Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
KA‘B, the Poet, and Muhammad, the Lawgiver, were issued, each by seventeen and fifteen degrees of descent respectively, from a common ancestor, Ilyās, son of Mudhar, son of Nizār, son of ‘Adnān. This last, ‘Adnān, was himself a descendant, in some very uncertain degree and line, of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, forefather of the Children of Israel by his other son Isaac. Most, but not all, Arabians trace their pedigrees to this ‘Adnān. Muhammad was descended from Mudrika, son of Ilyās, while Ka‘b claimed descent from Tābikha, a brother of Mudrika.
Ka‘b was a son of Zuhayr, son of Abū Sulmà. He had a brother named Bujayr; and, like their father, both these brothers were poets in an eminent degree. Ka‘b had two sons, also lyrists.
Zuhayr is the author of one of the pre-Islamite poems known as the Mu‘allaqāt, translations of which, by Sir William Jones, form part of the present volume. That poem was a production of his old age. He is said to have frequented the society of men learned in the various religions then extant, and thus to have become aware of a general expectancy, at that period, by the most pious and best informed, of the appearance of a great apostle, who should reconcile all divergences and unite mankind in a pure worship of the one sole God, who had revealed the truth to the prophets of old. He is said to have seen in a vision, shortly before his death, a rope let down from heaven, which he essayed to grasp, but which he found to be beyond his reach. This he interpreted to himself as a revelation that the advent of the long-expected apostle was at hand, but that the poet would not himself live long enough
to see and hear him. He recounted his vision, and his interpretation of the same, to his two sons, whom he advised to be on the outlook, and to accept the teachings of the new apostle, if he should appear in their time. Zuhayr then died.
Accordingly, when the fame of the teachings of Muhammad became noised abroad among the cities of Arabia and the children of its deserts, and also the news of his various victories, culminating in the submission of his native city, Makka, and its confederates, to his sway, it happened that Ka‘b and his brother Bujayr were led, in conducting their flocks and herds to the summer pasturages, into the neighbourhood of the newly-conquered districts. Naturally, the two poet-brothers conversed together, and with their neighbours, about the new doctrine and dominion. These consultations ended in Bujayr's proposing to go to Muhammad and learn for himself what was the truth of the matter. He sought the Apostle, in consequence, and soon embraced the faith of Islām.
Tidings of the lapse of his brother from the religion of their forefathers reached Ka‘b, who thereupon became very much incensed. He composed a lampoon on his brother and the Prophet, together with their new religion. This he sent to his brother by the mouth of a messenger. Bujayr thought it his duty to lay the circumstance before Muhammad, who had now returned to Madīna. He recited the lampoon to the conqueror, who commented on its words, turning them all to the praise of the new faith and himself, to the condemnation of Ka‘b. Then, as appears to have been a rule with him towards all his waspish satirists, Muhammad passed a sentence of death upon his new assailant, who was to receive no quarter, should he fall into the hands of any future expeditionary Muslims.
Bujayr—knowing how several lampoonists of the Quraysh, Formerly denounced, had been slaughtered by the incensed victors, in the first moments of the occupation of Makka, while others had only saved their lives by flight and exile, and others again had been most generously pardoned by the Prophet himself, on their seeking his personal protection and
adopting the faith—became deeply alarmed at the danger in which he had placed his brother. He therefore, in his turn, composed a poem, which he sent orally to Ka‘b, and advised him to do what the most eminent were doing—renounce his errors, and come in to the Prophet repentant; warning him of what would otherwise be his certain fate.
It appears that the circumstances became noised abroad. Enemies of Ka‘b assailed him in verse, blackening him in every way, as is usual in like cases. He probably heard also that some of them were preparing to attack him with more lethal weapons. He therefore had recourse to one of the Arabian customs, and fled for protection to a powerful neighbour and old friend. Here he was told that his friend could not venture to shield him against the all-powerful foe whose wrath had been excited; while everywhere he was greeted with jibes as to his being already virtually a dead man.
Ka‘b now formed the resolution of a desperate, but wise and brave man. He set out secretly for Madīna, found there an old friend, claimed his protection, and was by him, the next morning at dawn, conducted to the then most simple meeting-house where Muhammad and his chief followers performed their devotions of worship and praise (not prayer). His friend indicated the Prophet to Ka‘b, who recognised the person and features he had heard described. The service ended, Ka‘b approached Muhammad, and the two sat down together. Ka‘b placed his own right hand in that of the Prophet, whom he addressed in the words: "Apostle of God, were I to bring to you Ka‘b the son of Zuhayr, penitent and professing the faith of Islām, wouldst thou receive and accept him?"—The Prophet answered: "I would."—"Then," said the Poet, "I am he."
Immediately on this intelligence being heard by the bystanders, one of the men of Madīna seized Ka‘b, and demanded the Prophet's permission to put him to death. Muhammad commanded his zealous partisan to desist; but the incident raised in the Poet a feeling of resentment, to which he gave vent immediately afterwards. For he now improvised, probably
with more or less premeditation, the Poem of which a translation is here given, in which, Arab fashion at the period, after an exordium in praise of some real or imaginary beauty, and of the camel on which alone she could be reached in her distant abode, he passes to a cursory mention of what had happened to himself since his denunciation by the Prophet, ending, at the thirty-eighth verse, with a description of his present interview, his hope of pardon, his awe at the dread vengeance he had evoked, a cleverly introduced eulogium on the "Emigrants" from Makka, and a scathing cut at the "dwarfish tawny [Madīna] men" who "ran away." It is said that when Ka‘b reached the fifty-first verse: "Verily the Apostle is a Light from which illumination is sought: a drawn Indian blade—one of the Swords of God," Muhammad took from his own shoulders the mantle he wore, and threw it over the shoulders of the Poet, as an honour, and as a mark of protection. This incident has been the cause of the title given henceforth to the effusion: The Poem of the Mantle.
It is said that after Mu‘āwiya, the first Caliph of the house of ’Umayya, had firmly established his sway over Syria and Egypt, he sent a messenger to Ka‘b, and offered him ten thousand pieces of silver for the deceased Prophet's sacred mantle; but that Ka‘b refused to part with the relic to any one. When the Poet died, the Caliph sent another messenger to his heirs, and offered them twenty thousand pieces for the mantle, which now passed into his possession. It has, ever since, been reverently preserved by the head of the realm of Islām. In the treasury of the Sultan-Caliph of the Ottomans, at Constantinople, there is an apartment, named the "Room of the Sacred Mantle," in which this robe is religiously preserved, together with a few other relics of the great Lawgiver.
As an instance of the surpassing richness of the Arabian tongue, it may be mentioned that Ka‘b's "Poem of the Mantle," now nearly thirteen hundred years old, is found recorded in manuscripts with variant words in great number, though still preserving the one sense. A collector, curious in the matter,
is recorded, who knew by heart seven hundred variations of the Poem; but, not long after, a more successful hunter raised the number to nine hundred. With such variety of expression, commentators have had a glorious task; and it may easily be understood that volumes would be required to give the whole detail. In the present translation, that version has been followed which is given in Westerfeld's edition of "The Life of Muhammed, based on Mohammed Ibn Ishak, by Abd El-Malik Ibn Hishām," published by Messrs. N. Trübner & Co., London, 1867. I have made but one alteration to it, of a single word in verse 56, authorised by two commentaries, and without which the clause appears to me untranslatable.
J. W. REDHOUSE.
London, July, 1880.