The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast  at sacred-texts.com
‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: Separation once hurled me hither and thither until I reached the utmost confines of Jurján.' 1 Here, to fortify myself against the days, I took some arable land which I proceeded to cultivate. I invested in some goods as my stock-in-trade, settled upon a shop as my place of business, and selected some friends whom I made my companions.
I stayed at home in the morning and in the evening, and, between these times, I was at the shop. 2
Now one day, when we were seated together discussing poetry 3 and poets, there was sitting, but a short distance off, a youth listening as if he understood, and remaining silent as though he did not know, until we were carried away by our discussion and lengthy disputation, when he said: 'Ye have found the little palm tree loaded with fruit, 4 and got the little rubbing-post. If I so desired, I could talk and that eloquently, and, were I to speak, I should quench their thirst for knowledge. 5 Yea, I would
make the truth clear in the arena of eloquence so as to cause the deaf to hear and draw down the white-footed goats from their mountain haunts.' So I said: 'O learned one! Come near, for thou hast inspired us with the feeling that we shall derive much benefit from thee. Speak, for thou hast cut thy wisdom tooth.' He then approached and said: 'Question me, and I will answer you. Listen, and I will delight you.' So we asked him: 'What dost thou say regarding Imr al-Qais?' 1 He said: 'He was the first to stand lamenting 2 over the encampments and their areas, who set out early while the birds were still in their nests, 3 and described the points of the horse. 4 He did not compose poetry for gain, nor speak eloquently from covetousness and, therefore, he was superior to him whose tongue was loosened designingly and whose fingers were foraging for a prize.' 5 We next asked: 'What dost thou say to Nabigah?' 6 He answered: 'He is as ready to revile, when he is angry, as he is to eulogize when he is pleased; he makes excuses when he is frightened and he shoots not but he hits.' We asked: 'What sayest thou to Zuheir?' He answered: 'Zuheir 7 melts poetry and poetry melts him. He summons words and enchantment answers him.'
[paragraph continues] We said: 'What dost thou say to Ṭarafa?' 1 He replied: 'He is the very water and clay of poetry, the treasure-house and metropolis of its rhymes. He died 2 before his secret treasures came to light, or the locks of his store-houses were opened.' We said: 'What sayest thou to Jarír and Farazdaq, and which of them is superior?' He answered: 'Jarír's 3 poetry is sweeter and more copious, but Farazdaq's 4 is more vigorous and more brilliant. Again Jarír is a more caustic satirist and can tell of more celebrated battles, 5 whereas al-Farazdaq is more ambitious and belongs to the nobler clan. 6 Jarír, when he sings the praises of the fair, draws tears. When he vituperates, 7 he destroys, but, when he eulogizes, he exalts. And al-Farazdaq 8 in
glorying is all-sufficient. When he scorns he degrades, but, when he praises, he renders the full weed.' We said: 'What is thy opinion of the modern and the ancient poets?' 1 He answered: 'The language of the ancients is nobler and their themes more delightful, whereas the conceits of the moderns are more refined and their style more elegant.' We then said: 'If thou wouldst only exhibit some of thy poetry and tell us something about thyself.' He replied: 'Here are answers to both questions in one essay:--
‘Ísá ibn Hishám said: I gave him what I had to hand and then he turned away from us and departed. Now I began to deny and then to assert him, I failed to recognize him, and yet I seemed to know him, when his front teeth directed me to him. Then I said: 'Al-Iskanderí by Heavens', for he had left us young 4 and had now returned full grown. So I followed in his track, seized him by the waist and said: 'Art thou not Abú’l-Fatḥ? Did we not rear thee as a child and didst 5 thou not pass years of thy life with us? What old dame hast thou then at Surra-Manra?'
He laughed and recited:--
26:1 … Jurján: A well-known town between Tabaristán and Khurásán, said to have been founded by Yazíd ibn Muhalleb. It was once noted for its silk fabrics which were sent to all parts of the world. Yaqút (Wüstenfeld), ii, 48.
