Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, , at sacred-texts.com
vv. 1-7. The old Arabian poets of pagan times usually began their eclogues with some kind of amatory address to a real or imaginary mistress. This was discountenanced by Islām, and El-Būsīrī, in his first seven couplets, introduces a friend who chides him for being in love, and for attempting to conceal the fact.
vv. 8-11. In the four following verses the poet acknowledges his secret passion, and the uselessness of his attempts to suppress its manifestation.
vv. 12-28. In these verses the poet laments the shortcomings of his life. The "dominating spirit" (v. 13) of the ethics of Islām is what in Christian phraseology is termed "the flesh," and "the lusts of the flesh"; and what is commonly spoken of as "the passions." Muslim moralists teach that, in the course of a penitent's life, his spirit (nefs), or "flesh," goes through three stages. At first it is the "spirit dominant" (en-nefsu ’l-emmāra). It then commands despotically, and its behests are implicitly obeyed by the subject will. Presently, by the exercise of self-control, and by the divine aid, the spirit is deprived of its despotic power, and it subsides into the condition of a grumbler, an upbraider (en-nefsu ’l-levvāma), that submits to the strengthening resolve of the reforming man—though not without bitter complainings of the inutility of self-restraint—of the cruelty inflicted on the sufferer by the mortifications of self-denial. Lastly, however, when the virtuous man reaches the saintly goal of perfected righteousness, he has in his turn become the sovereign commander over his lusts and passions; his spirit has become submissive (en-nefsu’l-mutma’inna) to his pious will: he has but to resolve, with God's aid, on good thoughts, good words, good deeds, and his now submissive spirit at once leaps with humble joy and alacrity to put in docile practice what the divine ordinances require.—The remaining verses in this section of the Poem portray the struggle with that "dominant spirit," the poet's regret that he has not laid up a treasure of good works, and an exhortation to others to resist the flesh and its inordinate desires. Verse 18 is worthy of careful remark.
v. 29. With this verse the poet begins his enumeration of the virtues of Muhammad, which he ought to have sought to imitate in his nightly devotions and (v. 30) his long fastings. It is a practice with those who fast long in the East to bind large round stones between their girdles and the pits of their stomachs and flanks, so as to quiet the gnawings of hunger.
v. 31-58. With v. 31 the poet begins to recite the traditionary miracles of the Prophet: how, when he, before his mission, used to retire to the mountains around Makka for meditation and prayer, those mountains found voices, and used to entice him to forego his holy purpose, by revealing to him where gold was to be found within their recesses, that would exalt him above all his fellow-townsmen in wealth and influence: v. 33 recites the pregnant idea, not found in the Qur’ān, that the whole material creation was drawn forth out of nothing by God, merely to manifest the divine love towards the first of created things, the light of the spirit of Muhammad. Verse 35 begins the list of the Prophet's titles, as celebrated throughout the Muslim world. "God's Beloved One" (habību ’llāh) is his highest, most sacred, and most special style; as Adam is called "the Elect of God"; Noah, "the Saved of God"; Abraham, "the Friend of God" Moses, "the Interlocutor of God"; and Jesus, "the Spirit of God," as also "the Word of God." Muhammad is held to have been a prophet to demons as well as to all mankind. In v. 39 is intimated the boundless science said to have been communicated to him direct from God when he was admitted to the divine presence, sole of all created beings, on the occasion of his celebrated "Night Journey." These laudations continue in special items down to v. 58, which mentions the sanctity of the Prophet's tomb at Madīna (not at Makka, as is generally supposed), and the blessedness of the pilgrim who reverently visits it.
vv. 59-71. With verse 59 commences a recitation of the prodigies told in traditions to have taken place when Muhammad was born, "in the year of the Elephant," when Abraha advanced against Makka with his elephant, threatening to destroy the "Cubical House" (as the Temple there is designated), said to have been built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham. The palace of Chosroes at Ctesiphon split, and many of its pinnacles fell; the Fire of the Magi went out, the Tigris receded, and the Lake of Sāwa went dry; (v. 65) the genii moaned aloud, and meteors gleamed in the sky. If calculated back, it would perhaps be
found that our August or November meteors were in profusion at that time; but Islām has invested them with a poetical significance. They are flaming bolts, hurled by the angels that watch the approaches to heaven, who with these missiles drive back the demons that lurk about to overhear the secrets of Paradise and the divine counsels, as talked over by the watchers. By means of the information thus surreptitiously gained, those demons were, until then, wont to beguile mankind through oracles and soothsayers; but thenceforward such eavesdropping was to be prevented; and the genii in flight are likened to the above mentioned discomfited array of Abraha, and also to the defeated Makka forces of Badr, who turned their backs when Muhammad cast handfuls of pebbles towards them in the fight. The pebbles in his hands proclaimed audibly the unity of God, as though each had been a Jonah cast forth from the whale's belly.
