Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
a lament for the departure of a fair one, and a description of her personal charms; passing abruptly to an account of the noble qualities of the poet's horse or camel, or a eulogium on his tribe, and his own prowess in battle—judgment was impartially passed on their respective merits; and those poems which were considered as most excellent were afterwards written upon silk, in characters of gold, and hung up in the Temple—hence, it has been supposed, they were called Mu‘allaqāt, or "Suspended," and also Mudhahhabāt, or "Gilded" (not "Golden," as the term is usually rendered). * Of these "Prize Poems" seven, entitled The Mu‘allaqāt, par excellence, are preserved in many of the European libraries: they are the composition of Imra’u-’l-Qays; Tarafa; Zuhayr; Lebīd; ‘Antara; ‘Amr; and El-Hārith;
and in the Pocock MSS., No. 174, preserved in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, are some forty others which were also hung up in the Ka‘ba.
To Sir William Jones, who first directed the attention of the learned in Europe to the rich treasures contained in the ancient literature of Hindustan, belongs also the honour of having been the first to translate the Seven Arabic Prize Poems into a European language. In 1782 was published his English translation of the Mu‘allaqāt, with Arguments, and the original texts in Roman characters. * And this was
not only the first, but it remains the only complete English translation of these remarkable compositions; for, strange as it may appear, no attempt has been made by our modern English Arabists to give their unlearned countrymen a more accurate translation than was perhaps possible in the time of Sir W. Jones.
The original metre employed in Arab poetry was the Rajaz, a short iambic verse, always ending with
the same rhyme: this was the measure of the rude songs of the camel-drivers; and it was well adapted for extemporary verse, to express defiance, contempt, or panegyric. The Mu‘allaqa Poems are composed in verses, or couplets (called bayts), of double the length of the Rajaz, and consisting of two halves or hemistichs; the two hemistichs of the first bayt invariably rhyming with each other, and with the second hemistich of each succeeding couplet. This form of verse is called the Qasīda (Kasīdah, or Casida); and, being that adopted in the composition of the Prize Poems, it has been thought that the term was derived from the word Qasd, which signifies an object or aim: these poems (or Qasīdas) having been composed with the special object of obtaining preeminence at the poetical contests. * But this generally received interpretation of the term Qasīda is rejected by Professor Ahlwardt, who ascribes it to another signification of the word Qasd—"the breaking of things into halves": each bayt, or verse, being divided into hemistichs (as is shown in the Frontispiece to the present volume), the whole poem may be said to consist of two halves. Sixteen different measures
are known in Arabian prosody, four of which are adopted in the Mu‘allaqa Poems; but the movement of the rhyme (qasīda) is the same in them all.
The authors of the Mu‘allaqāt were all men of high poetical genius, although they were in no sense possessed of literary culture—indeed, it is almost certain that scarcely one of them could read and write. They were natural poets, whose ignorance of letters was fully compensated by a nice sense of rhythm and the faculty of clearly and vigorously expressing in their rich and copious language what they thought and felt;—impulsive children of the desert, whose passions had free scope for good and evil; who were capable of the most intense affection, and of the most bitter hatred: whose strong feelings found vent in flowing verse.
A century had elapsed after the rise of Islām when the fragments of the early poetry, and anecdotes of the most famous bards of the Arabian peninsula—especially the poets of Yaman—which had been handed down orally from generation to generation, were finally reduced to writing. How much of the traditions regarding the pagan Arab poets is fabulous cannot now be ascertained; but to the task of investigating the authenticity of the so-called reliques of ancient Arabic poetry the most learned scholars of Germany have for some time been devoted, with results which are more or less conclusive, and which will be touched upon in the next section of this
[paragraph continues] Introduction. The following particulars regarding the several authors of the Mu‘allaqāt are gleaned from the best Oriental writers.
[paragraph continues] the son of Hujr, the son of Harith, was a prince of the tribe of Kinda. His real name was Hunduj, and he acquired the epithet of Imra’u-’l-Qays ("the man of adversity") from his misfortunes. * Muhammad called him el-Maliku ’dz-Dziltīl, "the most erring prince," as being the best of the pagan Arab poets, whom, he also said, Imr’ would head on their way to the place of woe. His love adventure with a damsel of another tribe, alluded to in vv. 8-43 of his Mu‘allaqa, and detailed in the translator's Argument, so exasperated his father that he expelled him from the tribe; and for many years the poet led a wandering, reckless life among the Arabs of the desert, a life of peril and often of privation; occasionally varied by a halt at some well-watered spot, where he and his comrades feasted
on camel's flesh and caroused, while singing-girls amused them with their lively songs. The poet was thus engaged, drinking and gaming, when a messenger from his tribe arrived, and announced that his father had been slain by his rebellious subjects. Imra’u-’l-Qays made no answer; and on his companion stopping his game, he simply said: "Play on." But when the game was finished, he remarked to his comrade: "I would not have thy game interrupted;" and then, turning to the messenger, he inquired minutely into all the circumstances of his father's assassination. Having learned the particulars, he said: "As a youth, my father banished me from his house; as a man, it is my duty to avenge his death. But to-day we shall drink; to-morrow, sobriety: wine, to-day; business, to-morrow."
