3

Neo-classical poetry

In the chapters that follow, we shall attempt to explore some of the main trends and manifestations of the movement of 'revival' through the three main areas of poetry, prose fiction, and the theatre, beginning with poetry. As already explained in Chapter 1, Arabic poetry not only had a longer tradition than any of the European poetic schools to which any early Arab nineteenth-century traveller to Europe might have become exposed; in addition, Arabic poetry itself, from the time of the pre-Islamic poets onwards, had acquired a status that was effectively second only to the Qur'ān itself. It is therefore little surprise that when the poets of the second half of the nineteenth century sought to 'renew' their craft, they turned not to new Western forms, as their counterparts in prose generally did, but rather to models from the classical, or medieval, Arabic tradition. As we shall see, this represented a literary reaction radically different from that of their prose-writing colleagues to the Western influences that had begun to spread through the Arab world since the end of the eighteenth century. It is for this reason that the first stirrings of 'renewal' in the context of modern Arabic poetry are usually given the name of 'neo-classical'.

The history of modern Arabic poetry from the middle of the nineteenth century has often been held to be divisible into three clearly distinguishable phases: neo-classical, Romantic, and modernist. In terms of poetic technique, this is indeed a useful division, since each of these categories has specific formal features that mark it off from the others, and there are few examples of modern Arabic poetry that could not, in broad terms at least, be almost immediately assigned to one category or the other.1 In giving an account of the development of the main schools of modern poetry, a useful starting-point has been to state that the 'neo-classical period' extends from the second half of the nineteenth century to roughly the time of the First World War; that the Romantic period covers roughly the inter-war period, and that 'modernism' became a major feature of modern Arabic poetry from the time of the introduction of various forms of 'free verse' in the period following the Second World War. Although this periodicisation may be helpful in terms of the leading poetic practitioners, it should be noted that these labels refer to 'schools' or 'movements' rather than to periods,

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