By Philip Kennedy
A readable survey of this celebrated ninth century Arab poet.
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Extra resources for Abu Nuwas (Makers of the Muslim World)
Such toying can engender a taut psychological dynamic or cohesion, as illustrated in the relationship between the two halves of a six line poem about attitudes to people and the psychology between two men: (Note. ) I wanted to rebuke him for his meanness But then, seeing him and seeing the people [around us], I no longer consider it fitting; There is not even a valid point of comparison! When I compare you with people I see they are nothing but pigmies and apes. * * * So be proud, my prince, full of arrogance and conceit, Scowl and wear a frown upon your face; Pay no attention to people and spare them no thought, Do not even raise your head to them And treat me exclusively any way you will; Give me your spurning drink, shun me with every breath!
He was a child both of his time and his particular upbringing, which straddled the old and the new, the desert and the metropolis. He could poke fun at himself, scorning his sometimes hapless amorous adventures, but he saw himself in stature as the successor to the Ancient poets, and he suffered no illusions about his extraordinary talents: to his friend ‘Amr al-Warraq he boasted sharply and pithily:“I am unique. ” If this was churlish and mean, he was generous in other ways and was known to share financial gifts won at court with other poets who had emerged empty-handed.
He could affect to flout the protocols of Ramadan: of all the months, if he could “kill one off ”, he would dispatch this sacred month of fasting. ” (parodying the Islamic testimony of God’s unity). In an ebullient exchange with the Baghdadi singing-girl ‘Inan he wrote: “Gorgeous one! 045 19/02/2005 11:33 AM Page 23 “DANGLING LOCKS AND BABEL EYES” 23 prayer” (qibla) are made to rhyme, an almost inevitable rhyming couplet. There is so much of this kind of pithy anecdotage about Abu Nuwas that it literally fills up two medieval books.