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


v. 1. "Our morning draught:" see note on v. 74, Amriolkais—"A cheerful cup of wine in the morning," says Nott, "was a favourite indulgence with the more luxurious Persians. And it was not uncommon among the Easterns, to salute a friend by saying: 'May your morning potation be agreeable to you!'" Thus Hafiz (Nott's translation):

    While the soft lyre and cymbals sound,
    Pour cheerful melody around;
Quaff thy enlivening draught of morning wine;
    And as the melting notes inspire
    Thy soul with amorous desire,
Kiss thy fair handmaid, kiss her neck divine.

v. 2. "Wine diluted with water:" see note on v. 58, Tarafa's Mo‘all.—In the Romance of Antar, the hero is represented as exclaiming:

Give me pure wine to drink, or let it be mixed;
Give it me old, that I may imagine it was made before the world:
Give me to drink, and let me hear the song that delights me!

Amru, in v. 1, and Lebīd, v. 59, also refer to the Arab custom of hoarding the best wines.—Hafiz, in one of his odes, calls for a draught of pure or unmixed wine: mi nab, wine not diluted with water.

vv. 1-4.

Wake, damsel! wake! and bring yon generous wine,
The joyous soul of Enderina's vine;
Fill, fill the crimson goblet to the brim,
Till the wine totters o’er the circling rim: p. 397
Cheered by its smiles, the youth forgets his care,
His fair one's coldness, and his own despair:
Cheered by its smiles the doting miser rests
From the fond worship of his well-filled chests.—Ret. Rev.

v. 17. It must not be supposed that the poet's special reference to the well-developed haunches of his fair one in this verse tends to confirm the notion still generally entertained by Europeans that the Orientals like large, fat women—a notion utterly erroneous. (See Lane's translation of "The Thousand and One Nights," Ed. 1859, vol. i, p. 25, note 19.) It is true that Arabian and other Eastern poets often mention in terms of admiration the "large and wide hips" of the maidens whose charms they celebrate; for example, in the poetry of the Romance of Antar contained in the present volume: p. 229, l. 3; p. 292, l. 1; p. 293, l. 6;—but their slender waists are also invariably praised, as in this same verse of Amru. And in the following couplet, cited in the Anvári Suhaili of Husain Vā‘iz (a modern Persian version of the Hindoo Fables of Vishnusarman, better known to general readers as the Fables of Bidpai, or Pilpay, the original of the Arabian Kalilah wa Damnah) the large haunches and slender waist of a maiden are described by an amusing play upon words:

How shall I describe her hips and her waist?
Who has seen a mountain (Kūh) suspended by a straw (KIM)?

[paragraph continues] It is slender women only who are celebrated in Arabic poetry. The hero-poet Antar describes his beloved Abla as being "delicately formed"—"like the branch of the tamarisk"; while the palm-tree, the cypress, and the well-proportioned spear are common similitudes in Eastern poetry for the gracefully slender form of a beautiful woman.

v. 26. Mr Lyall, in a note on one of his translations of Songs from the Hamāseh and the Agāhnī (published in the Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal), thus renders the couplet:

Many the Days are ours, long blazed with glory,
  when we withstood the King and would not serve him.

p. 398

[paragraph continues] "Days" (Ayyām), he explains, is the word used in Arab legend for battles: one says, "the Day of el-Kuālb," "the Day of Shi‘b Jebeleh," &c., although the fight may (as it did at el-Kulāb) have lasted longer than one day. (See note on vv. 25, 26, Hareth's Mo‘all.)

vv. 31, 32. In a note on v. 31 of Zohair's Mo‘all., Mr Lyall gives these couplets of Amru as follows:

When our war-mill is set against a people,
  As grain they fall thereunder ground to powder;
Eastward in Nejd is set the skin beneath it,
  And the grain cast therein is all Qudâ‘ah;

and he explains that thifâl (rendered "cloth" by Sir W. Jones) is the mat of skin that is placed beneath the mill to receive the flour.—In the introductory part of the Romance of Antar, King Jazīmah (the father of King Zoheir, the hero's friend) thus threatens a hostile tribe: "I shall command these warriors, numerous as locusts, to assault you, and to grind you like grain." Akin to this comparison of War to a mill is the similitude in 2 Kings, xiii., 7: "The King of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing." (See Poem of Zohair, v. 31, and Note.)