With an army of the tribes of Taglib and Bakr (who were not then at variance), Imra’u-’l-Qays marched against his rebellious people, who, however, escaped his vengeance, by placing themselves under the protection of the King of Hīra. Upon this his followers forsook him, and he then sought help of the Himyarite prince Marthad el-Khayr, who promised him 500 men, but died soon afterwards; and his successor showed little disposition to assist the unfortunate prince.
At this juncture, Imra’u-’l-Qays had recourse to divination, as was customary among the pagan Arabs before any enterprise of moment was undertaken. The prince drew the lot with the three
arrows of "order," "defence," and "expectation"; and having drawn the second one three times in succession, he broke the arrows and threw them in the face of the idol, exclaiming: "If they had killed thy father, thou wouldst not limit thyself to defence alone!"
Finding he could obtain no assistance from the prince of Yaman, he next proceeded to the court of the Emperor Justinian; but unfortunately an Arab was there whose father had been killed by the poet's father, and he prejudiced the Emperor's mind against Imra’u-’l-Qays, who quitted the court with all speed. But the Emperor, incited by his Arab courtier, sent a messenger after him with a poisoned garment. The poet was overtaken at Ancyra, and no sooner had he put on the fatal garment than he was seized with dreadful pains, his body was covered with ulcers, and soon afterwards he expired in great agony. His last words were: "He, from whose lips flowed eloquence, at whose sword-strokes flowed the blood of his enemies, at whose feasts flowed rich wine—he came to Ancyra, and no farther."
[paragraph continues] the son of El-‘Abd, the son of Sufyān, was of the tribe of Muzayna, a branch of the Banu Bakr (sons of Bakr, or Becr), and hence he was surnamed El-Muzanī. He may be said truly to have "lisped in numbers," for at the tender age of seven he gave proof of his poetical genius. He was travelling with his uncle, and, the party resting for the night on the banks of a clear
stream, Tarafa—boy-like—set snares to catch larks; but not having succeeded when they resumed their journey in the morning, the little poet expressed himself on the occasion in verses to the following effect:
Rejoice, O lark! in the expanse of the plain: thou enjoyest free air—sing, then, and increase in security. Fly round about, and pick up all that thou canst desire: the bird-catcher is gone—rejoice then at his departure! The snare is removed, and thou hast nothing more to fear;—but yet fear thou always; for at length thou shalt be taken!
The occasion which gave rise to his Mu‘allaqa—the loss of the camels belonging jointly to himself and his elder brother—is related in the translator's Argument. C. de Perceval states that ‘Amr the son of Marthad, one of the noble chiefs whom the poet compliments in v. 81, sent for Tarafa, and said to him: "Children God alone can give thee; but as to goods I will set thee on the same footing with my own sons." He then called his seven sons and three grandsons, and ordered each of them to give the poet ten camels; thus making good the loss upon which his brother had so bitterly reproached him.
The most remarkable event in Tarafa's brief life is his tragical end. ‘Amr the son of Hind, king of Hīra, had sent Tarafa and Mutalammis, also a famous poet, to be companions to his younger brother Qābūs, whom he intended for his successor. Qābūs, it appears, was greatly addicted to drinking, and was often discovered intoxicated; and both poets composed some very satirical verses on him and the
[paragraph continues] King. Enraged at these lampoons (which probably came to his knowledge through some "good-natured friend"), ‘Amr gave each of the poets a "Bellerophon letter" to the governor of Bahrayn, in which he was ordered to put the bearer to death. Mutalammis, suspecting the designs of the King, broke open his letter, and showed it to a friend, who read it to him; and on learning the contents, he destroyed it, and advised Tarafa to turn back with him. But Tarafa, perhaps thinking that his friend had been imposed upon by the reader of the letter, * declined his advice, and continued his fatal journey. On delivering his letter, the governor of Bahrayn, carrying out the orders of ‘Amr, cut off the poet's hands and feet, and then caused him to be buried alive. Tarafa was only twenty-six years old when he thus miserably perished.
