The Wine Song in Classical Arabic Poetry: Abu Nuwas and the Literary Tradition

By Philip F. Kennedy | Go to book overview
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PREFACE

There is a story about Abū Nuwās which is typically engaging, often told and--one may fancy--conveniently symptomatic: he offended the Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd by insulting Khalisa, a con- cubine, with the following effusion: "Because written on this door my poetry hath gathered blight (a) . . ." ( Ingrams, Abū Nuwās in Life and Legend, 41). Summoned to see the ruler he past by the door on which he had writen his flippant verse and erased the tale of the ˓ayn from the verb ā˓a; the verse acquired a new and inverse sense: "Because written on this door my poetry has gathered light (ā˒a) . . . ". The anecdote may not trace an actual event--it prob- ably doesn't--but there is some symbolic value: Abū Nuwās's poems were not, by his design, etched in stone; even less so was, is, or should be any single interpretation of them--a handy caveat against reading analyses written three years ago and more, as closed and trenchant texts.

Discrepancies thus evoked lead me to say a word about the editions of Abū Nuwās's poetry which have been consulted. For the analysis of his poetry I have used Aḥmad "Abd al-Majīd al- Ghazālī's edition of the Dīwān. Only after amassing the bulk of my references was the third volume of Ewald Wagner's edition of the Dīwān (containing the khamriyyāt) made available to me. I have thus continued to refer to al-Ghazālī's edition for all references, whilst ensuring that for the most significant khamriyyāt of the Dīwān (or those discussed at length in this monograph) there are no major discrepancies between the two editions, such as might affect my reading of any particular poem. Where there are dis- crepancies I have indicated them in the footnotes.

The literary tradition refered to in the title is the one which Abū Nuwās inherited from the Jāhiliyya; it is not intended to refer to the (same) one which continued after him and which, in some areas, he had a role in shaping. His influence on the vinous theme amongst subsequent generations of poets--especially the intimations that the seeds of a mystic sensibility are in his verse--are not discussed; others might wish to develop this fascinating subject. Even within

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