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Arabic Poetry

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[Horne Introduction]

    Arabic poetry is based largely on harmonies of sound and striking turns of phrasing. A poet's fame depended upon a few brilliant couplets rather than on any sustained melody or long-continued flight of noble thought. One distinguished philosophical poem of some length is the well-known "Lament of the Vizier Abu Ismael." This we give in full at the conclusion of this section; but mainly we must illustrate the finest flowering of Arabic verse by selecting specimens of characteristic brevity. Many of the Arab caliphs inclined to the gaieties of life rather than to their religious duties, and kept many poets around them. Indeed some of the caliphs themselves were poets: The Caliph Walid composed music as well as verse; and was hailed by his immediate companions as a great artist. His neglect of religion, however, was so reckless as to rouse the resentment of his people, and he lost his throne and life. 

Chronologies

Islamic Civilization

The Song of Maisuna

The russet suit of camel's hair,
With spirits light, and eye serene,
Is dearer to my bosom far
Than all the trappings of a queen.

The humble tent and murmuring breeze
That whistles thro' its fluttering wall,
My unaspiring fancy please
Better than towers and splendid halls.

Th' attendant colts that bounding fly
And frolic by the litter's side,
Are dearer in Maisuna's eye
Than gorgeous mules in all their pride.

The watch-dog's voice that bays whene'er
A stranger seeks his master's cot,
Sounds sweeter in Maisuna's ear
Than yonder trumpet's long-drawn note.

The rustic youth unspoilt by art,
Son of my kindred, poor but free,
Will ever to Maisuna's heart
Be dearer, pamper'd fool, than thee.

---Maisuna, Wife to the Caliph Mowiah
 

 

To My Father

Must then my failings from the shaft
Of anger ne'er escape?
And dost thou storm because I've quaff'd
The water of the grape?

That I can thus from wine be driv'n
Thou surely ne'er canst think---
Another reason thou hast giv'n
Why I resolve to drink.

'Twas sweet the flowing cup to seize,
'Tis sweet thy rage to see;
And first I drink myself to please;
And next---to anger thee.

---The Caliph Yazid
 

   
On Fatalism

Not always wealth, not always force
A splendid destiny commands;
The lordly vulture gnaws the corpse
That rots upon yon barren sands.

Nor want, nor weakness still conspires
To bind us to a sordid state;
The fly that with a touch expires
Sips honey from the royal plate.

---The Holy Imam Shafay
 

   
To the Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid

Religion's gems can ne'er adorn
The flimsy robe by pleasure worn;
Its feeble texture soon would tear,
And give those jewels to the air.

Thrice happy they who seek th' abode
Of peace and pleasure in their God!
Who spurn the world, its joys despise,
And grasp at bliss beyond the skies.

---Prince Ibrahim Ben Adham
 


To My Mistress

Ungenerous and mistaken maid,
To scorn me thus because I'm poor!
Canst thou a liberal hand upbraid
For dealing round some worthless ore?
To spare's the wish of little souls,
The great but gather to bestow;
Yon current down the mountain rolls,
And stagnates in the swamp below.

---Abu Tammam Habib
 

On the Monks of Khabbet

Tenants of yon hallowed fane!
Let me your devotions share,
There increasing raptures reign---
None are ever sober there.

Crowded gardens, festive bowers
Ne'er shall claim a thought of mine;
You can give in Khabbet's towers---
Purer joys and brighter wine.

Though your pallid faces prove
How you nightly vigils keep,
'Tis but that you ever love
Flowing goblets more than sleep.

Though your eye-balls dim and sunk
Stream in penitential guise,
'Tis but that the wine you've drunk
Bubbles over from your eyes.

---Mashdud
 


To a Lady Weeping

When I beheld thy blue eyes shine
Through the bright drop that pity drew,
I saw beneath those tears of thine
A blue-ey'd violet bathed in dew.

The violet ever scents the gale,
Its hues adorn the fairest wreath,
But sweetest through a dewy veil
Its colors glow, its odors breathe.

And thus thy charms in brightness rise---
When wit and pleasure round thee play,
When mirth sits smiling in thine eyes,
Who but admires their sprightly ray?
But when through pity's flood they gleam,
Who but must love their softened beam?

---Ibn Al Rumi
 


On A Miser

"Hang her, a thoughtless, wasteful fool,
She scatters corn where'er she goes"---
Quoth Hassan, angry at his mule,
That dropped a dinner to the crows.

---Ibn Al Rumi
 


To Cassim Obio Allah

Poor Cassim! thou art doomed to mourn
By destiny's decree;
Whatever happens it must turn
To misery for thee.

Two sons hadst thou, the one thy pride,
The other was thy pest;
Ah, why did cruel death decide
To snatch away the best?


No wonder thou shouldst droop with woe,
Of such a child bereft;
But now thy tears must doubly flow,
For, ah! the other's left.

---Ali Ibn Ahmed
 


On A Thunderstorm

Bright smiled the morn, 'till o'er its head
The clouds in thicken'd foldings spread
A robe of sable hue;
Then, gathering round day's golden king,
They stretched their wide o'ershadowing wing,
And hid him from our view.

The rain his absent beams deplored,
And, soften'd into weeping, poured
Its tears in many a flood;
The lightning laughed with horrid glare;
The thunder growled, in rage; the air
In silent sorrow stood.

---Ibrahim Ben Khiret Abou Isaac
 

   
To My Favorite Mistress

I saw their jealous eyeballs roll,
I saw them mark each glance of mine,
I saw thy terrors, and my soul
Shared ev'ry pang that tortured thine.

In vain to wean my constant heart,
Or quench my glowing flame, they strove;
Each deep-laid scheme, each envious art,
But waked my fears for her I love.

'Twas this compelled the stern decree,
That forced thee to those distant towers,
And left me naught but love for thee,
To cheer my solitary hours.

Yet let not Abla sink deprest,
Nor separation's pangs deplore;
We meet not---'tis to meet more blest;
We parted---'tis to part no more.

---Saif Addaulet, Sultan of Aleppo  
 


Caprices Of Fortune

Why should I blush that Fortune's frown
Dooms me life's humble paths to tread?
To live unheeded, and unknown?
To sink forgotten to the dead?

'Tis not the good, the wise, the brave,
That surest shine, or highest rise;
The feather sports upon the wave,
The pearl in ocean's cavern lies.

Each lesser star that studs the sphere
Sparkles with undiminish'd light;
Dark and eclipsed alone appear
The lord of day, the queen of night.

---Shems Almaali Cabus
 


From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 205-234. Original e-text scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg. The original e-text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. This version has been edited for classroom use.
 

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