Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
ALTHOUGH the opening of this Poem be that of a love-elegy, and the greater part of it be purely pastoral, yet it seems to have been composed on an occasion more exalted than the departure of a mistress, or the complaints of a lover. For the poet, who was also a genuine patriot, had been entertained at the court of Nomaan, King of Hira in Mesopotamia, and had been there engaged in a warm controversy with Rabeiah, son of Zeiad, chief of the Absites, concerning the comparative excellence of their tribes. Lebeid himself relates, what might be very naturally expected from a man of his eloquence and warmth, that he maintained the glory of his countrymen and his own dignity against all opponents; but, in order to perpetuate his victory, and to render his triumph more brilliant, he produced the following poem at the annual assembly, and having obtained the suffrages of the critics, was permitted, we are told, to hang it up on the gate of the Temple.
The fifteen first couplets are extremely picturesque, and highly characteristic of Arabian manners. They are followed by an expostulatory address of the poet himself, or of some friend who attended him on his rambles, on the folly of his fruitless passion
for Nawara, who had slighted him, and whose tent was removed to a considerable distance. Occasion is hence taken to interweave a long description of the camel on which he intended to travel far from the object of his love, and which he compares for swiftness to a cloud driven by the wind, or a wild-ass running to a pool, after having subsisted many months on herbage only; or rather to a wild-cow hastening in search of her calf, whom the wolves had left mangled in the forest;—the last comparison consists of seventeen couplets, and may be compared with the long-tailed similes of the Greek and Roman poets.
He then returns to Nawara, and requites her coyness with expressions of equal indifference; he describes the gaiety of his life, and the pleasures which he can enjoy even in her absence; he celebrates his own intrepidity in danger and firmness on his military station; whence he takes occasion to introduce a short but lively description of his horse; and, in the seventieth couplet, alludes to the before-mentioned contest, which gave rise to the poem: thence he passes to the praises of his own hospitality; and concludes with a panegyric on the virtues of his tribe.
The measure is of the fifth class, called perfect verse, which regularly consists of the compound foot benedicerent, six times repeated, in this form:
[paragraph continues] But when the couplet admits the third epitrite, pastoribus, and the double iambus, amantium, it may be considered as belonging to the seventh, or tremulous, class; between which and the perfect the only distinction seems to be that the tremulous never admits the anapestic foot. They are both, in the language of European prosody, iambics, in which the even places are invariably pure, and the odd places always exclude the dactyl: when the uneven feet are trochees or pyrrhics, the verses become choriambic or peonic; but of this change we have no instance in the poem before us.