v. 40. "Our javelins exquisitely wrought of Khathaian reeds," i.e. lances of Khatt: see note on v. 50, Lebeid's Mo‘all.

v. 45. The syringa-flower.—The tree of Judas, on which the arch-traitor hung himself after betraying his Master: the tree in consequence is said to have wept blood, with which its blossoms still remain deeply dyed.—Nott: Odes of Hafiz.—In the Romance of Antar, warriors whose armour is stained with blood are frequently compared to the flowers of the Judas-tree; and the hero himself describes cups of wine as mantling like the Judas-flower. It is the Cercis Siliquastrum of botanists, according to Hamilton, "the flowers of which are of a very bright purple colour, coming out from the branches and stem on every side in large clusters and on short peduncles."

p. 399

v. 66. Colaib Ebn Rabiah governed the Bani Maad (the Saraceni Maadeni of Procopius), and was so proud that he would not suffer any one to hunt in his neighbourhood, nor any camels to be watered with his, nor any fire to be lighted near that which he himself used. He was at last slain by one Jassas, for shooting a camel, named Sarab, that he found grazing on a prohibited spot of ground. This camel belonged to an Arab, who had been entertained by Basus, a near relation of Jassas. The murder of Colaib Ebn Rebiah occasioned a forty years’ war [see Argument prefixed to the Poem of Amru, page 65], whence came the Arab proverbs: "a worse omen than Sarab;" "more ominous than Basus."—It may not be improper here to observe that the kings and chiefs of the Arabs generally forbade others to bring their flocks upon those places and pastures which they chose for themselves. In order to ascertain the limits of these pastures, when they came to a fruitful valley or plain, they caused a dog to bark, and the whole extent of ground over which he could be heard they appropriated to themselves.—Ancient Universal History, vol. xviii., p. [440].

v. 97. "They walk with graceful motions, and wave their bodies," &c. The gait of Arab women is very remarkable: they incline the lower part of the body from side to side as they step, and with hands raised to the level of the bosom they hold the edges of their outer covering. Their pace is slow, and they look not about them, but keep their eyes towards the ground in the direction to which they are going.—Lane: Thousand and One Nights: Notes.

vv. 92-100. The following passage, from Richardson's "Dissertation on the Languages, Literature, and Manners of Eastern Nations," will serve as an interesting commentary on these verses: "The military ideas which prevailed in old Arabia seem to have been peculiarly calculated to promote a romantic attention to the fair sex. A long cessation of hostilities was painful to the Arabs: their arms were often turned against the neighbouring countries, and caravans of travellers; but oftener against each other. Captives and plunder were the chief objects;

p. 400

and the women were considered as most valuable spoils. To protect them became in consequence a great point of honour. Those predal wars, in whatever light we may view them, were considered as highly honourable in Arabia, and no man was thought in any way accomplished, who could not boast, in them, some feat of arms. Their expeditions were in general short. If they found the enemy too powerful, they retired; if unprepared, they suprised them; if of equal or inferior force, they attacked them: and one battle was for the most part decisive. A young warrior returning after a short absence, and laying his laurels, his captives, and his spoils at the feet of his mistress, would in general woo with success: and he whose gallant intrepidity had saved his tribe from rapine and captivity would ever be a favourite of the fair. When the flower of any tribe were absent upon a distant enterprise, some hostile neighbours would often attack those they had left behind: and hence perhaps arose the custom of the Arabian women, even of the highest rank, attending their husbands, fathers, and brothers in their military expeditions; and of fighting often with a degree of heroism not inferior to the fabled achievements of the ancient Amazons."

vv. 103-108.

Ours is the world, and all its riches ours;
None dares resist us ’midst Arabia's powers;
None dares control—if any vainly try
To chain our freedom, from the yoke we fly:
None dares rebuke our valour as unjust,
Else the rash slanderer should repent in dust;
One chief we own, and when that chieftain's son
Swears to maintain the name his sire has won,
In such frank fealty as becomes the free,
We bend, and make the nations bend the knee.
Still will we pour our warriors o’er the plain,
And still our ships shall rule the boundless main.
                                                                         Ret. Rev.

The concluding verses of Amru's oration in praise of his tribe furnish a fair specimen of the unbounded boasting in which the

p. 401

old Arabs were fond of indulging on such occasions as that which gave rise to this Poem and the following one, in which the venerable poetical champion of the tribe of Bekr answers the vain Taglebite.

Next: Notes on the Poem of Hareth