vv. 72-75. Other miracles of Muhammad previous to his mission.
vv. 76-79. The "Cave" was that in which Muhammad and his firmest friend Abū Bakr, the father of his only virgin wife ‘Ā’isha, and the first of his successors as Caliph, were concealed for a time on the occasion of their "Flight," or emigration, from Makka to Madīna, when his townsmen had determined to rid themselves of his preaching by the shedding of his blood. A spider covered the cave entrance with a dense web, and a dove built its nest and laid eggs in front of the cavern; so that the pursuers judged it useless to search a place so evidently untenanted. Abū Bakr, hearing their horses' footsteps approach, whispered: "What shall we do—two against many?" Muhammad replied: "Nay, we are three: God is with us." Abū Bakr's chief title through all future time is that of "the Companion in the Cave."
vv. 80, 81. In the East it is customary to kiss the hand that bestows a gift or favour; and the Poet, in imagination, kisses
the hand of the Prophet, from whom he has received much and hopes more.
vv. 82-90. More of the miracles attributed to the Prophet.
vv. 91-104. "Miracles of the Truth" are the verses of the Qur’ān. Each verse—nay, each word that has an attributive sense—is held to be, and is commonly termed, "a miracle," "a sign," "a wonder" (āyet). The idea of "a verse" is never held of them by Muslims. The Qur’ān is believed to be eternal in its signification, inherent in God's essence, though its visible and audible words were "brought into new existence" when revealed or promulgated. Each of these distichs of the Poem has a definite allusion.—‘Ād is the name of a pre-Semitic nation of Arabia Felix, whose cyclopean constructions remain to this day the wonder of the simple Arab, and of the rare European traveller. That nation is said to have been destroyed by a hot blast.—"Iram" is the mysterious earthly paradise, usually invisible to mortal eyes, but reported to have been occasionally seen in the sandy desert, at no very great distance from the present British stronghold, Aden (which word is the very name of "Eden")Ṭhe Qur’ān and Islām are each styled "the Cable of God."—The "Tank" is a traditional reservoir in Paradise, where the traces of worldly sin will be washed from the faces of those justified.—The "Straight Path" is, of course, Righteousness; but common ignorance describes it as a bridge spanning the gulf between this world and heaven.—The "Balance" is one of the names of the Qur’ān, but commonly supposed to be the weighing-machine in which men's good and bad actions will be set against each other in the last Judgment.
vv. 105-115. A description of the "Night Journey" of Muhammad, in the spirit, from Makka to Jerusalem, and thence, through all the heavens, to God's own sacred presence, from which even Gabriel has to keep at a distance lest he be consumed.
vv. 116-134. The feats of Muhammad after that event: his battles and his victories. The Poet tells his hearers to ask for
details of those who were vanquished: of Hunayn, the great battle after Makka had submitted; of Badr and Uhud (Ohod), his two first fights.—v. 130. The "lances of Khatt" are bamboo spears imported from India at Khatt, an ancient Arabian port on the Persian Gulf, whence their name.—v. 131. "Who have a mark that distinguishes them"—in the scars on their foreheads, produced by frequent prostration in worship (not prayer).—v. 132. The odour of warriors in buff and armour is, doubtless, "as a nosegay" to their valiant leader, and to their companions-in-arms on the battle-field.
vv. 135-139. Other glories of Muhammad. The "words of God" are the words of the Qur’ān, and the "Demonstration" is one of its names.—v. 139. The "Illiterate One" is the title of which Muhammad is usually said to have been most proud; for, by reason of his lack of worldly scholarship, the wondrous rhetorical elegancies and deep significancies of the Qur’ānic passages amount to the greatest of miracles. He was himself an "orphan"—fatherless ere he was born, or soon after, and motherless when only six years of age; being cared for, at first, by his grandfather, ‘Abdu-’l-Muttalib, and after him by one of his paternal uncles, Abū-Tālib.
vv. 140-161. The Poet's account of the reason why he composed the Poem, and invocation of the Prophet's intercession for him. The mention, in v. 151, of Zuhayr the poet (father of Ka‘b, the author of the first and only real "Mantle Poem") and his eulogy of Harim, by whom he was richly rewarded, is as much as to say that he himself hopes to be spiritually rewarded for the present panegyric. (Zuhayr sings the praises of Harim, son of Salmà, in the 18th eclogue, p. 99 of Ahlwardt's Divāns, published by Messrs. Trübner & Co., of London.)—The concluding two verses of the section are an expression of confiding reliance.—vv. 157-161. The usual concluding prayer for God's grace upon the Prophet, his family, companions, and all succeeding Muslims.