Abu Nuwas (Makers of the Muslim World) by Philip Kennedy

By Philip Kennedy

A readable survey of this celebrated ninth century Arab poet.

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Death works in an instant, before the blinking of the eye. ” (D. ii, 165) He was knowledgeable in matters of theology though rarely reverential about them. On the debate between the Jabriyya and the Qadariyya (those who believed in or denied God’s determination of events, respectively) he wrote sardonically:“Which of the two is right? – only death and the grave are 2 There is enough cumulative evidence that Abu Nuwas composed his poems on paper, taking care and time in the process. This renders problematic the issue of whether he was able to extemporize as well; a fair number of anecdotes would suggest that he could, but in most cases the poetry that is produced is short or somewhat occasional in nature.

In Hims his imminent arrival was conveyed to the poet al-Batin Sa‘id ibn al-Walid. When Abu Nuwas’s arrival was finally announced al-Batin made his way to the tavern and found a man sitting on the steps, decked in a saffrondyed sash and holding cake in his hand. ” came the reply. The effect of his renown on other poets of Hims was much more intimidating. In Damascus the people gathered around the poet, requesting him to recite some of his poetry; he recited one Farisiyya (poem with Persian vocabulary),but declined to recite any more, declaring bluntly that the people didn’t really deserve it!

When refused a kiss by a young man on another occasion, the poet berates him for begrudging him so little yet spraying his honeyed spittle so generously upon the walls (sic); the youth replies that he would grant the poet a kiss if he could be satisfied with just that, but he adds: “We know what you want”. ). Abu Nuwas often tried to break down the decorum of others in poems braced by chastity but bursting with physical desire. The extreme end of the scale was that of unmitigated obscenity (and profanity).

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