[paragraph continues] the son of Abū Sulmà, Rabī‘a, was distinguished from early youth for his poetical genius. He was a special favourite of his grand-uncle Bashama, who was himself a famous poet; yet, when the old man felt his end approaching, he divided his goods among his relations and left nothing to Zuhayr. "Wilt thou leave me nothing?" asked Zuhayr.—"I leave thee," said the patriarch, "the finest part of my inheritance—my talent for poetry."—"But that is already mine," replied Zuhayr.—"Nay," said the old man, "all
[paragraph continues] Arabia knows that poesy is an inheritance of my family, and that it went from me to thee." Zuhayr got a legacy, nevertheless.
His Mu‘allaqa was composed, on the conclusion of the War of Dāhis, in honour of el-Hārith son of ‘Auf and Harim son. of Sinān, the peace-makers. Zuhayr also composed a great number of eclogues in praise of Harim, the son of Salmà, who had sworn not only to grant all the poet's requests, but to give him, for every poem he composed in his praise, either a female slave or a horse. This liberality rendered Zuhayr so bashful in the presence of his patron, that whenever the poet chanced to enter a company in which Harim was, he would say: "I salute you all, excepting Harim, although he is the best among you."
A son of Harim having recited to the Khalif ’Omar one of Zuhayr's eclogues in praise of his family, ’Omar remarked: "Zuhayr has said many beautiful things about you."—"True," answered the son of Harim; "but we have made him as many fine presents."—"What you gave him," said ’Omar, "will perish through course of time; but his praises will endure for ever."—’Omar, though no great friend of poets or admirer of poetry, always spoke favourably of Zuhayr, because in his poems he had praised only such as really deserved praise, as Harim the son of Salmà.
Umm Aufà, whom he mentions in the first verse of his Mu‘allaqa, was Zuhayr's first wife, whom he
divorced on account of her jealousy, but of this he afterwards repented. The children she bore him died young. A second wife gave him two sons: Ka‘b, author of the celebrated qasīda entitled el-Burda, or the Mantle (generally known throughout the East as the Bānat Su‘ādū, from the opening words of the poem: "Su‘ād hath departed"), which he recited before Muhammad (a.d. 630), when he made his peace with the Prophet, and professed himself a Muslim; and Bujayr, who was an early convert to Islām.
According to the Kitābu-’l-Agānī (Book of Songs), compiled by Abū-’l-Faraj el-Isfahani, Muhammad saw Zuhayr when he was a hundred years old, and exclaimed: "God grant me a refuge from his Devil"—meaning, his cunning in song; and it is added that before the Prophet had quitted the house, Zuhayr was dead. Another account is that Zuhayr foretold to his sons Ka‘b and Bujayr the advent of Muhammad, and earnestly recommended them to give ear to the Apostle's teaching when he did come; but that Zuhayr was dead before Muhammad began his mission.
[paragraph continues] (or Labīd) was the son of Rabī‘a, of the Band Kilāb, who, because of his great liberality, was called Rabī‘atu-’l-muqtirīn, that is, "The Spring of the indigent ones." Lebīd's kunya, or bye-name, was Abū ‘Aqīl. His uncle was ‘Abū Bizā’ir, ‘Amir, son of
[paragraph continues] Mālik, surnamed Mulā‘ibu-’l-‘Asinna,—"the player with lances." While yet a mere youth, Lebīd accompanied a deputation of his tribe, headed by his famous uncle, to the court of Nu‘mān of Hīra, where, by a satirical poem, which he composed almost extempore and recited before the king, he effected the disgrace of a courtier who was obnoxious to his tribe.
Lebīd is one of the poets who belonged to "the time of the Ignorance" and also to Islām. Various accounts are given of the circumstance which led to his conversion. According to the Agānī, Lebīd was one of a deputation that waited upon the Prophet after the death of the poet's brother ‘Arbad (who was killed by a stroke of lightning a day or two after he had made an impious speech against the fundamental doctrine of Islām), and the aged poet then and there professed himself a convert. Others say that it was the custom for poets in those days to affix their verses to the gate of the Ka‘ba, as a general challenge against the next assembly at ‘Ukātz, and that Lebīd had put up the following poem (translated by Mr. C. J. Lyall):
And all the race of men—there shall surely come among them
a Fearful Woe, whereby their fingers shall grow pale:
And every mother's son, though his life be lengthened out
to the utmost bound, comes home at last to the Grave:
And every man shall know one day his labour's worth,
when his loss or gain is cast up on the Judgment Day.
[paragraph continues] These verses were universally admired, and for some time no one ventured to rival them, until Muhammad placed the opening passages of the second chapter of the Qur’ān by the side of them. Lebīd was struck with their sublimity, and, declaring that they must have been written by divine inspiration, tore down his own verses, and immediately professed himself a Muslim. From that time he renounced all poetry; having, it is said, only composed one couplet after his conversion:
[paragraph continues] Muhammad acknowledged that no pagan poet had ever produced nobler verses than those of Lebīd above quoted.
