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Posts Tagged ‘Abu Nawass

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

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

Ascetics  (Abu Nawass 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 Moslem.

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 Nawass’s 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.

The greatest poet: “The man with the long curly hair” (February 6, 2009)

Baghdad in 809 is the largest metropolis in the world; it has over one million inhabitants. 

In comparison, Paris has less than 100,000 (the contemporary of Charlemagne reign), Damascus less than 400,000 (the former Capital of the Arab Umayyad dynasty), and Samarkand (in current Turkestan)  less than half a million; and most of the cities in North Italy average less than 50, 000 inhabitants. 

Baghdad was newly built less than 75 years ago by the Abbasid Dynasty.  The new Caliph is Al Amine; he is 23 years of age and the former student of poet Abu Nuwass. Al Amine is a learned man and very conversant in poetry.  The poet Abu Nuwass was in exile in Egypt on order of the Caliph Harun Al Rasheed.

Abu Nawass learned that his unique son had died and he hurried his return to Baghdad to join his student Al Amine. Four years of the ultimate in libertine life in the court of Al Amine awaited Abu Nawass. Al Amine had fondness for young eunuch; his mother tried to steer her son toward girls by promoting young girls in boys’ attire (a la garsonne) or whatever it takes.

 

Before the advent of Islam Iraq had been under the Persian Empire (the Sassanide Dynasty) for over 4 centuries.  The Arab tribes of the northern Arab Peninsula were mostly concentrated in the towns of Basra and Kufa in southern Iraq.

The main Capital of the Sassanide Dynasty (Sesiphone) was very close to current Baghdad that did not exist yet, on the other side of the Tiger River. Thus, the Iranians were far more numerous than the original “Arabs” and the culture and civilization of Persia was predominant. 

During Abu Nawass time, 150 years after Islam presence, Iraq was still mostly Persian and the most influential personalities had Persian relatives. There was a large minority from the Sind (current south Pakistan) known as “Tuz”; the European would later name them Tzigan.  

There were many Christian and Zoroaster Iranians, other Christian sects and Jews.  The non-Moslems ran the taverns and produced, imported, and sold alcoholic beverages and wine. The fundamentally Christian sect of Mani (Manichean) spread from Northern Africa to India.  The Abbasid Dynasty started the persecution of the Mani followers and then the Pope of Rome followed suit.

 

Four years later, Al Maamun, the half brother of Al Amine from an Iranian mother, would enter Baghdad and assassinate the Caliph Al Amine. Abu Nawass would be assassinated less than two years later, at the age of 56. 

The Shiaa Moslem sect predominated in Iran for political reasons: in order to have the upper hand on the Kuraich tribe of Mecca, from which all the Caliphs claimed their origins, they had to claim a more legitimate descendant to the Prophet Muhammad. They selected Ali, the fourth Caliph and his offspring Hassan, then Hussein and then the others descendants of Ali and Fatima (the Prophet’s daughter). 

Abu Nawass was comfortable with all sects and minorities, though he would satirize them in his poems as front for his proper belief system that agreed with them.  With the exception of his profound loathing of the Arab tribes originating from the Northern Arabian Peninsula, I think it safe to say that Abu Nawass satires on minorities and Jews are an exit scheme for displaying the “others” point of views.

 

The German Ewald Wagner published 5 volumes of Abu Nawass poems in the seven major genres of bacchanal (wine and drinking binges), erotic, libertine, hunting, panegyric (praises), satire, saturnine (mourning), and ascetic. .  Hamza al Isfahani (946 AD) published 1,500 poems claimed to be of Abu Nawass or a volume of 13,000 lines.

Al Hassan al Hakami, nicknamed Abu Nuwass for his long curly hair), was born in 757 AD in Ahwaz (south east Iran) of an Arab soldier born in Damascus and who was at the sold of the Omayyad Dynasty and a Persian mother Golban (Rose) originating from the Sind (south Pakistan). 

Abu Nuwass didn’t get to know his father and was orphaned.  He followed his mother to Basra and attended a Koranic school. The pretty boy joined his mature cousin Waliba al Hubab (who loved pretty boys) to Kufa.  Back to Basra Abu Nawass becomes the disciple of Khalaf al Ahmar, a “rawi” or transmitter of pre-Islamic poetry.  

Abu Nuwass spent an entire year in isolation with bedwins to correctly learn the Arab language.  By the age of 30, Abu Nuwass relocates to Baghdad during Caliph Harun Al Rasheed reign. Abu Nawass was the contemporary of the mystic Al Hallaj who was horribly executed and from whom Abu Nawass learned the message.

 

The power, smoothness, and loveliness of Abu Nawass poems are that they are solely from experience.  He self describes his life, feelings, the period, the culture, the social settings, the urban amenities compared to the arid and crude customs of the clans in the desert. 

He naturally used Persian words and slang, about 200 words in all, and you could view the kaleidoscope of the period dynamically strolling as you read. Thus, there are no romanticism, sentimentalism, or faked imagination and feelings. In fact, the weakest among his genres are the saturnine (poems of mourning) because he could not force non existing feelings for those who died, even for his closest drinking companions. 

For the panegyric genre Abu Nawass was sober in his praises and tributes and would just reserve the last six lines to that purpose after describing hunting adventures or the difficult trips to reaching the influential personality. Most of the people he praised got satirized anyway.  

The bacchanal and libertine genres are pervasive in almost all of Abu Nuwass poems and that is why this great poet is not taught in schools and his manuscripts relegated to the inaccessible sections of libraries.  The polygraph Al Jaahez (869 AD) wrote “I know of no one who knew the lexical of the Arab language as Abu Nuwass.  His expressions were very pure and soft and avoided disagreeable terms

 

The other great Arab poet Al Mutanabi (one hundred year later and a master craftsman in coining memorable verses) would say that the other poets toil on their work while his poems come to him easily and naturally; I feel that this statement apply exclusively to Abu Nawass who did not edit and publish his poems.  Al Mutanabi managed to gather and edit his complete work before he was assassinated.

Francois Villion (1498) published his “Testament” of forgiveness that is almost a carbon copy of Abu Nawass “God forgive me” piece.  No wonder, Medieval Europe and up to the Renaissance had vast knowledge of Arab literature and published works because Arab civilization was the “in thing”.

Abu Nawass clearly proclaimed his preference for pretty boy of 15 year-old with large thighs and oval faces. You may read my article “The Gods of beauty: Before the age of pimples” (February 7, 2009)

 

I have read Al Moutanaby, Al Maary, Omar Khayyam, Ibn Araby, and Hafez; they emulated Abu Nawass well, each one in his favorite genre; Abu Nawass is the Master; the other poets have did their best.

I have read Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Baudelaire; they are good poets; Abu Nawass is their Master; they have done the best they could


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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