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The Diwan of Abu'l-Ala, by Henry Baerlein, [1909], at

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God help him who has no nails wherewith to scratch himself.
Arabian proverb.

An effort has been made to render in this book some of the poems of Abu’l-Ala the Syrian, who was born 973 years after Jesus Christ and some forty-four before Omar Khayyam. But the life of such a man—his triumph over circumstance, the wisdom he achieved, his unconventionality, his opposition to revealed religion, the sincerity of his religion, his interesting friends at Baghdad and Ma‘arri, the multitude of his disciples, his kindliness and cynic pessimism and the reverence which he enjoyed, the glory of his meditations, the renown of his prodigious memory, the fair renown of bending to the toil of public life, not to the laureateship they pressed upon him, but the post of being spokesman at Aleppo for the troubles of his native villagers,—the life of such a one could not be told within the space at our command; it will, with other of his poems, form the subject of a separate volume. What appears advisable is that we should devote this introduction to a commentary

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on the poems here translated; which we call a "diwan," by the way, because they are selected out of all his works. A commentary on the writings of a modern poet is supposed to be superfluous, but in the days of Abu’l-Ala of Ma‘arri you were held to pay the highest compliment if, and you were yourself a poet, you composed a commentary on some other poet’s work. Likewise you were held to be a thoughtful person if you gave the world a commentary on your own productions; and Abu’l-Ala did not neglect to write upon his Sikt al-Zand ("The Falling Spark of Tinder") and his Lozum ma la Yalzam ("The Necessity of what is Unnecessary"), out of which our diwan has been chiefly made. But his elucidations have been lost. And we—this nobody will contradict—have lost the old facility. For instance, Hasan ibn Malik ibn Abi Obaidah was one day attending on Mansur the Chamberlain, and he displayed a collection of proverbs which Ibn Sirri had made for the Caliph's delectation. "It is very fine," quoth Mansur, "but it wants a commentary." And Hasan in a week returned with a commentary, very well written, of three hundred couplets. One other observation: we shall not be able to present upon these pages a connected narrative, a dark companion of the poem, which is to the poem as a shadow to the bird. A mediæval Arab would have no desire to see this theory of connection put in practice—no,

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not even with a poem; for the lines, to win his admiration, would be as a company of stars much more than as a flying bird. Suppose that he produced a poem of a hundred lines, he would perchance make fifty leaps across the universe. But if we frown on such discursiveness, he proudly shows us that the hundred lines are all in rhyme. This Arab and ourselves—we differ so profoundly. "Yet," says he, "if there existed no diversity of sight then would inferior merchandise be left unsold." And when we put his poem into English, we are careless of the hundred rhymes; we paraphrase—"Behold the townsmen," so cried one of the Bedawi, "they have for the desert but a single word, we have a dozen!"—and we reject, as I have done, the quantitative metre, thinking it far preferable if the metre sings itself into an English ear, as much as possible with that effect the poet wants to give; and we oppose ourselves, however unsuccessfully, to his discursiveness by making alterations in the order of the poem. But in this commentary we shall be obliged to leap, like Arabs, from one subject to another. And so let us begin.

With regard to prayer (quatrain 1), the Moslem is indifferent as to whether he perform this function in his chamber or the street, considering that every spot is equally pure for the service of God. And yet the Prophet thought that public worship was to be encouraged; it was not a vague opinion, because he knew it was exactly five-and-twenty

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times more valuable than private prayer. It is related of al-Muzani that when he missed being present in the mosque he repeated his prayers twenty-five times. "He was a diver for subtle ideas," said the biographer Ibn Khallikan. And although our poet, quoting the Carmathians, here deprecates the common worship, he remarks in one of his letters that he would have gone to mosque on Fridays if he had not fallen victim to an unmentionable complaint… The pre-Islamic Arabs were accustomed to sacrifice sheep (quatrain 1) and other animals in Mecca and elsewhere, at various stones which were regarded as idols or as altars of the gods. * Sometimes they killed a human being, such as the four hundred captive nuns of whom we read that they were sacrificed by al-Mundhir to the goddess Aphrodite. Sheep are offered up to-day in Palestine: for instance, if the first wife of a man is barren and the second wife has children, then the former vows that in return for a son she will give a lamb. Apparently when it was thought desirable to be particularly solemn a horse was sacrificed, and this we hear of with the Persians, Indians, and more western people. White was held to be the favourable colour, so we read in Herodotus (i. 189) that the Persians sacrificed white horses. In Sweden it was thought that a black lamb must be dedicated to the water sprite before he would teach any one