After his conversion, Lebīd settled in the city of Kūfa, where he died, about the end of the reign of Mu‘āwiya (a.d. 660), at the age of 157, says Ibn Qutayba, or 145, according to the notice of him in the Agānī, "of which he lived ninety in the Ignorance, and the rest under Islām." The following is a translation of the verses Lebīd is said to have composed when he was considerably over a hundred and twenty years old:
The governor of Kūfa once sent for Lebīd and desired him to recite one of his poems. Lebīd recited the second chapter of the Qur’ān (entitled "The Cow"), saying, when he had finished, "God has given me this in exchange for poesy since I became a Muslim." The Khalīf ’Omar, on being informed of this, added 500 dirhems to the 2000 Lebīd was already allowed. When Mu‘āwiya became Khalif, he purposed retrenching the poet's stipend, but Lebīd reminded him that he was not likely to live much longer: Mu‘āwiya's heart was touched, and he despatched the poet's allowance in full, but Lebīd died before it reached Kūfa.
Lebīd's last words, remarks Dr. Carlyle, breathe more of the spirit of a wit than that of a devotee: "I am going to enjoy the novelty of death; but it is a novelty by no means agreeable."
[paragraph continues] the son of Shaddād, * the renowned warrior and poet, of the tribe of ‘Abs, was born in the beginning of the sixth century. His mother was an Abyssinian slave, captured in a predatory incursion; and for many
years his father refused to recognise him as his son, until, by his heroic achievements, he had rendered himself worthy of that honour. ‘Antara is invariably described as being of a very dark complexion, and having his lower-lip cloven.
The tents of ‘Abs having been suddenly attacked and plundered, the father of ‘Antara promised him his freedom if he rescued the women who had been taken captive, a feat which the hero accomplished, after slaying many of the enemy single-handed. From this time ‘Antara was recognised as the champion of his tribe; yet envious spirits did not scruple frequently to taunt him with his base birth. One of these having insultingly called his mother a negress, the hero retorted: "If it were a question of mutual help, neither thou, nor thy father, nor thy grandfather, would ever be invited to a feast; for thou wouldst never be placed at the head of those that make gains [i.e., spoils]." And when Qays son of Zuhayr said that the victory they had gained over an enemy was owing to the son of a negress, ‘Antara replied, in verse: "One half of me is of the purest blood, the other half is my sword: therefore it is, that, when you are in trouble you call upon me to relieve you, rather than those who can reckon up a host of noble ancestors."
‘Antara's heroic exploits and his excellent poetry. preserved by oral tradition, furnished material for the celebrated Romance of chivalry which purports to recount his life and adventures. Allowing for its
hyperbolical style (which never, in the opinion of Orientals, invalidates the truth of history), "the whole work," says Von Hammer, "may be esteemed as a faithful account of the principal tribes of the Arabs, particularly of the tribe of ‘Abs, from which sprung ‘Antara, in the time of Nushirvan, King of Persia."
The circumstance of ‘Antara's death, as related by some authors—echoing the voice of tradition—though hardly so striking, is perhaps not less in accordance with the rules of poetical justice than that which concludes the Romance. It is said that, returning home with a herd of camels, of which he had robbed a clan of the tribe of Tā’ī, ‘Antara was struck with a spear, thrown at him by one of the plundered tribe, who had followed the party unseen, until a favourable opportunity offered for revenge. Mortally wounded, and now an old man, ‘Antara had still sufficient strength left to ride home to his tribe, where he died soon after his arrival.
Muhammad was fascinated by the stories related of ‘Antara's prowess and poetry: "I have never heard an Arab described," said the Prophet, "whom I should like to have seen so much as ‘Antara."
[paragraph continues] the son of Kulthūm, was a prince of the tribe of ‘Arāqim (i.e., "the speckled snake"), a branch of the Banū Taglib. His mother, Laylà, was the daughter of Muhalhil and Hind; and at her birth, according to the barbarous custom of the pagan Arabs, Muhalhil
gave order that she should be immediately buried alive. But hearing in his sleep a voice that told him his daughter should be the mother of heroes, he asked for the infant, and, finding that she was still alive, allowed her to be brought up. In course of time Laylà was married to Kulthūm, and shortly before ‘Amr was born, she dreamed that a supernatural being assured her that her son should prove the bravest of warriors.
The tribes of Taglib and Bakr having been long at war, in consequence of the murder of Kulayb the son of Rabī‘a, it was mutually agreed to terminate the feud by referring the dispute to the decision of ‘Amr the son of Hind, king of Hīra—the same who had so foully caused the murder of the poet Tarafa. ‘Amr the son of Kulthūm appeared as the advocate of the Banū Taglib, and el-Hārith the son of Hilliza, on behalf of the Banū Bakr. The arguments employed by ‘Amr on this occasion are contained in his Mu‘allaqa; and his boastful—even minatory—declamation was little calculated to please the royal arbiter. The King of Hīra gave judgment in favour of the Banū Bakr, and not long afterwards he was slain by ‘Amr the son of Kulthūm—in revenge, as some think, for the murder of Tarafa; but others allege, perhaps with more reason, in retaliation for the judgment he had pronounced against the tribe of Taglib.
