Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Abu Nawas

 

“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.

 

Satires

(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

Adonis on How to Read ‘Real’ Arab Poetry

I am disseminating this article posted by mlynxqualey on July 17, 2011. I erased the commentary. I will add a few comments.

Poetry that reaches all the people is essentially superficial.

Real poetry requires effort:  it requires the reader to become, like the poet, a creator. Reading is not reception.”

Replying to one translator-poet Khaled Mattawa’s students who said that poetry was an insufficiently popular form, Poet Adonis s added, “I suggest you change your relationship to poetry and art in general.”

Elliott Colla translated Adonis’  “Ambiguity” in the new journal Asymptote.

Adonis writes (via Colla):

“Ambiguous is how a reader describes a text that he cannot grasp, or that he cannot master in a way that turns it into a part of what he knows…

Since Islam, Arab society has lived in a world of complete certainty…

In this manner, poetry, the verbal weapon of the Bedouins, was transformed into an instrument serving the mind, not unlike how a spoon serves the mouth.

The value of a tool-instrument lies in our trust and ability to rely upon it. It lies in the confidence we place in it: We lift the spoon to our mouth everyday without thought or effort. We wear shoes everyday without thought or effort. So too are we supposed to read and understand a poem: without thought or effort.

So poetry becomes a form that we can consume, like a Popsicle or pop song, without thought or effort. But why clarity?

Because clarity is a necessary function of the oral arts.  Oration is a form of articulation that imposes on the speaker a distinctive rhythm, a directness, simple words and clear ideas.

And the need for clarity was further solidified by Arabic poetry’s status as a “science”.

Arabic poetry began, like every science, to describe reality in terms of minute detail and what is adequate, and its primary value became tied to its use and benefit.

In this way, poetry began to move within an intellectual-rational framework, that is, it became a kind of reiteration, a mold, a subject to study and apply, something concerned with presenting “the truth” more than something concerned with innovation and invention.

Those were the “old” poets.  What is “real” poetry?

…The poet is a poet only on one condition: only insofar as he sees what others do not and that he discover and push forward.

And who is reading poetry?

…the reader who proceeds from memory, custom and received tradition, far from the spirit of constant advance and discovery, carries on in his thinking when faced with a poem as his body carries on when faced with a substance to consume: he does not consider himself the owner of the thing until he has consumed it. This kind of reader is good for everything but poetry.

The difference between reader and poet is a form of complementarity that compels the reader to become another creative genius, another poet. (End of quote)

What did I understand?  Even this short exposure, general in nature and needing many detailed example for proper comprehension, was good enough at the third reading for me to comment.

Most of us, start our hand at writing “poems”.  We believe that holding a diary to expressing our confused ignorance about our feelings, life and the universe, is a dangerous enterprise, it reveals our weaknesses, though life is ours and we are the stronger in hope and plans…

As we try to emulate the poems of our favorite poets, the feelings are gone, the diary is gone, our perseverance is gone, our emotions are hidden even deeper, and we missed the train.

What would have happened if Rimbaud failed to publish his work at this young age? Passed this great opportunity, Rimbaud lived in obscurity, nothing of value resurfaced.

A Poem is an excellent means to describing the confused emotions and feeling, describing the confusion, and not making sense of why we are confused. There are many different other expression forms to explain “what make sense”: Poetry is not one of them.

The good poems of pre-Islamic period were beautiful:  They were frank, bold, individualistic, and described accurately the environment and the customs.  They told stories and were downright slutty, as direct as folk songs.

The pre-islamic tribes didn’t enjoy a steady and timely communication with urban civilization, and the only innovation was displayed in more dramatic description of emotions…

After Islam, poems were inclined to becoming lyrical, general, sticking to the new culture of One God, and the sharia or the religious laws.  It became very difficult to be inventive since individuality was a dangerous tendency that was proscribed.

Poets needed the support of princes and emirs to survive in this most valued and appreciated job: memorizing poems was still a great tradition among people, and reciting poems was the best means to being recognized.  Poetry became an industry, with consensus standards, and becoming inventive and innovative in poetry style and topics was not profitable.

Even the most “revolutionary” poets had first to prove that they mastered the traditional style and language before they ventured into their own style. The content of poems didn’t vary much.  The urban poets mocked the life-style of the nomadic tribes, but could not resist boasting of belonging to a tribe, even a faked tribe of his own invention, though they have not linked with the tribe for decades and forgot entirely how to survive in a nomadic environment. For example, Abu Nawas.

You could read in a single poem many topics, and get confused what is the purpose of the poem, if not for targeting my doors, hopefully one of the topics will strike a chord in a rich provider.

For example, Abu Tammam, a 10th century poet, could be considered a modern poet: He focused on satisfying the wants of society, particularly, the caliph and princes who expected decent poems that won’t antagonize the perception of a divine authority.

