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The Maqámát of Badí‘ al-Zamán al-Hamadhání, tr. W.J. Prendergast [1915] at


‘ÍSÁ IBN HISHÁM related to us and said: I lost some camels of mine and I went forth in search of them. I alighted in a verdant valley and behold there were running brooks, 3 tall trees, ripe fruits, blossoming flowers and broad plains, and lo! an old man was seated there. Now that which terrifies a solitary person from his like made me afraid of him, but he said: 'Have no fear.' Then I saluted him and he ordered me to sit down, and I obeyed. Then he asked me concerning my condition and I informed him. Then he said to me: 'Thou hast got thy guide and found thy stray. Dost thou recite anything of the poems of the Arabs?' I answered: 'Yes,' and I recited from Imr-al-Qais, ‘Obeid, Labíd, and Ṭarafa. But he was not pleased with anything of that and he asked: 'Shall I repeat some of my poetry?' I said to him: 'Produce it.' Then he recited:

'The co-partners have separated, 4 but had I obeyed, they would not have parted.
And they have severed our cords from the bonds of union,'

p. 139

until he went over the whole qaṣída. I said: 'O Shaikh! this is Jarír's poem, the boys have conned it, the women know it, it has entered the tents and reached the assemblies.' He said: 'Stop this but if thou dost know a poem of Abú Núwás repeat it to me.' So I recited to him

'I will not lament over the deserted abode, 1
Nor will I yearn after the drivers of the white camels.
The dwelling most worthy of abandonment is that one;
In which union with the beloved is not long enjoyed. 2
What a splendid night was that which is past. How delightful it was!
When the cups took effect upon our haughty brethren;
And a young gazelle 3 whose eye spoke enchantment,
Girded with a girdle, 4 an ally of the rosary and sanctification.
I strove with him for a kiss, and the wine was pure and ruddy,
In the garb of a Qáḍí and with the piety of Shaikh Iblís. 5
When we became intoxicated, and all the people were drunk,
And I feared his overthrowing me with the cups,
I snored, feigning slumber, that I might put him to sleep,

p. 140

And both his eyeballs clad themselves with sleep from my bag.
Then he stretched himself on a couch which was finer to me,
In spite of its disordered condition, than the throne of Balqís 1,
And I visited his sleeping-place before the dawn,
And when the sound of the church bells 2 indicated the morning.
So he asked, "Who is that?" I answered:
"The priest has come. 3
And thy convent 4 must be ministered 5 by the priest." 6
He said: "By my life thou art a vile sort of a man."
But I said: 'Never! I am not one to be blamed."'

He related: 'Then he rejoiced, cried out and shouted.' So I said: 'God disfigure thee for an old man! I know not whether thou be more stupid in arrogating to thyself Jarír's poetry, or in thy delight at the poem of Abú Núwás who is a libertine 7 and a vagabond.' He said: 'Stop this! Go thy way

p. 141

and when thou dost meet on the road a man with a leathern bottle, who goes about in the houses, around the cooking-pots, boasts of his form and glories in his beard, say to him: "Direct me to a bound fish in a sea, slender in the waist, that stings like a wasp, and turbans with light." His father is a stone, his mother a male. Gold is his head and flame is his name, and the rest of him is tail. He acts upon clothes with ṭhe action of the moth. In the house he is the bane of the oil, a greedy drinker never satisfied, and a glutton never sated. A bountiful giver whom none forbids; he climbs the acclivity, and his property does not decrease through generosity. What pleases him grieves thee, and what benefits thee injures him. I was going to conceal from thee my story and live with thee in comfort, but thou didst refuse, now hear the truth. 1 There is not a poet 2 but has a helper from among us. And I dictated this qaṣída to Jarír. I am the Shaikh Abd Múrrah.' 3 Said ‘Ísá ibn Hishám: 'Then he vanished and I saw him not. And I went on headlong and met a man with a fly-whisk 4 in his hand. I said to myself, 5 "By Heavens! this is my man." So I told him what I had heard of him. Then he handed me a lamp, pointed to a dark cave in the mountain and said: "There is the cave and thou hast with thee the lamp."' He related: 'I entered it and behold I found my camels and they had taken the other direction, but I turned their heads and drove them back. Now, while I was in that situation in the wood, creeping stealthily through the thicket, lo! Abú’l-Fatḥ al-Iskanderí met me with a greeting.' I said to him: 'Sirrah! what has driven thee to this place?' He answered: 'The injustice of the days in decisions, and the non-existence of generous men.' I said: 'O Abú’l-Fatḥ, give then thy command.' He said: 'Bear me

p. 142

on a young she-camel, and supply me with some provisions.' 1 I said: 'That is thine.' Then he recited and said:--

'My soul a ransom 2 for the man who gave me the choice.
I tasked him extremely, but he was generous.
He scratched not his beard, he wiped not his nose and he did not cough.'