The circumstances of the King's death are thus related. The King having asked some one, "Do
you know an Arab whose mother would refuse to serve my mother?" the reply was: "Only Laylà, the mother of ‘Amr son of Kulthūm; for her father and uncle were the most honoured among the Arabs." Piqued at this reply, the king sent a messenger to the poet, desiring him and his mother to visit at his court. ‘Amr set out, with his mother in a litter, and accompanied by a troop of horsemen. The king had erected a pavilion between Hīra and the Euphrates, and there, with his mother Hind, he awaited the arrival of the poet and his mother Laylà. When the latter entered the royal pavilion, Hind desired Laylà to reach her the keys, who boldly replied: "Let them rise and do thy bidding whom such service befits." At this refusal, Hind began to insult Laylà, and even to use violence against her, which ‘Amr the son of Kilthūm seeing, his wrath knew no bounds; and, seizing the only sword (the King's) that hung upon the wall, he smote King ‘Amr on the head and killed him.
Besides his Mu‘allaqa, ‘Amr the son of Kulthūm composed a number of bitter satires upon King Nu‘mān of Hīra and his mother, who was the daughter of a goldsmith.
‘Amr is reported to have attained the great age of a hundred; and to his descendants, gathered round his death-bed, he thus spoke: "I have lived longer than my forefathers, and I am now going to join them. Hear, then, the counsel of my experiences. Each time I blamed another, I was the object
of well-founded or ill-founded blame. He who attacks will be attacked: guard, therefore, against offending any one. Be benevolent and hospitable towards your friends: thus you will gain their esteem. It is better to refuse a request, than to promise and break your word. When a man speaks to you, listen to him attentively: when you speak, be brief; for long speeches are not free of folly. The bravest warrior is he that returns to the attack; and the best death is that on the battle-field."
[paragraph continues] the son of Hilliza, * when over a hundred years old, but still comparatively vigorous, was sent to the court of ‘Amr son of Hind, King of Hīra, to represent the tribe of Bakr when the dispute between them and the Banū Taglib was submitted to that prince as arbiter. His Mu‘allaqa contains the arguments he made use of on that occasion in behalf of his tribe; and such was the effect of his reasoning, his eloquence, and skilful praise of the prince of Hīra, that the royal arbiter decided in favour of the Banū Bakr; and, as a mark of special honour to the poet, the prince cast off the seven veils in which he was enveloped during the recitations of the rival-chiefs, and caused Harith to sit beside him. For this decision there is reason to believe the King soon afterwards lost his life at the
hand of ‘Amr son of Kulthūm, as has been already mentioned. *
It has been said of translation in general that "the wrong side of tapestry will represent more truly the figures on the right, notwithstanding the floss that blurs them, than the best version the beauties of the original." This remark would seem to apply with special force to English translations of early Arabic
poetry, of which indistinctness is said to be the very essence. "The language," says Burton, "'like a faithful wife, following the mind, and giving birth to its offspring,' and free from that 'luggage of particles' which clogs our modern tongues, leaves a mysterious vagueness between the relation of word to word, which materially assists the sentiment, not sense, of the poem. When verbs and nouns have—each one—many different significations, only the radical or general idea suggests itself. Rich and varied synonyms, illustrating the finest shades of meaning, are artfully used: now scattered to strike us by distinctness; now to form, as it were, a star, about which dimly seen satellites revolve." Yet even in an English translation the more striking beauties of the Mu’allaqāt are not altogether lost.
The Poem of Imra’u-’l-Qays is the most picturesque—even dramatic—of the whole seven: it presents a series of scenes of desert life, graphic, yet without the least attempt at detail: rapidly sketched, like the cartoons of a great artist, yet full of colour and vraisemblance, like finished pictures. We see the poet at supper in the sandhills, with the maidens whom he had surprised at their primitive bath; and while they all ply the leathern bottle of generous wine, we fancy we can hear their merry laughter at the jests of the wild young prince. We follow the bold youth at midnight, as he threads his way—not without a beating heart—among the tents of a hostile tribe, to the dwelling of the maiden for whose sake he thus
carries his life in his hand: we see the expectant damsel (for evidently the visit was pre-arranged) peeping timidly from the opening of her tent: we see them stealing softly away together, while she "draws over their footsteps the train of her pictured robe."—A weird journey through the desert on a gloomy night, when the darkness seems to enfold the solitary wayfarer as with a garment, and he starts ever and anon at the gaunt bones of camels and their riders that have been bleached on the sands by the noontide sun.—An exciting chase of the wild cow—a primitive feast on the game—a thunderstorm.