26:2 … The shop: arabicized from the Syriac ḥamúthá, a room or cell. It has frequently in Arabic the more restricted meaning of 'wineshop'. For words of this type, see Fleischer, Kleinere Schriften, i, 172.
26:3 … Poetry: probably connected with … to praise. See Aḍ-ḍád (Houtsma), p. 252 and the well-known proverb: … 'Choking stops the way of the verse' Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 340.
26:4 Ye have found the little palm tree loaded with fruit, etc. Freytag, Arab Proverbs, i, 47. The meaning is 'I am one of those by means of whose counsel people seek relief.'
26:5 I should quench their thirst for knowledge: Literally, I would bring camels up from the watering quenched and take others down.
27:1 Imr al-Qais: Prince of the Banú Kindeh, the well-known author of the most celebrated of the Mu‘allaqát, flourished about the middle of the sixth century A.D. Aghání, vii, 60.
27:2 He was the first to stand lamenting: i.e. he was the first to introduce the prelude in the form of a lament or erotic prologue over the deserted encampment with which almost every subsequent qaṣída begins. But, according to Ibn Qutaiba (Kitáb al-Sh‘ir wa’l-Shu‘ará, p. 52), the first to make this prelude fashionable was a certain Ibn al-Humam or Ibn Khedhám. See also Aghání, iv, 114 and 149.
27:3 Set out early while the birds were still in their nests: Qaṣída of Imr al-Kais, v. 53. (Lyall.)
27:4 Described the points of the horse: ibid., vv. 53-70.
27:5 Were foraging for a prize: i.e. were writing for gain.
27:6 Al-Nabigah al-Dhubyani: Proper name Ziád ibn Mu‘awiya, a well-known poet, who lived at the courts of Ghassan and al-Ḥíra during the latter half of the century before Islám. He is classed with the authors of the Mu‘allaqát (see ed. by Lyall, p. 152) and is said to have had a close acquaintance with Christianity. For a fuller notice of this poet, see Nicholson, p. 121 and Aghání, ix, 154.
27:7 Zuheir ibn Abi Sulma of the tribe of Muzaina, the author of the third Mu‘allaqa, flourished about the end of the eighth century A.D. He is remarkable for his wise sayings and moral reflections. It is said of him he only praised a man for what was in him. Hamadhání's opinion of him--Zuheir melts poetry and poetry melts him--is no exaggerated estimate of his poetic genius. He was one of the triad of pre-Islámic poets, the other two being Imr al-Qais and Nabigah. Shu‘ará al-Naṣraniah, p. 510.
28:1 Ṭarafa ibn al-‘Abd was a member of the tribe of Bakr. He flourished about the middle of the eighth century A.D. and was the author of a Mu‘allaqa, No. 2 in Lyall's edition. He early developed a talent for satire which cost him his life at the early age of twenty, so that he is generally called the 'youth of twenty'. Nicholson, p. 107 and Ibn Qutayba, Sh‘ir wa’l-Shu‘ará, p. 88.
28:2 He died: a reference to Ṭarafa's untimely end.
28:3 Jarír ibn ‘Atiyyah (ob. A.H. 110--A.D. 728-9), of the tribe of Kulayb was court poet of Ḥajjáj ibn Yúsuf, the governor of ‘Iráq. He was famous for his satire, He survived al-Farazdaq, his lifelong rival, but a short time--either thirty or forty days. Nicholson, p. 244 and Aghání, vii, 35.
28:4 Al-Farazdaq: Hammám ibn Ghálib, generally known as al-Farazdaq, belonged to the tribe of Tamím and was born at Baṣra towards the end of ‘Umar's Khalífate. He was one of the triad of early Islámic poets, the other two being Akhtal and Jarír. He died in 110 A.H.--A.D. 728-9), at the great age of a hundred. Aghání, viii, 180.
28:5 … more celebrated battles: The Days, i.e. the great battles of the Arabs. For a list of the Days of the Arabs see the Majma al-Baḥrein, p. 150.