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to play the harp. As for the subsequent fate of the victim, Burton tells us that the Moslems do not look with favour on its being eaten. Unlike them, Siberian Buriats will sacrifice a sheep and boil the mutton and hoist it on a scaffold for the gods, and chant a song and then consume the meat. So, too, the zealous devil-worshippers of Travancore, whose diet is the putrid flesh of cattle and tigers, together with arrak and toddy and rice, which they have previously offered to their deities.

The words of Abu’l-Ala concerning day and night (quatrain 2) may be compared with what he says elsewhere:

These two, young for ever,
  Speed into the West—
Our life in their clutches—
  And give us no rest.

"Generation goeth and generation cometh," says Ecclesiastes, " while for ever the earth abideth. The sun riseth also and the sun goeth down and cometh panting back to his place where he riseth."…The early dawn, the time of scarlet eyes, was also when the caravan would be attacked. However, to this day the rising sun is worshipped by the Bedawi, despite the prohibition of Mahomet and despite the Moslem dictum that the sun rises between the devil’s horns. Now the divinity of the stars (quatrain 4) had been affirmed by Plato and Aristotle; it was said that in the heavenly

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bodies dwelt a ruling intelligence superior to man’s, and more lasting. * And in Islam, whose holy house, the Kaaba, had traditionally been a temple of Saturn, we notice that the rationalists invariably connect their faith with the worship of Venus and other heavenly bodies. We are told by ash-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religious and Philosophical Sects, that the Indians hold Saturn for the greatest luck, on account of his height and the size of his body. But such was not Abu’l-Ala's opinion. "As numb as Saturn," he writes in one of his letters,  "and as dumb as a crab has every one been struck by you." Elsewhere he says in verse:

If dark the night, old Saturn is a flash
Of eyes which threaten from a face of ash.

[paragraph continues] And the worship of Saturn, with other deities, is about a hundred years later resented by Clotilda, says Gregory of Tours, when she is moving Chlodovich her husband to have their son baptized. When the little boy dies soon after baptism, the husband does not fail to draw a moral. But misfortunes, in the language of an Arab poet, cling about the wretched even as a coat of mail (quatrain 6) is on the warrior. This image was a favourite among the Arabs, and when Ibn Khallikan wants to praise the verses of one As Suli, he informs us that they have the reputation of delivering from

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sudden evil any person who recites them frequently. When this evil is complete, with rings strongly riven, it passes away while he thinks that nothing can dispel it… We have mention in this quatrain of a winding-sheet, and that could be of linen or of damask. The Caliph Solaiman was so fond of damask that every one, even the cook, was forced to wear it in his presence, and it clothed him in the grave. Yet he, like other Moslems (quatrain 10), would believe that he must undergo the fate recorded in a book. The expression that a man's destiny is written on his forehead, had its origin without a doubt, says Goldziher, in India. We have remarked upon the Indian ideas which had been gathered by Abu’l-Ala at Baghdad. There it was that he enjoyed the opportunity of seeing ships (quatrain 11). He spent a portion of his youth beside the sea, at Tripoli. But in the capital were many boats whose fascination he would not resist,—the Chinese junks laboriously dragged up from Bassora, and dainty gondolas of basket-work covered with asphalt. * However, though in this place and in others, very frequently, in fact, Abu’l-Ala makes mention of the sea, his fondness of it was, one thinks, for literary purposes. He writes a letter to explain how grieved he is to hear about a friend who purposes to risk himself upon the sea, and he recalls a certain verse: "Surely it is better to

