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Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, [1881], at


Beyond his pedigree, we know but little of Neshwân ibn Sa'īd. He tells us himself in his great work, the Shems el-’Ulûm, that his mother, like his father, was of noble Himyaritic

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descent, and that his residence was at Hûth, a little village in the district of Hamdân. Here we may imagine him to have lived and worked until his death, which took place in a.h. 573 [a.d. 1177]. The knowledge which is so copiously displayed in his works was probably derived, not only from the writings of more ancient authors, such as Wahb ibn Munebbih and ’Ubaid ibn Shariyah, but from the oral traditions of the peasantry. His principal work, the Shems el-’Ulûm, is in lexicographical form, and, according to Dr. D. H. Müller, is of the highest value from a historical and geographical point of view. A manuscript of this book is in the Royal Library at Berlin, and it is much to be wished that Dr. Muller, who has already turned its contents to considerable use, should complete his task by giving to the world the work in its entirety. Neshwân ibn Sa’îd was also the author of several other works, chiefly, it would appear from their titles, of an exegetical nature, and of a few scattered poetical pieces, which the searcher amongst Arabic manuscripts may here and there light upon.

The work, however, which has been chiefly associated with his name is the Lay of the Himyarites. The motif of this Poem is clearly ethical: it deals with the most commonplace and yet the newest of themes, the decay of glory, the vanity of human power. Not less vain perhaps are the efforts of poet or moralist to persuade man that he is but a sharer in the common lot, and that he, even he, like every one else, "cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness;" for that which strikes him as only natural in the case of the rest of the world, appears something strange and novel when his own turn comes to endure it. The Poet of Himyar takes as his text the fallen fortunes of his own illustrious race. "Where," asks he, "are the kings and nobles of Himyar? They have been ground down as the kernel of the date beneath the millstone: they have become as dust in the earth!"

But reflections which are merely the echo of the voice of the Preacher may be thought too trite to merit much attention. This is true; the writer's claims to a hearing rest on other

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grounds. The Poem is a terse epitome of the ancient history of El-Yemen: if it does little more than record the names of kings and princes, still these names are rarely to be found else where, and, when read with the Commentary and with the Shems el-’Ulûm of the same author, the work affords valuable testimony in support of the theory that the interminable genealogies which we find scattered throughout the works of the early Arab writers are not the mere figments of their imagination, but are actually founded upon evidence which is more or less of a historical character.

Next: Opening Verses of the Poem