So how modern poets, after Islam, could circumvent the restrictions if not taking refuge in sciences, and borrowing new terms that didn’t exist, and trying to explain the terms in poetical forms?

In translating poems, it is vital that the context be explained extensively in a note, unless it is a poem written by a youth, expressing the confusion in his emotions and feelings.

What if a sticky myth can’t be disproved? Who is Tah Hussein?

I lean for the notion that a myth has factual features, though the story becomes fundamentally a myth by successive alterations.  So what?  Most novels are claimed to be fictions, though there is no doubt authors are describing their own feelings and positions in many sections of the novel.

For example, there is this story of Abraham and his sons Ismael and Jacob and his many wives, legitimate or not.  Obviously, there is no way to disprove this story (this story should not be a big deal: it must have been a common story among families and societies, related to customs and traditions at the time and in the region…)  

For example, all the monotheist, which I prefer to label mono-idolatery, religions (Jewish, Islam, and Christian) claim Abraham for father figure, and they discriminate their religions based on Abraham’s descendents.  In fact, if these religions didn’t disseminate the Abraham story as true, who would care if it was a factual story or one of the famous mythical fictions?

The process of disproving a myth, or its inherent value and the futile labor in investing time in non-documented research, is not the theme of this article. 

My question is: “If you know that there is no adequate means to tackle disproving a myth connected to religious beliefs then, is it worth antagonizing religious people just by stating that (their convictions are based on myths) and not having the moral courage to specializing in all the aspects of the myth?”

Some people would say: “If this myth is wrecking havoc to the unity of society (meaning  of disturbing conformity) then, is it your moral obligation to say that a myth is a myth until proven otherwise?”

Some people would say: “If the impacts of this myth is redundant on society then, it is a crime to approaching and taking out the skeletal of this myth and making it an issue that harms peaceful coexistence and encourages extremist, racist, and obscurantist elements around the myth.”

For example, in 1926, the late Egyptian author Tah Hussein published “On poetry in Jahilyya” (the pre-Islamic period in the Arabic Peninsula.)  First, who is Tah Hussein?

Hussein was blind by birth and is dubbed “Dean of Arab literature”. He continued his education in France and received a doctoral on his thesis related to Ibn Khaldoun (Ibn Khaldoun lived in the 15th century Tunisia and is known as the founder of sociology or ethnography). Hussein divorced his Egyptian wife and married a French woman Suzanne.

“On poetry in Jahilyya” Hussein claimed that his critique is Cartesian; which means a rational method requiring the author to “forget” or set aside all that he knew on a subject matter and then, starts with a clean sheet re-studying the topic from a rational and scientific perspective. Obviously, the sentence “forgetting what we knew” cannot be feasible; saying that an author has to do his best to starting with a neutral position might seem more accurate, but it is not:  How can you get interested in a topic if you are essentially neutral about it? (see note 2)

In one of the chapters of this monumental manuscript, Hussein proposed several views.

First, Hussein claimed that Abraham is a fictional character (but he failed to back up this contention) in his drive to discrediting many religions meddling in literature, which obscured and prevented serious investigations for the development of the Arabic language and literature: religions asserted facts that are principally myths in nature.

For example, Islam (submission to Allah), by claiming Abraham as the founder of Jewish and Islam religions, was a gimmick  adopted by the Prophet Muhammad to uniting Jewish and Christian sects into one comprehensive and common denominator system of belief.

Hussein might not have known then that:

1. Muhammad’s father was a convert to one of the “heretic” Christian-Jewish sects in Mecca (“heretic” was a label extended by the orthodox Byzantium Church);

2. One of Muhammad’s uncles was the Patriarch of this sect;

3. Muhammad joined his uncle once a year, and for an entire month of fasting, prayer, and meditation;

4. Muhammad was versed and immersed in the belief system and the stories of his uncle’s sect.

Second, Hussein proposed that the Prophet Muhammad read his verses in seven Arabic dialects corresponding to the main Arabic tribes in the Arabic Peninsula. (The Coran was finally codified during the third Caliph Othman bin Affan (from Quraich tribe of Mecca) into the Quraichi tribe dialect.)

Third, Hussein claimed that it is not true that Islam was the first religion that the Arabic Peninsula experienced.

Fourth, Hussein denounced the zeal of claiming that the genealogy of the Prophet (the successive clans and tribes) must be the best among the tribes.

There are more propositions which incited the ire of the clerics in Al Azhar who took Hussein to court.  Hussein didn’t hesitate to cancelling this “controversial” chapter from his next versions titled “On Jahilkiyya literature”.  Actually, the press coverage of the proceedings had disseminated the views of Hussein extensively among the intelligentsia in Egypt and the Arab World.