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drink among the sand-heaps foul water mixed with pure than to venture on the sea." From Baghdad also he would carry home the Zoroastrian view (quatrain 14) that night was primordial and the light created. As a contrast with these foreign importations, we have reference (quatrain 15) to the lute, which was the finest of Arabian instruments. They said themselves that it was invented by a man who flourished in the year 500 B.C. and added an eighth string to the lyre. Certainly the Arab lute was popular among the Greeks: ἀράβιον ἄῤ ἐγὼ κεκίνηκα αὐλόν, says Menander. It was carried to the rest of Europe by crusaders at the beginning of the twelfth century, about which time it first appears in paintings, and its form persisted till about a hundred years ago. * But with regard to travels (quatrain 18), in the twenty-seventh letter of Abu’l-Ala, "I observe," says he, "that you find fault with travelling. Why so? Ought not a man to be satisfied with following the precedent set by Moses, who, when he turned towards Midyan, said, Maybe the Lord will guide me?" (Koran 28, 21). Should a man be satisfied with what he hears from the philosopher al-Kindi? "In any single existing thing, if it is thoroughly known, we possess," he said, "a mirror in which we may behold the entire scheme of things" (quatrain 20). The same philosopher has laid it down that, "Verily there is nothing constant in

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this world of coming and going (quatrain 24), in which we may be deprived at any moment of what we love. Only in the world of reason is stability to be found. If then we desire to see our wishes fulfilled and would not be robbed of what is dear to us, we must turn to the eternal blessings of reason, to the fear of God, to science and to good works. But if we follow merely after material possessions in the belief that we can retain them, we are pursuing an object which does not really exist."… And this idea of transitoriness prevails so generally among the Arabs that the salad-seller recommends his transitory wares to pious folk by calling, "God is that which does not pass away!" So, too, the Arab pictures as a bird, a thing of transience, the human soul. In Syria the dove is often carved upon their ancient tombstones. And the Longobards among their graves erected poles in memory of kinsfolk who had died abroad or had been slain in battle; on the summit of the pole was a wooden image of a dove, whose head was pointed in the direction where the loved one lay buried. With us, as with Abu’l-Ala (quatrain 26), the soul may metaphorically be imagined as a bird, but for the European’s ancestor it was a thing of sober earnest, as it is to-day to many peoples. Thus the soul of Aristeas was seen to issue from his mouth in the shape of a raven. * In Southern Celebes they think that a bridegroom’s

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soul is apt to fly away at marriage, wherefore coloured rice is scattered over him to induce it to remain. And, as a rule, at festivals in South Celebes rice is strewed on the head of the person in whose honour the festival is held, with the object of detaining his soul, which at such times is in especial danger of being lured away by envious demons. *… This metaphor was used by Abu’1-Ala in the letter which he wrote on the death of his mother: "I say to my soul, "This is not your nest, fly away." And elsewhere (quatrain 34) Death is represented as a reaper. Says Francis Thompson:

The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper.

[paragraph continues] It is interesting to find Death also called a sower, who disseminates weeds among men: "Dô der Tôt sînen Sâmen under si gesœte."

It was an ancient custom of the Arabs when they took an oath of special significance to plunge their hands into a bowl of perfume and distribute it among those who took part in the ceremony. Of the perfumes, musk (quatrain 38) was one which they affected most. Brought commonly from Turkistan, it was, with certain quantities of sandalwood and ambra, made into a perfume. And "the wounds of him who falls in battle and of the martyrs," said Mahomet, "shall on the Day of Judgment be resplendent with vermilion and

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odorous as musk." This was repeated by Ibnol Faradhi, who in the Kaaba entreated God for martyrdom and, when this prayer was heard, repented having asked.... This quatrain goes on to allude to things which can improve by being struck. There is in the third book of a work on cookery (so rare a thing, they tell us, that no MS. of it exists in England or in any other country that can be heard of) an observation by the eighteenth-century editor to the effect that it is a vulgar error to suppose that walnut-trees, like Russian wives, are all the better for a beating; the long poles and stones which are used by boys and others to get the fruit down, for the trees are very high, are used rather out of kindness to themselves than with any regard to the tree that bears it. This valued treatise, we may mention, is ascribed to Cœlius Apicius; its science, learning, and discipline were extremely condemned, and even abhorred by Seneca and the Stoics.... Aloes-wood does not emit a perfume until it is burned:

       Lo! of hundreds who aspire
       Eighties perish—nineties tire!
They who bear up, in spite of wrecks and wracks,
Were season'd by celestial hail of thwacks.

