Exploring Arab Folk Literature

By Pierre Cachia | Go to book overview

7
An Early Example of Narrative Verse
in Colloquial Arabic

>Abū l-Maḥāsin ī s-Sinbisī, known as Ṣafyy ad-Dīn al-Ḥillī, who was born in Ḥilla in 677/1278 and died in Baghdad probably in 750/1349, is notable for his ventures in the highways and byways of verse composition. He not only had a solid reputation as a poet in the late classical manner, but also initiated the badī genre with a poem in praise of the Prophet which illustrated every rhetorical device known in his day; he composed a qaṣīda sāsāniyya, which expounds the ways, and uses the jargon, of the underworld of vagabonds, beggars and thieves;1 and he is the author of one of the earliest and fullest treatises on the so-called ‘Seven Arts’, that is, non-classical verse compositions,2 mostly in the colloquial.

It is to this last work that we turn our attention here. In it, al-Ḥillī–like many of the scholars of his and of later times–repeatedly displays his admiration for the subtleties of which the non-classical genres are capable; yet he is mildly defensive about his involvement with them, for after a long exposition of the features of zajal based on a meticulous scrutiny of the practice of its pioneers, he prefaces his description of the other varieties with the statement that he had indulged in them a great deal ‘in his youth’ without lending his compositions great weight or troubling to record them, and had retained of them only enough to illustrate the book he had been ‘charged’ to write.3

Of particular interest to those eager to trace back the development of Arabic colloquial narrative verse is the genre known as kān wa kān.4 Of its form, al-Ḥillī says only that it is always a mono-rhyme with a long vowel preceding the rhyming consonant, and that it has a distinctive metre with the second hemistich shorter than the first. From other sources5 and from all the examples given, it appears that the metre is mustaf, with the second hemistich lacking the two final syllables, and with one variation added to those allowed in classical prosody, namely, that the foot may be reduced to maf<ūlun, so that the scansion may be represented as follows:

The very designation of the kān wa kān, which may be rendered as ‘there was this and there was that’, is consonant with the recounting of a succession of occurrences,

-96-

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