5

Poetry: the Modernists

Continuing the account of the previous chapter, this chapter will discuss the main thematic, technical and stylistic developments in Arabic poetry after the Second World War; as with most previous developments in modern Arabic poetry, these changes have to be seen against the background not only of developments in contemporary Western poetry, but also of social and political developments in the Middle East itself.

As has already been noted in the last chapter, although many Romantic poets remained essentially conservative in their attitudes to poetic structures, the movement had witnessed a degree of experimentation in regard to poetic forms, in particular in relation to the use of various forms of stanzaic structures, usually modelled on Western originals. A number of poets had also experimented with different forms sometimes (perhaps misleadingly) called 'free verse',1 and with different types of 'prose poetry'. Despite this, even when departing from the norms of classical Arabic monorhyme and monometer, most Romantic poetry is marked by an essential regularity of structure; even a poem such as Mīkhā'īl Nu‛ayma's ‛Akhī', for example, in which lines of different length are used, is characterised by a very tightly drawn structure, in which the stanzas conform to a regular pattern.

Despite the experiments of some earlier pioneers, then, it was not until after the Second World War that these patterns of poetic structure were broken, with the introduction of 'free verse' (shi‛r ḥurr) in the true sense of the term, and with the widespread adoption of prose poetry as a means of poetic expression. Although the two phenomena are essentially separate, it is difficult to discuss them in isolation, since many of the leading innovative poets of the post-war period used both techniques; in this chapter, I will first discuss the phenomenon of 'free verse', before moving on to a discussion of the 'prose poem'.


Free verse

The essential characteristic of 'free verse' in Arabic is that, while preserving the basic patterns of the metrical 'foot', as codified by al-Khalīl ibn Aḥmad (c.

-79-

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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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