       Fortune in this mortal race
       Builds on thwackings for its base;
Thus the All-Wise doth make a flail a staff,
And separates his heavenly corn from chaff. *

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Reward may follow on such absolute obedience (quatrain 40). We remember what is said by Fra Giovanni in the prison of Viterbo *: "Endurez, souffrez, acceptez, veuillez ce que Dieu veut, et votre volonté sera faite sur la terre comme au ciel." And perhaps the dawn for you maybe your camel's dawn (quatrain 41); it was usual for Arabs on the point of death to say to their sons: "Bury my steed with me, so that when I rise from the grave I will not have to go on foot." The camel was tied with its head towards its hind legs, a saddle-cloth was wrapped about its neck, and it was left beside the grave until it died. Meanwhile, if the master is a true believer, says Mahomet, his soul has been divided from the body by Azrael, the angel of death. Afterwards the body is commanded to sit upright in the grave, there to be examined by the two black angels, Monkar and Nakyr (quatrain 42), with regard to his faith, the unity of God and the mission of Mahomet. If the answers be correct, the body stays in peace and is refreshed by the air of paradise; if incorrect, these angels beat the corpse upon his temples with iron maces, until he roars out for anguish so loudly that he is heard by all from east to west, except by men and jinn. Abu’l-Ala had little confidence in these two angels; he reminds one of St. Catherine of Sienna, a visionary with uncommon sense, who at the age of eight

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ran off one afternoon to be a hermit. She was careful to provide herself with bread and water, fearing that the angels would forget to bring her food, and at nightfall she ran home again because she was afraid her parents would be anxious. With regard to the angel of death, Avicenna has related that the soul, like a bird, escapes with much trouble from the snares of earth (quatrain 43), until this angel delivers it from the last of its fetters. We think of the goddess Rân with her net. Death is imagined (quatrain 44) as a fowler or fisher of men, thus: "Dô kam der Tôt als ein diep, und stal dem reinen wîbe daz leben ûz it lîbe." *

On account of its brilliance a weapon’s edge (quatrain 46) has been compared in Arab poetry with sunlit glass, with the torch of a monk, with the stars and with the flame in a dark night. Nor would an Arab turn to picturesque comparisons in poetry alone. Speaking of a certain letter, Abu’l-Ala assures the man who wrote it that "it proceeds from the residence of the great doctor who holds the reins of prose and verse" (quatrain 50). Now with regard to glass, it was a very ancient industry among the Arabs. In the second century of the Hegira it was so far advanced that they could make enamelled glass and unite in one glass different colours. A certain skilled chemist of the period was not only expert in these processes

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[paragraph continues] (quatrain 52), but even tried to make of glass false pearls, whereon he published a pamphlet.

Death, from being a silent messenger who punctually fulfilled his duty, became a grasping, greedy foe (quatrain 56). In the Psalms (xci. 3-6) he comes as a hunter with snares and arrows. Also "der Tôt wil mit mir ringen." * In ancient times Death was not a being that slew, but simply one that fetched away to the underworld, a messenger. So was the soul of the beggar fetched away by angels and carried into Abraham’s bosom. An older view was the death-goddess, who receives the dead men in her house and does not fetch them. They are left alone to begin the long and gloomy journey, provided with various things.  "Chacun remonte à son tour le calvaire des siècles. Chacun retrouve les peines, chacun retrouve l’espoir désespéré et la folie des siècles. Chacun remet ses pas dans les pas de ceux qui furent, de ceux qui luttèrent avant lui contre la mort, nièrant la mort,—sont morts"  (quatrain 57). It is the same for men and trees (quatrain 59). This vision of Abu’l-Ala’s is to be compared with Milton’s " men as trees walking," a kind of second sight, a blind man's pageant. In reference to haughty folk, an Arab proverb says that " There is not a poplar which has reached its Lord."

