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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Conclusion

The span between al-A'šā (d. c. 629) and Abū Nuwās (d. 813/ 815) saw the development of Arabic wine poetry over a period of approximately two centuries, from the late Jāhiliyya to the early 'Abbāsid period. Both ends of this development have, in varying degrees, been examined with regard to the interaction between wine and other dominant themes in the canon of poetry. Each of Chapters 1 to 4 therefore has as its focus a chosen thematic influence: ghazal/nasīb, ikmalal-dahr, hijā', and ilm/tawba.

That Abū Nuwās emerged as the apogee and perfecter of the khamriyya is due not only to his talent but also to the fact that he produced far more than any other poet and therefore in some poems struck, as Bencheikh has put it, "a resounding note of success". It is the combination of quality and quantity (over 300 khamriyyāt)1 that established his identification with the genre in the Arabic literary tradition. Clearly, however, one can observe elements of his poetry in earlier bards such as Abū Miḥjan al-Thaqafī, āritha b. Badr, al-Uqayšir, Abū l-Hindī, al-Walīd b. Yazīd, as well as some of his contemporaries. They share in various ways many of the thematic features of Abū Nuwās' wine poems, namely rebellion, eroticism/mujūn, fine description, and apology. These impulses simply find their most refined expression in Abū Nuwās, where the treatment of material is at its best both eloquent and, to a degree, complex in its structure.

This structure--in which he holds together varied material in purposeful juxtaposition--is affected by the thematic influences that we have elected to concentrate on. It must be discussed loosely; otherwise one imposes on the poems paradigms that are not absolute. Rather the delicate arrangement of material emerges from each individual poem. Abū Nuwās simply appears to be more aware than other poets of the possibilities of effecting a contrived

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1
According to amza al-Iṣfahānī's recension.

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