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

By Philip F. Kennedy | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

This monograph has emerged from a study of classical Arabic wine poetry, from the earliest material in the Jāhiliyya (Amr ibn Qamī'a, 'Adī ibn Zayd, et al.) to the early 'Abbāsid period. Its aim is four- fold: (i) to give an idea of the development of khamr1 and the khamriyya in the classical Arabic tradition of poetry; (ii) to provide some thematic and generic perspectives from which this development can be understood; (iii) following from (ii) to analyse khamr, as far as possible, in the context of both the traditional polythematic qaṣīda and the (monothematic) khamriyya, viewing each of these as integral and complete poems; (iv) in the light of (i)-(iii), to highlight some of the principal qualitative traits, both structural and thematic, of the wine poems of Abū Nuwās (d. 813/15). Since he is deemed by most literary historians to be the finest wine poet of the Arabic tradition,2 the continuum which can be traced serves

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1
Khamr, throughout this book, refers to dhikr al-khamr or al-qawl fi l-khamr (mention/discussion of wine); i.e. it refers to the treatment of wine in both the qaṣīda and the khamriyya (the independent wine poem).
2
This is acknowledged both explicitly and implicitly. All studies of wine poetry, both ancient and modern, make mention of Abū Nuwās as the greatest exponent of the "genre"; see, for example, Wagner ( Abū Nuwās (Wiesbaden, 1965), 289), "Die Weinlieder haben Abū Nuwās berühmt gemacht. Sein Name ist für die Araber auf das engste mit dem Begriff des Weinliedes verbunden. Er ist für sie der Weindichter schlechthin"; see also Sa'īd, HḤāwī, Bencheikh, whose work is examined briefly below, pp. 7-13.

For general overviews which place Abū Nuwās (and the wine poem) within the context of classical Arabic literature see for example: Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, i ( Weimar, 1898), 75-7 (p. 76: "Unter seinen Gedichte nehmen die Weinlieder die erste Stelle ein. Er hat auf diesem Gebiet allerdings schon Vorgänger gehabt, die er nachahmte; vor allem scheint Welīd b. Jezīd und indirekt dessen Vorbild 'Adī b. Zaid ihn beeinflusst zu haben."); I. Pizzi, Letteratura Araba ( Milan, 1903), 128-31; H. A. R. Gibb, Arabic Literature ( London, 1926), 42-3 (p. 42: "Abū Nuwās stands head and shoulders above the poets who thronged the court. For combined versatility, sentiment, elegance of diction, and command of language he has few rivals in Arabic . . . He is at his happiest in his wine-songs . . ."); R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs ( Cambridge, 1930), 292-6 (esp. p. 194: "love and wine were two motives by which his genius was most brilliantly inspired. His wine-songs (khamriyyāt) are generally acknowledged to be incomparable."); Cl. Huart, Littérature arabe, Paris, 1939, pp. 70-2.; J. M. Abd-el-Jalil, Brève histoire de la littérature arabe ( Paris, 1946), 95-8 (p. 97: "il n'a pas eu d'égal, son inspiration poétique a trouvé son expression la plus originale et la

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