The expression (Arabic characters), my hoofs, of v. 20, is a poetical licence, perhaps for the sake of the metre; but it is also intensely expressive. The singular, (Arabic characters), designates the peculiar cushion of the sole of a camel's foot, or, of each one of his toes. Thus, each foot has one, (Arabic characters), or it has several, (Arabic characters), according to those two divergent views. The poet likens his own bare toes to the (Arabic characters) of a camel's foot.
In v. 21, the expression (Arabic characters) signifies what I have not been able to find a term for. It denotes the period of time elapsing between a creditor's asking for payment of the debt owing to him, and the term at which the debtor tells him to apply again.
The poet makes "hunger" his creditor, who presses for payment by the ingestion of food. The poet then puts off his hunger, saying: "Apply again in two or three hours' time," etc.; and he repeats this "putting off" until he "kills his hunger." Then he turns his thoughts to other matters, and forgets his dead creditor.
How many would be glad thus to kill hunger and forget it, instead of their hunger's killing them!
In v. 22, however, the poet admits that, to do this, he has to "twist his intestines upon inanition, as a spinner lays his yarns." Large stones are often tightly bound over the pit of the stomach by starving or fasting men, to quiet their pangs.
In v. 23, he licks up the dust like a medical powder, to appease the gnawings of his empty stomach; so as to be able to put on a good face, while declining assistance from some would-be succourer, to whom he has an aversion from laying himself under an obligation.
His becoming alternately poor and rich, in v. 27, must be understood, it would appear, as the effects of reciprocal robbery, or private warfare. When the poet is "raided" by his foes, he is left to starve; when he succeeds in "lifting" their cattle, he is a man of wealth. He has a wish, and he does not spare himself. Just like our own commercial and financial sharks, "biting" others one day, "bitten" in turn the next.
V. 32 mentions the "distributer by lot of the joints of a slaughtered camel." Even this description of the little word (Arabic characters) is inadequate. The camel must have been purchased for the purpose by a joint venture. Let us suppose ten men joining together in equal shares to buy a camel for slaughter. As they cannot all have the best joints, they draw lots. The camel is slaughtered and cut up into ten portions as fairly as the butcher's eye can judge, with no scales to assist him in the wild country. Those portions or joints are placed in a row or circle, as we should say, No. 1, No. 2, etc., to ten, with one extra share for the butcher's fee. He, or one of the party who knows the rules of the game, now produces the gaming arrows—headless, featherless shafts, distinguished in some special way from one another. The (Arabic characters) —the distributer by lot—shuffles the arrows in his two hands, as the jaws of the hungry wolves chatter with torment. The sharers draw an arrow each, and so determine which portion each shall have, the butcher taking that which their lots leave to him.
V. 33 is differently explained in the Chrestomathie Arabe. Instead of spatulæ thrust into a hive to extract its honey, as is the usual course, De Sacy has imagined a young brood of bees swarming and migrating, the honey-hunter going to the futile trouble of setting up wands here and there, about the rocks, for the queen-bee to alight on; an utterly baseless supposition.
In v. 38, the expression "all of them are busily intent on what the decent one keeps secret," is very recondite. The "decent one" is, most probably, the poet himself. What he keeps secret is his gnawing hunger. The poor wolves, going home breakfastless and famished, may well be all busily intent on the pangs they endure, though they remain quiet at last.