Then I told him the story of the old man, whereupon he pointed to his turban and said: 'This is the fruit of his benevolence.' I exclaimed: 'O Abú’l-Fatḥ, hast thou begged from the devil? Thou art indeed a mighty mendicant.'


138:3 Brooks: Literally, little streams, from he made it little.

138:4 The co-partners have separated: Metre, basít. See Ibn Qutaiba's Sh‘ir wá Shu‘ará, p. 9.

Co-partners: plural of and literally, a cord of twisted bark with which camels are tied.

139:1 I will not lament over the deserted abode: Metre, basit. Abú Nuwás was one of the first to condemn the time-honoured prelude in the form of the erotic prologue to the qasída. Allusion has already been made in the note on Dhú al-Rumma, p. 49, to al-Farazdaq's condemnation of it.

139:2 Is not long enjoyed: Literally, is not enduring, from he lived with.

139:3 A young gazelle: That has become strong and has no need of its mother from he became strong,

139:4 Girded with a girdle, an ally of the rosary and sanctification. In this line the poet seems to refer to Christianity (the girdle), Islám (the rosary), Judaism () which refers to that part of the Jewish Liturgy where God's name is sanctified. Cf. Waráqah's exclamation to Khadíja 'Holy! Holy!' Life of Muḥammad (Wüstenfeld), p. 153.

139:5 The piety of Shaikh Iblís: An allusion to the piety of Iblís per contrarium. For the use of 'Shaikh' as a title for Iblís, see Ḥarírí, p. 144.

140:1 The throne of Balqís: (Queen of Sheba) See Qur’án, xxvii, 23. Baiḍáwí says this throne was made of gold and silver and crowned with precious stones. Its surface was eighty cubits square and its-height eighty cubits. Baiḍáwí‘, Commentary (edited by Fleischer), ii, 66.

140:2 The bells: Plural of arabicized from the Syriac naqusha, an oblong piece of thick wood with several holes bored through it struck with a mallet called rabil, used by Christians in Muslim countries instead of church bells to summon people to prayer. Hence, in the present day, applied to a bell, and particularly to the bell of a church or convent.

140:3 The priest: Arabicized from the Syriac qashá a presbyter.

140:4 Probably plural a convent, monastery or cloister. From the Syriac dairá, Chaldaic. ‏דיר‎

140:5 Ministered: The context shows that the poet has evidently used the Hebrew ‏תַשׁמִישׁ‎ from ‏שָׁמַשׁ‎ to minister, the double entendre of which suits the line.

140:6 A priest: From the Syriac qashíshá, from gash, to be old.

These verses are a sample of the thinly veiled obscene allusions in which Abú Nuwás revelled. They are not found in the published Diwán of this poet.

140:7 A libertine: The diminutive is used for aggrandizement.

141:1 Now hear the truth: Literally, now take it.

141:2 There is not a poet: An allusion to the popular belief that every poet was inspired by a Jinn or Satan. Cf. the twenty-seventh Maqáma, p. 137, line 5. For a similar story, see Letters of Abú ‘Alá al-Mu‘arrí, translated by Professor Margoliouth, p. 74 and Yaqút, vi, 122.

141:3 Abú Múrrah: Literally, the father of calamity. The most famous of the nicknames of Iblís. Said also to have been the nickname of Pharaoh. Ibn al-Athír, Kunya Lexicon, edited by Seybold, p. 197.

141:4 A fly-whisk: Literally a small leathern bottle.

141:5 Literally, so I said.

142:1 Supply me with some provisions: Literally, pour some water into the wood.

142:2 My soul a ransom: Metre, kámil.

Next: XXXVI. The Maqáma of Armenia