December 8, 2019

Merchants and weavers

Sayf al-Dawla found fault with verses 22 and 23 of the poem al-Mutanabbi delivered in his honor (meter: ṭawīl):

   To stand your ground was certain death, and there you stood,
      as if your doom were asleep with your foot in its eye.
   Wounded and sullen, [defeated] warriors filed past you.
      Your face was bright and your grin was toothy.

His objection was that its hemistichs were mismatched "Here's how it should go," Sayf al-Dawla said:

   To stand your ground was certain death, and there you stood.
      Your face was bright and your grin was toothy.
   Wounded and sullen, [defeated] warriors filed past you,
      as if your doom were asleep with your foot in its eye.

"Otherwise," he said, "it's as bad as [verses 37 and 38 of the poem] where Imru’ al-Qays says" (meter: ṭawīl):

   As if I never mounted a courser for sport
      or went belly to belly with a total babe, her ankles jingling!
   As if I weren't the buyer of wine by the skinful,
      nor told my horse, "Attack!" after wheeling about!

"Connoisseurs of poetry will agree that these hemistichs are reversed. The part about the courser goes with the bit about the horse, and the wine belongs with the buxom lass."
        Al-Mutanabbi said, "May God perpetuate the dignity of our master Sayf al-Dawla! If the one who finds fault with Imru’ al-Qays knows more about poetry than he, then Imru’ al-Qays and I are both in error. But our master well knows that in matters of fabric, the expertise of the fabric merchant and the expertise of the weaver are not the same. The merchant knows it as a finished piece, and so does the weaver - but the weaver, who transforms spun filaments into fabric, knows how the finished piece was put together.
       "What Imru’ al-Qays does here is to match his delight in women to the joys of the mounted hunt, and to match his supply of wine for the guest to his bravery in attacking the foe. Now in the first of my own verses, when I mention death, it is fitting that I go on to mention doom. And by way of describing the defeated champions, whose faces cannot but frown and weep, I say: 'Your face was bright and your grin was toothy,' which, through antithesis, gets both meanings across."
        Sayf al-Dawla was pleased with this explanation, and added a bonus of fifty dinars to the reward of five hundred he had paid al-Mutanabbi for the poem.

From al-Wahidi's Commentary on the Diwan of al-Mutanabbi