4

Romanticism in Arabic poetry

Like those of the Arabic neo-classical movement discussed in the previous chapter, the boundaries of the Romantic movement in Arabic poetry are somewhat difficult to define. Arabic Romanticism emerged gradually from neo-classicism during the early years of the twentieth century and enjoyed its greatest vogue in the period between the two world wars, but no clear break separates the two movements, either chronologically or stylistically. Many poets whose verse is characterised by the attitudes of the Romantic school continued to use mainly or exclusively traditional poetic forms and, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, neo-classical poetry continued to be written, particularly in Iraq, until the last third of the twentieth century. The 'incremental' nature of the shift from neo-classicism to Romanticism is evident from the use by many critics of the term 'pre-Romantic' to describe poets whose work exhibits features of both movements.

Despite these caveats, the term 'Romanticism' (usually Arabicised as alrūmanṭīqiyya)1 appears to be a universally accepted one, employed by critics and literary historians to define a set of attitudes and poetic conventions that mirror (though they may not always precisely correspond to) those of the Western Romantics. The attitudes in question have been well summarised by Robin Ostle as follows:

(a) the desire not to conform to traditional social norms or institutions; (b) the
celebration of scenes of natural beauty and intense emotional identification with
such scenes, along with a tendency to regard towns and cities as centres of evil and
corruption; (c) deep emotional introspection and a tendency to glorify in the isolated
state of the poet who, like the prophet without honour, is shunned by his contempo-
raries; (d) a strong sense of the neo-platonic duality of body and soul; (e) a tendency
to write amatory poetry which is ethereal and spiritual rather than physical.2

It will of course be immediately obvious that not all of the characteristics identified by Ostle are exclusive to Romanticism: the Arab tradition of the ṣu‛lūk ('outcast' or 'brigand') poet reaches back into pre-Islamic times, and the ‛Udhrī poetry of the Umayyad period in particular is rich in examples of poets pining for a sweetheart beyond their reach. For a number of reasons, however, these

-60-

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Modern Arabic Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The New Edinburgh Islamic Surveys ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Note on Abbreviations vi
  • Preface and Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction - What is Modern Arabic Literature? ix
  • 1: The Background 1
  • 2: The Revival 23
  • 3: Neo-Classical Poetry 42
  • 4: Romanticism in Arabic Poetry 60
  • 5: Poetry: the Modernists 79
  • 6: Prose Literature: Early Developments 97
  • 7: Prose Literature: the Period of Maturity 115
  • 8: The Sixties Generation and Beyond 139
  • 9: Drama: Early Experiments 163
  • 10: Drama: the Period of Maturity 178
  • 11: Conclusion 199
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 212
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