28:6 Nobler clan: Al-Farazdaq belonged to the tribe of Tamím and Jarír to the Kulayb, a branch of the Tamím.
28:7 When he vituperates he destroys: For an example of this, see Kitáb al-Aghání, vii, 46 and Nicholson, p. 245.
28:8 Farazdaq and Jarír are connected by a strange rivalry. For years they were engaged in a public scolding competition in which they roundly abused each other, and exhibited their marvellous skill in manipulating the vast resources of vituperation of the Arabic language. See The Naka’iḍ or Flytings of Jarír and Farazdaq in three volumes edited by Professor A. A. Bevan (Leyden, 1905-12). The relative merits of Jarír and Farazdaq were a favourite subject for discussion. See Aghání, vii, 37 and Nicholson, p 239.
It is difficult to gather from Hamadhání's comparison of these two poets as to which of them he accords the palm. Probably he intended the question to remain undecided. Yúnas says: 'I have never been in an assembly where the company was unanimous as to which of the two was the better poet.' The Arabs, while they considered Jarír, al-Farazdaq and al-Akhtal to be the three greatest Islámic poets, differed in the matter of assigning precedence to them. Kitáb al-Aghání. vii, 36. Comparison of poets formed a branch of belles lettres (…). See Aghání, iii, 101 and viii, 75.
29:1 What is thy opinion of the modern and the ancient poets?: This was another favourite topic for discussion. The opinion of scholars in the time of the author was that the pre-Islámic poets had been excelled by their successors and both had been surpassed by the poets of the day of whom the famous Mutanabbí was chief.
29:2 Do you not see I am wearing a thread-bare cloak?: The metre of these verses is rejez. … a thread-bare cloak. This word, which is met with so frequently in the Maqámát, is used to denominate an exceedingly old and shabby dress.
29:3 Red ruin: Literally, red vicissitudes.
29:4 The rising of Sirius: The greater dog-star. This star rises (aurorally) in the time of intense heat, and this he ardently desires because of the insufficiency of his clothing to protect him from the cold. Certain of the Arab tribes worshipped this star. See Qur’án, liii, 50.
29:5 His honour: Literally, the water of this face. The ingenuous blush of an honest man is called by the Arabs 'water of the face ', hence modesty, self-respect. It also means lustre.
29:6 The mansion of Dara: Built by Darius I, or the Great, son of Hystaspes, in 521 B.C.
29:7 The Hall (…) or Palace of Kisra: The Aiwan, or the immense hall of the palace built by al-Núshirwan, in the sixth century A.D., twenty-five miles from Baghdad. Ibn al-Ḥájib writing on the Aiwan says: 'O thou who didst build it a lofty structure and, through the Aiwan relegated the skill of time to oblivion, these palaces, pleasure houses, buildings, and castles of our Kisra al-Núshirwan. See Yaqút, i, 425.
30:1 Reversed my circumstances: Literally turned the back of the shield to me: figuratively, for became hostile.
30:2 Surra-man ra‘a (Sámarrá): The Khalífa Mu‘taṣim (A.D. 833-42) removed his court from Baghdad, sixty miles further up the Tigris to Sámarrá the official spelling of which was Surra-man ra‘a, a contraction of Surur-man ra‘a, 'the beholder's joy, which suddenly grew into a superb city of palaces and barracks. For an account of recent excavations at Sámarrá, revealing examples of art and architecture of the ‘Abbásid period, see Lughat El-Arab No. XI, May, 1913, pp. 515-20.
30:3 I would deliberately destroy myself: … means he was confined alive and then shot at or cast at until he was killed, or he was slain deliberately, not in the field of battle, nor by mistake.
30:4 … young: Literally, a fawn.
30:5 Did we not rear thee?: An illusion to Qur’án, xxvi, 17,
30:6 Sirrah! the times are false: The metre of these lines is basít. The author appears to have drawn his inspiration for this maqáma from Aghání, vii, 56.