December 29, 2012

Madmen who were poets 4

The grammarian Muhammad ibn Yazīd al-Mubarrad said: En route to Wāsit from Baghdad, we took a detour to the Monastery of Ezekiel [at al-Nu'māniyya] to see the madmen there. Their madnesses were all of kinds known to us, or so we thought until we spied a well-kept young man in laundered clothes sitting apart from the others. "If any," we said, "then this one." So we approached him with a pious greeting, which he did not return. "What's the matter with you?" we asked him. He said:

  "God knows how sad I am.
      To none other can it be described.
   My soul is two, one in this land
      while another land keeps the other.
   The one stuck here can endure no more.
      The hide around it is about to give out.
   I believe the absent soul to be in the same state.
      By my troth, hers is the present soul's matter."

"Well done, by God!" I said to him. At this, he motioned as if throwing something at us, saying: "Who says 'Well done' to the likes of me?"
      Al-Mubarrad said: We were making haste to get away from him, when the young man said: "Come back, by God, I beseech you, until I recite for you another poem. Then you can say whether it's well or poorly done." So we went back to him and said: "Recite." He began:

  "Just before dawn, when the palomino camels were knelt
      for their saddles and a shapely cargo to trudge away with,
   when, face to face through a gap in the curtain [of her howdah]
      she looked out at me through eyes engorged with tears,
   at the wave of her hand [henna-stanched] like a bough of ‘anam,
      I called out to the camel, 'Let your hind legs not bear [her] away!'
   I wail for the split that undid what she and I had,                                     
      the split that came down, that undoing split when they moved off.

   Palomino driver! Stay their steps, that we may lengthen our farewell.
      Palomino driver! Your haste speeds my ending.
   Never to renounce my desire to be with them, for the rest of my life,
      I wish I knew: what did they with the rest of theirs?"

We said to him: "They [must have] died." At his he gave a cry and said: "Then I, by God, die also," fell to all fours, stretched out and died. And we did not leave the place until we had him buried.

[A shorter variant of the same report.]  Al-Mubarrad said: On entering the Monastery of Ezekiel, we were met by a madman with a rock in his hand. "O assembly of my brethren, hearken unto me!" he said as the people scattered. Then he began to recite:

  "Many's the soul of an eminent man
      reduced to moaning without remit,
   who wheels to face the host in battle
      and shrinks from single combat."

Continued from The Necklace Without Peer.

Recounted also in al-Mas'ūdī's Meadows of Gold, the Thousand and One Nights, the Letting People Know of al-Itlīdī, et alibi.

December 25, 2012

December 17, 2012

Madmen who were poets 3

Abu 'l-Wāsi' [a companion of the poet Abū 'Īsā Sālih al-Rashīd] was in the company of his sons when a poet of the madmen called and asked permission to perform an ode. Abu 'l-Wāsi' declined, but the poet importuned until his resistance fell. After the final verse:

   Irrefutable man, on this day you are their head,
      and around you the cream of your eminent sons!

Abu 'l-Wāsi' said to him: "If you would only leave us en masse" (lit. "head by head").
      It is said that a mad poet of the Bedouin visited Nasr ibn Sayyār and declaimed a poem composed of one hundred amatory verses and only two lines of praise. "By God," said Nasr to him, "the words of your poem are as graceless as their meaning. All your effort was spent on amatory prelude, with nothing left over for panegyric!" The poet said: "I can change that." So he came back the next morning with a poem that began:

   Can you make out the house of Umm al-Ghamr?
      - Leave that! and let's have a poem in praise of Nasr.

"Neither one of these [is any good]," said Nasr.
      One of the scholars said: "For sheer hermeneutic depravity, the only thing I have heard to rival the Rāfida was something a madman of Mecca said about a poem [by al-Farazdaq]. This man said: 'The Banū Tamīm are the biggest liars I have ever heard. In the poem:

   He Who hung the sky has built for us
      a house whose columns soar above all others.
  The house the Sovereign built is ours, and what
      Heaven's Arbitrator builds cannot be shaken.
   The house in whose courtyard Zurāra sits arrayed,
      and Mujāshi' and Nahshal, father to horsemen...

The Banū Tamīm claim these names belong to their own!' " [As is the case, Mujāshi' and Nahshal being direct ancestors of the poet himself.]
      The scholar said: "I asked him: 'In your view, what do they mean?' He said: 'The "house" is the house of God; Zurāra is the stone that is "buttoned" [zurrirat] around it. Mujāshi' is the well of Zamzam, whose water is "coveted" [jushi'at], and "Father to Horsemen" is the mountain of Abū Qubays in Mecca.' I said to him: 'And Nahshal?' For a whole hour he thought it over, then said: 'It is the tall black lamp-stand of the Ka'ba. That is what Nahshal is.' "

Continued from Ibn 'Abd Rabbih's Necklace Without Peer

December 10, 2012

High and low estate in the world to come

FRIEND. Tell me, Menippos: Those who lie in lofty above-ground tombs, replete with images and epitaphs and upright slabs - do they command more honor in the underworld relative to the common run of dead?

MENIPPOS. You've got it backwards, guy! Even Mausolus - the Carian made famous by his tomb - if you had seen him you would still be laughing, I am sure, so despicable was the cranny in which he was flung. Far from bringing him distinction among the rabble of the other dead, the extent of his monument's benefit was that a burden of equivalent weight pressed down on him. The tenant of any plot that Aiakos marks off must be content to lie wedged within its ambit, you see, be it no more than one foot square.
      Buddy, you'd get an even bigger laugh if you could see the kings and satraps over us reduced to beggary, salt-fishmongering and teaching the alphabet. By all who happen by they are abused and smacked about the head like no-account chattel. Philip of Macedon is given out as a cobbler-for-hire of rotten sandals, and when he was pointed out to me in his corner I could control myself no longer. And the Polycrateses, Xerxeses and Darii of the world could be seen panhandling at every fork in the road.

Lucian, Menippos 17