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Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2018 11:32 PM

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In 1971, Professor William R. Polk made a thousand-mile trip by camel across the Great Nafud desert of Arabia. Historically it had been crossed or skirted many times, but more-or-less let go wild for more than a century. Old trails had been forgotten, and wells had caved-in or been lost.

When Polk proposed the trip to King Faisal, he was told “you are mad.” Despite this he persevered, received permission to experience "anguish" from the Saudi Arabian government, and subsequently traveled by camel from Riyadh to Amman in Jordan.

While the crossing was daunting in its own right, his true goal was to faithfully translate a foundational pre-Islamic poem by the great Arabian poet Labīd. Though he knew the words already, Polk wanted to get as close as he could to the feelings of the poet, to feel what he felt. Other riders had ridden more severe desert landscapes―Thesiger, Thomas, Doughty, and others―but none of them really knew Arabic or truly cared about what meant most to the bedouin: their poetry.

Polk’s true exploration was a voyage into a culture―into the minds of a people―rather than just traversing a difficult piece of territory. This was the subject of his book Passing Brave (the title comes from Christopher Marlowe and does not mean “brave” but “wonderful”) and also his translation of the most powerful of these bedouin poems, the muallaqah of Labīd bin Rabiya, which Dr. Polk called The Golden Ode.

This will lead him into talking more broadly about the mindset, the reaction, and hurt of Africans and Asians by imperialism and colonialism. This larger focus is the subject of his new book Crusade and Jihad which the Yale University Press will publish on January 8.

Date: Tuesday, February 6

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Lecture

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Student Ticket Price: FREE with a valid ACADEMIC student ID

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