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[paragraph continues] But on the other hand, "There are some virtues which dig their own graves," * and with regard to excessive polishing of swords (quatrain 60) we have the story of the poet Abu Tammam, related by Ibn Khallikan. He tells us how the poet once recited verses in the presence of some people, and how one of them was a philosopher who said, "This man will not live long, for I have seen in him a sharpness of wit and penetration and intelligence. From this I know that the mind will consume the body, even as a sword of Indian steel eats through its scabbard." Still, in Arabic, where swords were so generally used that a priest would strap one to his belt before he went into the pulpit, there was no unanimous opinion as to the polishing,—which, by the way, was done with wood. A poet boasted that his sword was often or was rarely polished, according as he wished to emphasise the large amount of work accomplished or the excellence of the polishing. Imru’al-Kais says that his sword does not recall the day when it was polished. Another poet says his sword is polished every day and "with a fresh tooth bites off the people’s heads."  This vigour of expression was not only used for concrete subjects. There exists a poem, dating from a little time before Mahomet, which says that cares (quatrain 62)

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are like the camels, roaming in the daytime on the distant pastures and at night returning to the camp. They would collect as warriors round the flag. It was the custom for each family to have a flag (quatrain 65), a cloth fastened to a lance, round which it gathered. Mahomet’s big standard was called the Eagle,—and, by the bye, his seven swords had names, such as "possessor of the spine."

With quatrain 68 we may compare the verses of a Christian poet, quoted by Tabari:

And where is now the lord of Hadr, he that built it and laid
    taxes on the land of Tigris?
A house of marble he established, whereof the covering was
    made of plaster; in the galbes were the nests of birds.
He feared no sorry fate. See, the dominion of him has de-
    parted. Loneliness is on his threshold.

[paragraph continues] "Consider how you treat the poor," said Dshafer ben Mahomet, who pilgrimaged from Mecca to Baghdad between fifty and sixty times; "they are the treasures of this world, the keys of the other." Take care lest it befall you as the prince (quatrain 69) within whose palace now the wind is reigning. "If a prince would be successful," says Machiavelli, "it is requisite that he should have a spirit capable of turns and variations, in accordance with the variations of the wind." Says an Arab mystic, "The sighing of a poor man for that which he can never reach has more of value than the praying

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of a rich man through a thousand years." And in connection with this quatrain we may quote Blunt’s rendering of Zohair:

I have learned that he who giveth nothing, deaf to his friends’ begging,
loosed shall be to the world’s tooth-strokes: fools’ feet shall tread on him.

[paragraph continues] As for the power of the weak, we have some instances from Abbaside history. One of the caliphs wanted to do deeds of violence in Baghdad. Scornfully he asked of his opponents if they could prevent him. "Yes," they answered, "we will fight you with the arrows of the night." And he desisted from his plans. Prayers, complaints, and execrations which the guiltless, fighting his oppressor, sends up to heaven are called the arrows of the night and are, the Arabs tell us, invariably successful. This belief may solace you for the foundation of suffering (quatrain 71), which, by the way, is also in the philosophic system of Zeno the Stoic. Taking the four elements of Emdocles, he says that three of them are passive, or suffering, elements while only fire is active, and that not wholly. It was Zeno’s opinion that everything must be active or must suffer… An explanation for our suffering is given by Soame Jenyns, who flourished in the days when, as his editor could write, referring to his father Sir Roger Jenyns, "the order of knighthood was received by gentlemen with the profoundest

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gratitude." Soame’s thesis in his "Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil," that human sufferings are compensated by the enjoyment possibly experienced by some higher order of beings which inflict them, is ridiculed by Samuel Johnson. We have Jenyns’s assurance that

To all inferior animals ’tis given
To enjoy the state allotted them by Heav’n.