Tarafa is the only one of the Seven Poets who compares camels to ships. In his opening verses, the camels that bore away his beloved are likened to "ships sailing from Aduli"; and in verse 28, he says that the neck of his own camel "resembles the stern of a ship floating high on the billowy Tigris." Nearly one third of the poem is taken up with what Sir W. Jones terms "a long and no very pleasing description" of the poet's camel; yet we must suppose this minute detail of the points of an animal so indispensable to desert life in Arabia to have been very highly appreciated by the poet's countrymen; and the reader is recompensed for his patience by the fine simile with which it concludes: "She floats proudly along with her flowing tail, as the dancing-girl floats at the banquet of her lord, and spreads the long white skirts of her trailing robe"—a simile which suggests a pleasing image to the reader's mind. After
the long panegyric on his camel, the poet proceeds to speak of his own prowess in battle; then to hint at his pleasant way of life, in company of gay youths like himself, and beautiful singing-girls; followed by a series of Horatian maxims: life is brief—therefore let me enjoy the fleeting moments—let me drink my full draught of wine to-day, come what may to-morrow. Once more he refers to his warlike performances, armed with a scimitar which is no mere pruning-hook, but the genuine brother of confidence—one stroke of which renders a second needless. He concludes with a sagacious observation, which Muhammad said was prophetic of his own great mission: "Time will produce events of which thou canst have no idea; and he to whom thou gayest no commission will bring thee unexpected news." *
Bold metaphor is a marked characteristic of the Poem of Zuhayr—that of War as a foul monster, the mother of twin-born Famine and Desolation, being particularly striking and apposite: not less so perhaps is the poet's description of the contending parties in the fierce and protracted War of Dāhis, under the figure of camels driven out to pasture on noxious weeds and to drink from foul and loathsome pools. The maxims tagged to the Poem, for the most part,
express sentiments such as must occur to all thoughtful minds, matured by time and observation of life. *
The elegiac verses with which Lebīd's Poem opens, by their natural and unembellished touches of pathos, must, even in an English translation, come home to every feeling heart. Six of the Mu‘allaqa Poems commence with the conventional lament for the departure of a mistress, but this elegy of Lebīd excels them all, for beauty of imagery and tenderness of expression—contrasting agreeably with the artificial eclogues of some modern European poets, whose aim has been rather to dazzle by contrast of words and brilliancy of diction than to reach the heart by natural thoughts conveyed in natural language. His camel the poet compares to a wild he-ass, hastening with his mate from the hills after the winter is past; and to a wild cow chased by the hunters. Like the Scottish poet Burns, whose large heart welled-up in sympathy for all natural objects—a crushed daisy—a ruined field mouse—little birds on a winter's night—like all true poets, the old Arabian bard could feel pity for the wild cow who had lost her young one, and who passed the night in agony, roaming restlessly to and fro, while the rain fell continuously upon her back. There is no such humane feeling as this
expressed in any of the other Poems, unless indeed it be in that of ‘Antara, who seems to have pitied his wounded steed, who, he says, upbraided him with his eyes, and would have spoken if he could. Bright sketches of Arab life are furnished in this masterpiece of early poetry: outlines, but boldly and clearly defined, of which the reader is left to fill in the details from his own imagination. We see the poet, chief among his gay companions at the tavern, drinking rich wine long hoarded in leathern bottles, while the nimble fingers of the fair lutanist skilfully touch the strings of her instrument. We find him superintending the gaming, with headless and featherless arrows, for camels, which the poet himself generously provides as the prizes. We see him rise early in the morning and mount his horse, to defend his tribe against invaders. And at the opening of his tent we behold crowds of the poor and the needy—the widow and the fatherless—all partaking largely of his bounty.
The Poem of ‘Antara is a curious medley of gentle pastoral utterances and fierce breathings of slaughter and revenge. The passage (vv. 14 to 19) in which the poet compares the mouth of his beloved to a fragrant bower, which the gentle rains have kept in perennial verdure, is perhaps finer than anything in the other six Poems. Interesting glimpses of Arab life are afforded us in this mosaic of poetical fragments: the breaking up of a family-camp in the desert at night—the camels, laden and
bridled, grazing on khimkhim grains; young ostriches flocking round the parent male bird, like a herd of black camels of Yemen assembling at the call of their keeper: the poet-hero quaffing old wine, bought with shining coin—frequently replenishing his crystal goblet from a well-stoppered jug: a stolen interview with a beautiful damsel of a hostile tribe: protracted and fierce single combats with the most renowned warriors.
