Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Poetic Integration in the Hebrew Qasida in Medieval Spain

Academic journal article Hebrew Studies Journal

Poetic Integration in the Hebrew Qasida in Medieval Spain

Article excerpt

The qasida, the ancient Arabic ode and the only poetical pattern in the classical period of Arabic poetry, has been studied since the Middle Ages. Ibn Khaldun, in his famous Muqaddimah, described the qasida as follows:

   It is speech that is divided into cola having the same meter and
   held together by the last letter of each colon. Each of those cola
   is called a "verse." The last letter which all the verses (of the
   poem) have in common is called the "rhyme letter." The whole
   complex is called a "poem" (qasida or kalimah). (1)

Ibn Khaldun emphasizes not only the prosodic uniformity of the qasida, but he also describes the distinctiveness of the verses:

   Each verse, with its combination of words, is by itself a
   meaningful unit. In a way it is a statement by itself, and
   independent of what precedes and what follows.... It is the
   intention of the poet to give each verse an independent meaning.
   Then, in the next verse he starts anew, in the same way with some
   other matter. (2)

The result of this rigid structure is the challenging question of the unity of the qasida and the debatable possibility of considering it as a sequential whole.

Normally the qasida was divided into two parts, an introduction and the main part, which are thematically different and integrated only by uniform meter and rhyme. In Kitabu'l-Shir wa-'l-Shu'ara, Ibn Qutayba (the famous Arabic poet from the tenth century), while describing the rigid thematic conventions of the qasida, refers to a certain rhetorical function of its pluralism by pointing out the need to achieve the attention of the audience:

   Then to this he linked the erotic prelude (nasib) ... so as to win
   the hearts of his hearers and divert their eyes towards him and
   invite their ears to listen to him, since the song of love touches
   men's souls and takes hold of their hearts.... Now when the poet,
   had assured himself of an attentive hearing, he followed up his
   advantage and set forth his claim. (3)

As the qasida became a basic pattern in secular Hebrew poetry in Spain, almost at the same intensivity as in Arabic classical poetry, the question of its sequential nature became an issue in Moses Ibn Ezra's theoretical book Kitab al-Muhadarah wa-al-Mudhakarah. In several places Moses Ibn Ezra (1975:179, 275) deals with the conflict between the qasida's sequential prosodic nature and the thematic independence of its separate portions. He tries to define a possible harmony between the disintegrated factors and the integrated ones. In the spirit of the medieval Arab scholars he uses, in this context, the image of pearls of various sizes and quality threaded on one necklace.

A survey of Hebrew qasidas which were written during the Golden Age in Spain clarifies an interesting fact. Most of the Hebrew poets used the pluralistic composition of the qasida both in the traditional modes that were typical to Arabic poetry and in an original mode that became a device for religious as well as personal lyrics. It seems clear that quite a number of the most important Hebrew poets took advantage of the pluralistic thematical structure of the classical qasida, using its traditional introduction either as a device for emphasizing the message of the main part or as a device for personal poetic expression, applications that, by definition, were not part of the rigid conventions.

There are three main types of introductions to the qasida in Hebrew poetry. Two of them are basically in the spirit of Arabic poetry, and the third is of an original character. The first is the classical introduction. It describes the desert landscape and the "deserted dwelling places and the relics and traces of habitations" (atlal) as Ibn Qutayba puts it. This introduction includes usually the Nasib, the erotic prelude. The modern introduction, the second type, was an Abbasid reaction to the Beduin qasida and contained descriptions of the urban culture under the patronage of the courts (i. …

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