[paragraph continues] And (quatrain 75) we may profitably turn to Coleridge:

Oh, what a wonder seems the fear of death!
Seeing how gladly we all sink to sleep;
Babes, children, youths and men,
Night following night, for threescore years and ten.

[paragraph continues] We should be reconciled, says Abu’l-Ala (quatrain 76), even to the Christian kings of Ghassan, in the Hauran. These were the hereditary enemies of the kings of Hirah. On behalf of the Greek emperors of Constantinople they controlled the Syrian Arabs. But they disappeared before the triumphant Moslems, the last of their kings being Jabalah II., who was dethroned in the year 637. His capital was Bosra, on the road between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. Nowadays the district is chiefly occupied by nomads; to the Hebrews it was known as Bashan, famous for its flocks and oak plantations. We can still discern the traces of troglodyte dwellings of this

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epoch. The afore-mentioned Jabalah was a convert to Islam, but, being insulted by a Mahometan, he returned to Christianity and betook himself to Constantinople, where he died. But in the time of Abu’l-Ala, the Ghassanites were again in the exercise of authority. "These were the kings of Ghassan," says Abu’l-Ala, "who followed the course of the dead; each of them is now but a tale that is told, and God knows who is good." A poet is a liar, say the Arabs, and the greatest poet is the greatest liar. But in this case Abu’l-Ala in prose was not so truthful as in poetry; for if Jabalah’s house had vanished, the Ghassanites were still a power. The poet, for our consolation, has a simile (quatrain 77) that may be put against a passage of Homer:

As with autumnal harvests cover’d o’er,
And thick bestrown, lies Ceres’ sacred floor,
When round and round, with never-weary’d pain
The trampling steers beat out th’ unnumber’d grain:
So the fierce coursers, as the chariot rolls,
Tread down whole ranks, and crush out heroes’ souls. *

[paragraph continues] For everything there is decay, and (quatrain 78) for the striped garment of a long cut which now we are unable to identify.

We read in the Wisdom of Solomon: "As when an arrow is shot at a mark, it parteth the air which immediately cometh together again, so that a man cannot know where it went through." In this

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place (quatrain 84), if the weapon’s road of air is not in vain it will discover justice in the sky. How much the Arabs were averse from frigid justice is to be observed in the matter of recompense for slaying. There existed a regular tariff—so many camels or dates—but they looked askance upon the person who was willing to accept this and forgo his vengeance. If a man was anxious to accept a gift as satisfaction and at the same time to escape reproach, he shot an arrow into the air. Should it come down unspotted, he was able to accept the gift; if it was bloody, then he was obliged to seek for blood. The Arabs, by the way, had been addicted to an ancient game, but Islam tried to stamp this out, like other joys of life. The players had ten arrows, which they shot into the air; seven of them bestowed a right to the portion of a camel, the other three did not. Abu’l-Ala was fond of using arrows metaphorically. "And if one child," he writes to a distinguished sheikh, "were to ask another in the dead of night in a discussion: "Who is rewarded for staying at home many times what he would be rewarded for going on either pilgrimage?" and the second lad answered: "Mahomet, son of Sa‘id, his arrow would have fallen near the mark; for your protection of your subjects (quatrain 86) is a greater duty than either pilgrimage." And our poet calls to mind some benefits attached to slavery (quatrain 88): for an offence against morals