What was striking in these court proceedings is that the prosecutor basically defended the book in a 40-page investigation; the investigation was balanced and rational and the book was not condemned.  That was Egypt between the two world wars; a period of enlightenment that the Lebanese immigrants participated mightily in promoting freedom of speech and opinions in dailies and magazines.

Note:  Tah Hussein published another highly controversial book “The future of Egypt’s culture”.  In this book, Hussein claimed that Egypt culture is basically a Mediterranean Sea culture and a close relative to Greece, Italy, and France, but in no way related to the cultures in Persia and India.  Hussein demonstrated that most of Greek and Roman intelligentsia studied in Egypt, before a few returned to their City-States and established their own schools.

Hussein proposed that ancient Greek and Latin be taught at Egyptian schools as was the case in Europe at the turn of the century. (I think that is the case of the culture in Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. It was the case of coastal Turkey till the 16th century).  In the 16th and 17th century, the Ottoman Empire experienced total embargo with Europe, economically and culturally, due to its military expansions in Europe. The Ottoman Empire had to turn toward Iran and India to satisfying all its demands in all fields and sectors.  You may read my article “Lions and lionesses in the Fertile Crescent”

Note 2: The famous poet of the 8th century (Baghdad) Abu Nawas was asked by his mentor to memorize 1,000 pieces of poems.  The next season, the mentor demanded from Abu Nawas to doing his best forgetting all the poems he has memorized.  This was an exercise of renewing with your own personality and character…

The Gods of beauty: Before the age of pimples (February 7, 2009)

 

Note:  I was inspired for this article by the critical introduction of Vincent-Mansour Monteil for his book “Abu Nawas”, the great Arab poet of the early Abbasseed period around the year 800.    

 

Through the ages, boys of 15 or a little less (khoumasi) were erotically more prized than girls of the same age in all civilizations.  Androgynous boys (effeminate, khanith) had grace in movement, they had pretty oval faces, fleshy, soft and smooth skins, and their muscle were firmer.  The western cultures are familiar with the tales and literatures of the antique Greek and Roman civilizations on that subject; for example, Socrates was a famous pedophile and his wife went as far as taking her husband to court.

            Abu Nuwass had Janane, an Iranian lesbian, as a front for his homosexuality and a particular penchant for the boys who were Christian Iranians serving as peons or slave pages in the courts of the affluent and powerful.  “You look like a boy but you are indeed a girl” (Abu Nawass) and “Man is a continent. Woman is a sea.  I prefer very much the firm land”.

I saw a movie done in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime; this very old sheikh purchased a pretty boy who was to be executed (she was indeed a girl who had her hair cut and dressed like a boy); when the sheikh was training the boys how to wash their testicles before prayer he was smitten by the boy/girl and repeated this verse of the Koran of those serving the predestined to Paradise “The peon (ghilman) are immortal Adonis, similar to hidden pearls”

            Rimbaud also had taken as front an indigenous woman in Harari (Ethiopia/Eritrea) so that he may reserve his total love for Djami, his companion and boy of 15.  Verlaine and Baudelaire had also the same preference.  Shakespeare wrote his sonnets, the first 126 sonnets for “My lovely boy; a very young man, barely an adolescent”; and also “A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted, Hast thou the Master Mistress of my passion”

            Leonardo Da Vinci had the same preferences as Abu Nawass for boys of 15 of age; he bequest his inheritance to Francesco Melzi whom he had known at the “fatal age”.  Michel Angelo dedicated 50 epitaphs to Cecchino Bracci, dead at age 15 and was hopelessly in love with the indifferent Tommaso de’ Cavalieri “Who will defend me of your beautiful face?”  The best and most beautiful characters in the paintings of these giant artists are the androgynous young boys.  The difference between these two great painters is that Michel Angelo never dared satisfy “Biblically” his pedophilic urges who was mocked by the Pope Jules II as suffering of “terribilita”.

            Pederasty was common phenomenon in England in the turn of the last century, as long as gentleman did not display their loved boy publicly.  Oscar Wilde paid for his exhibitionism and outlandish temperament a long prison term.  Pedophilia is rampant everywhere now and internet and special websites are serving secret desires.  The Roman Catholic Church is still battling court cases of priests taking advantage of multitude of young boys studying in Catholic schools.

            Sodom and Gomorra might be fictitious two towns in the Bible that were burned by Jehovah but it illustrate that pederasty is an ancient and a prevalent erotic tendency in all ages and all civilizations.  Maybe sex among the same gender is a front to cover a deeper emotional predilection: maybe societies should start to accept the fact that the majority of people of both genders are unable to taking the drastic decision and making the serious effort to comprehend the other sex and prefer the community of their own gender.


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