November 6, 2010

On the subject of handwriting

Among what poets have said on the subject of handwriting are the verses transmitted by Hisham ibn Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ib al-Kalbi, who said:

"In one of his poems, al-Muqanna' al-Kindi praised al-Walid ibn Yazid, saying [in kāmil meter]:

    Like letters in the books of a young scrivener, [his deeds are]
        precise and indelible, and with his pen he is unerring:
    a pen like a pigeon's downward-pointing beak,
        safe depositor of the sage’s knowledge,
    it marks the letters where he wishes to establish
        their clarity with diacritic strokes
    lifted from the blackened wick of ink,
        whose wool is tinted by the charcoal discharge.
    The nib is clipped closely, for it splits from much writing,
        like the clipping one trims from a fingernail’s edge,
    and the crack in its nib is repaired and made even,
        and watered with ink, which enhances its mending.
    It is silent, though eloquent in all that
        a tongue has to say, without speaking,
    for it has interpreters with tongues of their own
        whose translation into speech brings clarity.
    But his scribes do not write a single line
        that reveals what he wants to keep secret.
    To name him, the scrivener sets down a qaf, then a lam
        with mim hung from its bottom. [This spells 'pen.']

"Then he said:

    A little gazelle said to her neighbor
        on glimpsing al-Muqanna' through his veil:
    'Fair was his face, but possessed of mixed aspect
        for paleness was countered by darkness of eye.'
    How many can boast of a herd of such camels
        - nimble-shanked Mahris one year past their teething -
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and halter?
        Whose saddles and halters are equal to his?
    Whose colts just past teething are so battle-ready,
        their girth-straps filled out by mare's milk in abundance,
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and rein?
        And whose reins and saddles are equal to his?
    To al-Walid, al-Muqanna' sends a poem
        like a sword honed on the blade of his own sword.
    His are the noblest of deeds of Quraysh,
        and so, on the death of Hisham, is the throne."

Al-Jahiz, The Book of Animals I 65-66.