Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Abbasid period


“The man with the long curly hair”: Fragments of Abu Nuwas‘ Poems (February 12, 2009)

Note:  I am attempting to convey the style and position of the great Arab poet Abu Nawas during the Abbasid period.  The translation is not literal and I am selecting fragments in specific genres.

Ascetics  (Abu Nawas is witnessing his physical disintegration after his 50)

It is true O God: Great is my villainy.

Your clemency, I know, is infinite.

If the virtuous only dares keep hope.

Then, who the sinner is to appeal to?

Whom the sinner is to believe in?

In humility I implore you my Lord.

Don’t reject me! Only You can have pity.

You are the clement and forgiving.

Finally and besides, I am a Muslim.

My God, you have always been good to me.

My gratitude is little adequate.

Do I have to present my flat excuses?

My excuse is that I have none.

Nullity crawls in me; my members are dying one at a time. Every moment takes its share.

My youth has fled and didn’t deign to listen.

What have I done with my tender youth?

My youth was dedicated to pleasure, every day and every night.

All possible mischief I have committed.  Forgive me God; I hear you and I tremble.

The full moon is just a dim glow compared to your majestic Face.

I carry on my front the indelible mark of prostrations that might pass me a devout.

Oh, how many noble figures are entombed and as many refined beauties.

How many brave are buried and as many great minds.

Let a rational man interrogate Earth. 

We have taken all Earth’s alleys, highways, and passes.

Earth is our enemy disguised as friend.



(The Caliph Al Amine is pederast and wanted to honor Abu Nawas young son Mussa.  The satirized personalities were the poet’s benefactors and he joined their merriments)

The Caliph is losing his way.  It is the Caliph fault.

His ignorant vizier Fadl and his naïve counselor Bakr are to be blamed.

The Caliph Al Amine is a pederast.  He loves young eunuchs.

The Caliph is the active actor: How wonderful!

His vizier is the passive one.

The compromises of these two are splattering all the neighborhood.

Like a pissing camel.

Arab Humor. The Abbasid period. Part 4

Four humorous characters stand out in this period:

1. Abu Dulama Zand, ibn al Jawn, was an auto derision poet and mocked himself, wife and children.

2. Bashar bin Burd (714-784) was blind. He is considered the best poet, second to Abu Nawas at the time. He was disrespectful of religions and their precepts, and lived in an ruthless society for the handicapped people

3. Abu Nawas (757-815).

4. Jahez (776-868) was the most famous author at the time and the most cultivated. He wrote “The Stingy” and “The Animal”

Samples of the humors:

1. The Abbasid caliph Mahdi (father of Harun Rashid) lost his hunting party and ended up at bedwin tent. asking to be fed. The bedwin fed him and poured date wine to the stranger. The first cup was an opportunity for the caliph to say “Do you know who I am? I accompany the Commander of the Believers“.  The second cup “I am one of the knights of the caliph”, the third cup “I am the caliph”. The bedwin closed the bottle and would not pour another cup. He said: “I am afraid in the fourth round you might claim that you are Prophet Muhammad

2. Caliph Harun Racheed told a man from Morocco (Maghreb, or the province of the setting sun) “The world is a bird whose tail is the Maghreb”. The man retorted “Correct. This bird is a peacock

3. Caliph Mutawakkel asked the blind Abul Ayn (eye) “How do you find my house?”. He replied “I have seen houses around the world, but in your case, it is the world that you built within these walls”

4. Caliph Mutawakkel was saying “The Moslems were not happy with Othman (third caliph). The first caliph Abu Bakr stepped down one step from the chair of the prophet in the Mosque. The second caliph Omar stepped down two steps. Othman stood on top of the chair. Othman was too arrogant and insensitive…” Abbad replied “You have to give thanks to Othman. Otherwise, we will be listening to you from the bottom of a pit

5. Harun Racheed told a man from the Maghreb “Aren’t you glad that we delivered you from the plague?”  The Maghribi man retorted  “Grace to the equitable Allah. Between your dominion and the plague…”

6. Caliph Ma2moun summoned a woman claiming to be a prophet by the name of Fatima. Ma2moun said “Do you believe in everything the Prophet revealed?” The woman said “Yes, I do”  The caliph said “Didn’t the prophet say “No prophet after me?” The woman retorted “Yes, he did. But never did He mentioned women prophets

Note: Extracted from the French book “The Book of Arab Humor” by Jean-Jacques Schmidt




March 2023

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