The Poem of ‘Amr the son of Kulthūm is the only Mu‘allaqa which does not begin with an address to a real or imaginary mistress. ‘Amr calls loudly for his morning draught of wine in a capacious goblet, and goes on to praise the magical influence of the generous beverage in causing the miser to forget for a time his golden hoard, and in diverting even the lover from his passion. Nevertheless the inevitable departure of his mistress is referred to, and her charms very minutely described, in the tenth to the twenty-second verses. The rest of his Poem consists of an arrogant panegyric on the Banū Taglib—their greatness and power, rich possessions and glorious achievements; and the beauty of their women, and the high estimation in which they were held by all their brave warriors.
Of a sober and staid cast, as befitted his venerable years, is the Poem of el-Harith, in reply to the intemperate harangue of his boastful opponent; yet he does not scruple to claim for his tribe all the virtues which should characterise a noble race.
“The range of thought in the early Arab poetry,” remarks Sir William Muir, * “is of limited extent. Past experiences and the sentiment of the moment are described with illustrations drawn from pastoral life. The future is not thought of, nor is the attempt made to draw lessons from the past. Childlike, it is in the present that the Arab poet lives. . . The pastoral life is pictured in the simple imagery of undisturbed rural scenery. The cavalcade, bearing the whole worldly goods of the tribe—the matrons and maidens borne in litters on the camels’ backs—passes along the desert with its scant and scattered foliage of hardy shrubs, and, after a weary march, encamps, it may be, in a vale where the springs break forth from the slope of an adjacent hill. The clustering tents darken the background, while the grateful fountain, with its green environs and its grove of date-trees, stands in delightful contrast to the wild bleak scenery around. † The maidens go forth with their pitchers to the spring; and the herds of goats return with full udders from the pasture, or still sweeter but scanty foliage of the stunted acacia-trees.
“Arab life lives, truly, a life of its own. There is no advancing civilization wherewith to rehabilitate
the surrounding imagery. The nearest approach in our own language to Arabian Poetry is the Book of Job, with its illustrations of the conies, the goats, and the wild ass; and even such is still the life of the desert at the present day. Cut off from the world by wilderness and by nomad habits, the Arab maintains unchanged his simplicity, affected as little by the luxury and civilization of surrounding nations as by their politics. The eclogues of the classics are ever bordering upon urban life; but here the freshness and freedom of the wild desert is untainted by the most distant approach of the busy world. The din of the city, even the murmur of the rural hamlet, is unheard. The poet is unconscious of their existence.”
xxxii:* The actual meaning of these terms, as applied to the "Seven Ancient Arabic Prize Poems," is, however, a vexed question among modern European Arabists. The current interpretations, that these Poems were entitled Mu‘allaqāt (in the singular, Mu‘allaqa), either because they were suspended on the Ka‘ba, or because each of the so-called Poems consists of fragments or short pieces "hung" or strung together, are utterly rejected by Professor W. Ahlwardt, the eminent German Orientalist; as also the surmise of Herr Von Kremer, that the terns is derived from another meaning of the word—"written down from the dictation of the Rāwīs" (Reciters of Poetry): he rather regards the name as being analogous with the other term, Mudhahhabāt, or gilded, and to signify "set with ornaments "pre-eminent, or "golden" verses. The same learned Professor moreover considers the accounts of poetical contests, at ‘Ukātz and other places, as mere fictions of Oriental writers.
xxxiii:* In quarto, entitled: The Moâllakát; or Seven Arabian Poems which were Suspended on the Temple at Mecca, with a Translation and Arguments. By William Jones, Esq. London, 1782. From the "Advertisement" prefixed to this work we learn that Sir W. Jones purposed furnishing a Preliminary Discourse which was to comprise "observations on the antiquity of the Arabian language and letters; on the dialects and characters of Himyar and Koraish, with accounts of some Himyarick poets; on the manners of the Arabs in the age immediately preceding that of Mahomed; on the temple at Mecca, and the Moâllakát, or pieces of poetry suspended on its walls or gate; lastly, on the lives of the Seven Poets, with a critical history of their works, and the various copies or editions of them preserved in Europe, Asia and Africa." There were also to be Notes, giving "authorities and reasons for the translation of controverted passages; elucidating all the obscure couplets, and exhibiting or proposing amendments of the text; directing the reader's attention to particular beauties, or pointing out remarkable defects; and throwing light on the images, figures, and allusions of the Arabian poets, by citations, either from writers of their own country, or from such of our European travellers as best illustrate the ideas and customs of Eastern p. xxxiv nations." This elaborate scheme, however, was never carried out.—From a letter addressed to his learned Dutch friend, H. A. Schultens, in June, 1781, we learn that Sir W. Jones was guided in his translation of the Mu‘allaqāt by the Commentary of Tabrizi, the paraphrase of Zauzani, and other native grammarians.
