my bed,

as though his horns were in my hand.

When we let slip the jewel of certainty

in the belly the unborn grew blighted

hair sprouted in the caverns of the eye

and the beard knotted

over the temples.

Generation of devils.

Generation of devils.



Take care that you do not listen

Take care that you do not see

Take care that you do not touch

Take care that you do not speak

Cease! and hang suspended

from silence’s cord tight-braided.

The well of speech is deep

but the palm is small.

Between the fingers and thumb of the hand

words fall

to sand.



And because you do not know the meaning of words, for you fight me with words:

the word is a stone,

the word is a death,

and if words on words you build

and between these bring more to birth

then you shall see the world

as a hideous child

and wish for death.

I beg you,





A truth in the heart remains

hurting and crippling.

When the seas of speech run dry, no thought may sail

and no sail of surmise may unfurl over their salt waves

because what we come to is not what we seek

and what we make for is not what we meet.

Would it please you, my guest, if I offered you a seat

at my table, and you found only carrion meat?

Almighty God,

You gifted us this anguish and these agonies

for You looked on us and we were not sweet

in Your eyes.

Almighty God,

this world is plagued and cureless.

Were The Merciful fair

He would hasten our death towards us.

Almighty God. This world is fit for nothing.

Where is death? Where is death? Where is death?



My sheikh Bassam Al Din says,

“O man, be stoical.

Our world is lovelier than you recall.

You look down from the peak

of your love and you see

only its black wreck.”


And we went down to the marketplace, the sheikh and I.

The snake-man was striving to wind round the crane

and the fox-man was walking in between.


The crane-man’s throat was in the fox-man’s jaw,

the dog-man came to market to gouge fox’s eye

and trample on the snake-man’s head,

and the market shook to the leopard-man’s tread

who had come there to split dog’s belly with his claw

and suck out the marrow from the fox-man’s bones.


My sheikh Bassam Al Din,

tell me,

Where is the man who is man?

And my sheikh Bassam Al Din says,

“His caravan shall be seen in the world one day.”


Good sheikh! Do you know

what day we live in now?

“This day of plague

is the eighth day

of the fifth week

in the thirteenth month.

Man who is man passed here years before

and went on his way and is known no more.

He dug in the gravel and down he did lay

and he covered himself over with agony.”