Friday, 26 July 2013

The Poem of Imru al-Qays- The Nasib

Firstly, an introduction and a summary: This poem, written by Imru al-Qays, is one of the Mu'allaqat poems which was hung on the inside of the Ka'aba in Makkah.  Arabian poetry had a strong tradition, going right back to the Nabataeans.  Though Imru al-Qays was the first of the Mu'allaqat poets, he took influence from those who had come before him.  There were three in particular who may have been an influence over the young Arab prince.  One was Zuhayr ibn Janab al-Kalbi, a well-known poet and a drinking companion of his father's.  Another was Amr ibn Qami'ah, a member of his father's retinue and possibly the tribe's poet (sha'ir).  He later joined Imru al-Qays and accompanied him until his death.  A third possible influence was Abu Du'ah al-Iyadi, to whom Imru al-Qays was a reciter (a poet's disciple who would learn all of his poems).  The poem begins with Imru al-Qays finding the ruins of his lover's camp in the desert.  They have long since moved on to find greener pastures, and the poet is left grieving.  He then begins to remember what went on in the past.  He was once in love with a girl named Unaizah, who came from a rival tribe, and sought in vain to marry her.  One day, he was watching from afar as her tribe was passing in a camel caravan.  Watching from a distance, Imru al-Qays saw Unaizah and the women go off to a pool, and remove their clothes and begin bathing naked.  He then ran up to them, sat on their clothes, and so demanded that they had to come out of the pool naked to get them.  The other girls obliged, but Unaizah remained in the water.  Many hours passed, and soon the girls began to complain of cold and hunger.  Imru al-Qays immediately displayed the famed Arabian hospitality, and slaughtered his own riding camel, roasting it on a fire.  After having a cheerful conversation, Imru al-Qays found himself without a camel.  Unaizah agreed to let him use hers.  He next describes his relationship with Fatima, who was from a tribe at war with his own; and from here goes on to describe hunting and a chase in the forest, and eating the game which had been pierced with javelins.  Suddenly, he returns to the present as a thunderstorm and violent rain causes his companions to seek shelter.  The poem then ends.



The Nasib- or first part of the poem

The poem begins like this:

"Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.

The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now.
For when the South Wind blows the sand over them the North Wind sweeps it away.

The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.

On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart from the bursting pods of colocynth."

The poem, like many of the other examples from Arabian poetry, is called the qasida (sometimes translated as 'ode'). It begins with a part called the nasib. The nasib is the prelude to Arabic poetry, and is often erotic in nature (similar examples can be found in Canaanite and in Akkadian poetry). The poem itself is very song-like, recalling the typical rhythm found in Arabian and other Middle Eastern music. This poem too begins with a nasib, and it contains a motif called the atlal, which is where the poet describes his sense of loss as he comes across the abandoned camp of his love in the desert.

The nasib is also a kind of invocation. The divide between sacred and secular poetry can sometimes be blurred. While most of this poem is speaking about Imru al-Qays' earthly love (a mortal woman), in the nasib he invokes a kind of heavenly beauty. This is a goddess, namely the goddess of beauty, Al-Uzzah. She is invoked in the beginning of the poem as a form of reverence or incantation to the divine before beginning the qasida. In this nasib, he mentions the acacia groves where he stood, and the acacia is associated with Al-Uzzah. Therefore, he is invoking the goddess of beauty for beginning his long poem about his earthly love.

He halts, and asks his companions to look at the camp. He uses natural imagery, speaking of how the South Wind and the North Wind (both considered deities) are working to preserve the memory of the camp. He compares and contrasts things the way he remembers them to the way they are now. The imagery of desert animals and of wilderness brings to mind desolation and ruin, which was brought upon the fertile love which once existed between the poet and his lover.

What happened was that his lover's clan had to leave in search of greener pastures, and the women went along with the men. He now doesn't see her anymore since she has moved elsewhere in the vast expanse of Arabia.

Finally, comes the za'n, or fade-away. This is a dramatic end to the nasib. Imru al-Qays uses the metaphor of a bursting pod of colocynth which made his eyes blinded with tears. Colocynth or bitter apple was used by the Arabs to induce abortions. This is contrasting with fertile and sexual imagery, and shows the poet's bitterness and sorrow.

2 comments:

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