It may be added, that, in issuing his translation of the Mu‘allaqāt, with the original texts transliterated into European characters, Sir W. Jones solicited the co-operation—the strictures and annotations—of continental scholars. "But," he remarks, "the Discourse and Notes are ornamental only, and not essential to the work"—surely a curious statement, from an English reader's point of view, at least; since without some previous knowledge of the habits and manners of the old Arabs, and some notes explanatory of obscure allusions, these compositions must be in a great measure unintelligible to general readers. But Sir W. Jones doubtless meant that the proposed Discourse and Notes were unnecessary to scholars, who might consult the native commentaries. However this may be, it is probable that to the absence of explanatory notes is due the circumstance that his translation of the Mu‘allaqāt had not been reprinted since it was included in the editions of his collected works: 6 vols., quarto, 1799, and 13 vols., octavo, 1807.
xxxv:* Some commentators say that praise-poems, or eclogues in praise of great men, which were always composed in this form of verse, first obtained the name of Qasīdas: panegyric being their special object or aim. Even the nature of the Qasīda is variously reported: some have said that it must be over three distichs (the lowest Arabic plural); others, over seven; and others, over sixteen.—A specimen of the Qasīda rhyme, in English verse, is given in page 367 of this volume.
xxxvii:* In Sir W. Jones’ "Genealogy of the Seven Poets," prefixed to his translation of the Mu‘allaqāt, the father of Imra’u-’l-Qays (‘Amrio’l-Kais) is called Maiah; his grandfather, Rabeiah (who was the father of Kulayb, the proud chief, whose murder caused a long and bloody war between the tribes of Taglib and Bakr); and his great grandfather, Hareth. Possibly "Maiah" was another name of Hujr, the father of Imra’u-’l-Qays; however, the asterisk after the name in Sir W. Jones’ list evidently indicates that it was doubtful.—According to Professor Ahlwardt, the poet was also styled Abū Zayd (father of a son called Zayd), son of Hujr, son of Harith.
xli:* From this it would appear that the poet Mutalammis, and probably Tarafa also, could not read.
xlvi:* So this poet is generally styled by Oriental writers; and according to Sir W. Jones’ "Genealogy of the Seven Arabian Poets" (prefixed to his translation of the Mu‘allaqāt in this volume), ‘Antara was the son of Shaddād, the son of Mu‘āwiya; but Professor Palmer and other modern authorities reverse this order of descent, and make Mu‘āwiya the father of ‘Antara, and Shaddād his grandfather.
li:* According to Sir W. Jones’ "Genealogy of the Seven Arabian Poets." D’Herbelot (Bibliothèque Orientale) says that he was "either el-Harith son of ‘Amr, or ‘Amr son of el-Harith."
lii:* The order in which the several poems of the Mu‘allaqāt are placed seems purely arbitrary; since they are not arranged either according to merit, date, length, or the rank of the authors. In the order of poetical merit, doubtless the Qasīda of Imra’u-’l-Qays would still retain the first place; that of Lebīd would come next, followed by ‘Antara, Tarafa, and Zuhayr; and ‘Amr, and el-Hārith, whose compositions are political declamations rather than eclogues, would occupy, as they do at present, the last places in the poetical Pleiades. If they were arranged in chronological order, they would probably stand thus: Tarafa; el-Harith; ‘Amr; ‘Antara; Imra’u-’l-Qays; Zuhayr; Lebīd. In the order of length: ‘Amr, whose poem contains 108 verses; Tarafa, 103; Lebīd, 89; el-Harith, 85; ‘Antara, 81; Imra’u-’l-Qays, 75; and Zuhayr, 64 verses. According to social rank, Imra’u-’l-Qays again would take precedence of the others, while ‘Antara would- occupy the last place, as being the son of a slave-woman. Between these two extremes—Imra’u-’l-Qays, the prince, and Antara, the son of a slave—would stand the five others, of whom at least four were connected with the court of Hīra, where the great poets of Arabia assembled in the century before the time of Muhammad.—In some editions of the "Seven Poets" the poems of en-Nabiga of Dubyān and el-‘Asha take the places of those of ‘Amr and el-Hārith.
liv:* A "dark" saying, which seems a parallel to that of Agatho, who remarks that "it is extremely probable that the most improbable things will occur"; as well as to the favourite saying of Lord Beaconsfield, that "it is always the unexpected that happens."
lvi:* Verse 62, for instance, offers a parallel to the well-known Greek epigram of Palladius, which has been thus rendered into English verse:
lix:* In an excellent paper on "Ancient Arabic Poetry," published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1879.
lix:† And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and three score and ten palm trees; and they encamped there by the waters.—Genesis xv. 27.