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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D. iv, 242) The poet constructs a special place for himself with his darling, importuning him for a monopoly on his scorn. Only in this sardonic way does he feel a cut above the rest while yet a plaything to his princely sweetheart. 045 19/02/2005 11:37 AM Page 39 “LOVE, WINE, SODOMY ... AND THE LASH” 39 wa-Stakbiran, ‘abbaSa, al-naSa, raSa, khuSS-ani, bi-ma Shi’tahu wa-Saqqini hajraka anfaSa). Such sustained use of onomatopoeia, in which sound and semantics coalesce, is a characteristic effect of the poet.

And so they went on, gastronomy giving way to connoisseurship of wine, their reverie only finally being pricked by arrival at Hira. Abu Nuwas could refashion the world in poetry, and the world he created and inhabited was both real and imaginary. The medieval compilers of his life stories too created a largely imaginary world which we cannot but inhabit a part of it when we reconstruct his life. 045 19/02/2005 11:37 AM Page 29 2 “ L OV E , W I N E , S O D O M Y . . ’ ” (D. iv, 196) “I have exhausted the expression of a lover’s grievance ...

These are the stories in the Arabian Nights which tell how the caliph secretly watched a woman bathing then attempted to render what he had seen into verse. However, stymied and uninspired, he summoned Abu Nuwas to complete his poems. 3 These are the fine ornamental words Abu Nuwas produced about the bathing woman (trans. Eric Ormsby): She took off her robes to bathe And quick blush reddened her face. 3 In popular stories Abu Nuwas came to be seen as having something of a sixth sense, a quality originally implicit in the Arabic term for poet, sha‘ir.

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