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a slave could receive fifty blows, whereas the punishment of a freeman was double. A married person who did not discharge his vows was liable to be stoned to death, whereas a slave in similar circumstances was merely struck a certain number of blows. It was and still is customary, says von Kremer, if anything is broken by a slave, forthwith to curse Satan, who is supposed to concern himself in very trifling matters. The sympathy Abu’l-Ala displays for men of small possessions may be put beside the modicum (quatrain 92) he wanted for himself. And these necessaries of Abu’l-Ala, the ascetic, must appeal to us as more sincerely felt than those of Ibn at-Ta‘awizi, who was of opinion that when seven things are collected together in the drinking-room it is not reasonable to stay away. The list is as follows: a melon, honey, roast meat, a young girl, wax lights, a singer, and wine. But Ibn at-Ta‘awizi was a literary person, and in Arabic the names of all these objects begin with the same letter. Abu’l-Ala was more inclined to celebrate the wilderness. He has portrayed (quatrain 93) a journey in the desert where a caravan, in order to secure itself against surprises, is accustomed to send on a spy, who scours the country from the summit of a hill or rock. Should he perceive a sign of danger, he will wave his hand in warning. From Lebid’s picture of another journey—which the pre-Islamic poet undertook to the coast lands of Hajar on

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the Persian Gulf—we learn that when they entered a village he and his party were greeted by the crowing of cocks and the shaking of wooden rattles (quatrain 95), which in the Eastern Christian Churches are substituted for bells… And the mediæval leper, in his grey gown, was obliged to hold a similar object, waving it about and crying as he went: "Unclean! unclean!"

An ambitious man desired, regardless of expense, to hand down his name to posterity (quatrain 99). "Write your name in a prayer," said Epictetus, "and it will remain after you." "But I would have a crown of gold," was the reply. "If you have quite made up your mind to have a crown," said Epictetus, "take a crown of roses, for it is more beautiful." In the words of Heredia:

Déjà le Temps brandit l’arme fatale. As-tu
L’espoir d’éterniser le bruit de ta vertu?
Un vil lierre suffit à disjoindre un trophée;

Et seul, aux blocs épars des marbres triomphaux
Où ta gloire en ruine est par l’herbe étouffée,
Quelque faucheur Samnite ébréchera sa faulx.

[paragraph continues] Would we write our names so that they endure for ever? There was in certain Arab circles a heresy which held that the letters of the alphabet (quatrain 101) are metamorphoses of men. And Magaira, who founded a sect, maintained that the letters of the alphabet are like limbs of God. According to him, when God wished to create

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the world, He wrote with His own hands the deeds of men, both the good and the bad; but, at sight of the sins which men were going to commit, He entered into such a fury that He sweated, and from His sweat two seas were formed, the one of salt water and the other of sweet water. From the first one the infidels were formed, and from the second the Shi’ites. But to this view of the everlasting question you may possibly prefer what is advanced (quatrains 103-7) and paraphrased as an episode: Whatever be the wisdom of the worms, we bow before the silence of the rose. As for Abu’l-Ala, we leave him now prostrated (quatrain 108) before the silence of the rolling world. It is a splendour that was seen by Alfred de Vigny:

Je roule avec dédain, sans voir et sans entendre,
A côté des fourmis les populations;
Je ne distingue pas leur terrier de leur cendre.
J’ignore en les portant les noms des nations.
On me dit une mère et je suis une tombe.
Mon hiver prend vos morts comme son hécatombe,
Mon printemps n’entend pas vos adorations.

Avant vous j’étais belle et toujours parfumée,
J’abandonnais au vent mes cheveux tout entiers….


14:* Cf. Lyall, Ancient Arabian Posts.

16:* Cf. Whittaker, The Neo-Platonists.

16:† Of course I use Professor Margoliouth’s superb edition of the letters.

17:* Cf. Thielmann, Streifzüge im Kaukasus, etc.

18:* Cf. Ambros, Geschichte der Musik, 1862.

19:* Cf. Pliny, Nat. Hist., vii. 174.

20:* Frazer, The Golden Bough, vol. i., p. 254.

21:* Meredith, The Shaving of Shagpat.

22:* Anatole France, Le Puits de Sainte Claire.

23:* Quoted by Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, vol. 2, p. 845.

24:* Stoufenb., 1126.

24:† Cf. in Scandinavia the death-goddess Hel.

24:‡ Romain Rolland, Jean Christophe.

25:* Ella d'Arcy, Modern Instances.

25:† Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Schwarzlose, Die Waffen der alten Araber, aus ihren Dichtern dargestellt.

29:* Pope, Iliad, xx. 577.

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