September 24, 2019

If in Philadelphia


September 5, 2019

The hair of another animal

Abu Dulaf al-Qasim ibn ‘Isa al-‘Ijli paid a call on the caliph al-Ma’mun, who said, "I must say, Qasim, how excellent is your poem that describes war and the delight it brings you, while you scant the delights of singing-girls!
     "Which poem do you have in mind, O Commander of the Faithful?" asked Abu Dulaf.
     "This one," said the caliph, reciting (meter: mutaqārib):

      Here's to drawing swords and crashing through ranks,
         and raising dust and smiting head-crowns...

"How does the rest go, Qasim?" asked the caliph. Abu Dulaf said:

   ...and going dressed in soot and waving banners!
         Fatalities you'll see on spearheads
      when through raised torches comes Fatality's Bride,
         baring the sharp extremity of her fang.
      On she comes on with a seductive gait,
         flanked by the bright vigor of her offspring.
      Ignorant she, who gives the ignorant away!
         When made to speak, her answer is nonverbal.
      When her hand is sought, she claims a dowry
         of heads that plop to earth amid mixed fighters.
      Her company brings more joys than singing-girls
         and a drink of fine old wine on a rainy day.
      The sword's edge is my father, and the flat side my best friend,
         I who am death's nearness and fortune's downturn.*

He then said, "This is the pleasure I take in the thick of your enemies, O Commander of the Faithful, and the power I exert amid your supporters, and the might I wield on your behalf. While other men delight in bouts of wine-drinking, bouts of war and conflict are what I choose."
    The caliph said: "If these verses describe your true nature, and the delight they describe is your true delight, then tell me, Qasim: What's left over for the sleeping beauty on whom you parted the curtain and swore by God?"
    "In which of my poems was that, O Commander of the Faithful?" asked Abu Dulaf.
    "This one," the caliph said (meter: khafīf):

      To the sleeper who makes my eye wakeful, I say: Sleep on,
         and be untroubled. In sleep be your delight.
      God knows my heart is ailing, because He knows
         the torment that I suffer at a look in your eyes.

    "An old conjurement of mine," said Abu Dulaf, "A mere trifle at the end of a sleepless night. The other verses express my mature opinion."
    "Qasim!" said the caliph. "This couplet was well authored, I must say" (meter: ṭawīl):

      It's your fault that I cast aspersion on the days we were together.
         For the nights of our togetherness, there is none to accuse.
      If lovers encounter each other only in memory
         of a thing that has passed,  away that thought will fade.

     "Bravo, Commander of the Faithful!" said Abu Dulaf. "How excellent is this couplet by [you who are] the master of the house of Hashim and the Abbasid sovereign!"
     The caliph said: "How does your acumen guide you to my authorship, to the exclusion of delusion and all doubt?"
    "Poetry, O Commander of the Faithful, is a carpet of wool," Abu Dulaf said. "And when pure wool has hair mixed in, and a weaving is made from it, the hair shines through and gleams like fire."

From the Meadows of Gold of al-Mas‘udi

*In al-Mubarrad's Kāmil a version of this poem is attributed to
  Ishaq ibn Khalaf al-Bahrani.