The Epistle of Forgiveness or A Pardon to Enter the Garden - Vol. 1

By Abū L-ʿalāʾ Al-Maʿarrī; Geert Jan Van Gelder et al. | Go to book overview

A Note on the Text

Language, Style, and Translation

The present translators originally harbored some doubts about translating the text in full. However, it is the admirable purpose of the Library of Arabic Literature to present complete texts, in the original Arabic and in an English translation. We consented and took on the task as a daunting but stimulating challenge. The present translation, for the first time in any language, is complete, for the sake of the integrity of the text and in order not to distort its actual character, which reflects the author’s character, as far as we can know it. Abū l-ʿAlāʾ is not first-and-foremost a storyteller: he is a satirist, a moralist, and a philologist who, in his physical blindness and linguistic insight, lives in a universe of language to such an extent that one could even say that, in addition to the two or three “prisons” mentioned above, he also lived in the admittedly very spacious prison of the Arabic language. It was a prison in which he felt at home like no other. The reader should be warned that The Epistle of Forgiveness is not exactly an easy read; but the philological passages can be skipped by impatient readers.

Telling a story could be done in a simple, unadorned style. The stories in al-Faraj baʿd al-Shiddah (Relief after Distress) by al-Muḥassin al-Tanūkhī (d. 384/994), for instance, are written in a relatively plain Arabic, and so are innumerable anecdotes and stories in various collections and anthologies. However, the aim of epistolary prose, in al-Maʿarrī’s time, was not always primarily to express one’s meaning clearly: that would be paramount to an insult, as if the recipient could only understand plain speech. One ought to employ a flowery style, rich in metaphors, allusions, syntactical and semantic parallelism, recondite vocabulary, and above all sajʿ or rhymed prose, usually in the form of paired rhyme (aabbccdd …). Such an ornate style is found especially in preambles of letters and books, and in descriptive, “purple” passages, or on any occasion where the author wishes to display his erudition and stylistic prowess. Already in al-Maʿarrī’s lifetime interesting experiments had been done to introduce sajʿ into narrative prose texts continuously rather than on specific occasions, Badīʿ

-xxix-

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The Epistle of Forgiveness or A Pardon to Enter the Garden - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Letter from the General Editor iii
  • Title Page v
  • Table of Contents ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Abbreviations Used in the Introduction and Translation xiv
  • Introduction xv
  • A Note on the Text xxix
  • A Note on the Edition xxxii
  • Notes to the Introduction xxxv
  • The Epistle of Ibn Al-QāRiḥ 1
  • The Epistle of Forgiveness Volume One 65
  • Between Paradise and Hell 227
  • Notes 325
  • Glossary of Names and Terms 370
  • Bibliography 392
  • Further Reading 400
  • Index 404
  • About the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute 424
  • About the Typefaces 425
  • About the Editor-Translators 426
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