The Seven Odes of Al-Mu‘allaqāt (المعلقات السبع): An Introduction to Pre-Islamic Poetry (“الشعر الجاهلي”)

July 6, 2012

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The Pre-Islamic Arabs regarded the oral and literary forms of Arabic as a great honor. Pre-Islamic poetry was filled with fantastic metaphors and similes, and long arrays of adjectives to modify the same word. Classical Arabic poetry emphasized rhyming, which was largely a result of the love of the sounds of words. In a similar vein, the language of the Koran follows a similar theme.

The Seven Odes are very important historical set of poems produced during the time before the Prophethood of Muhammad in 610. Since the Arabic culture of that time was mainly oral, these poems were at first not written down, but recited and later memorized by individuals, usually the poets’ apprentices. that these poems were suspended over the Ka’ba in Mecca. However, this purported fact has long been dismissed as the product of popular mythology. Collectively, the Seven Odens represent the pinnacle of Arabic eloquence and widely studied in contemporary Arabic literature.

One famous poem by the widely renowned  Imru’ Al-Qais  مرؤ القيس (Sixth Century poet) is particularly noteworthy. The other poets include Tarafa, Zuhair, Labid, Antara, Amr ibn Kulthum, and Harith. (Gabriel, 6).  According to one encyclopedic account, Imru “is sometimes considered the father of Arabic poetry. The Muallaqat are the best examples of a qasida (قصيدة), commonly translated into English as “ode”. The common structure of the qasida is as follows: first, the poet would begin with a nasib or erotic prelude; the rahil (chase); and the fakhr (boastful language). (Gabriel, 8). Imru’ Al-Qais most famous qaseeda, or long poem, “Let us stop and weep” (قفا نبك) is one of the seven Mu’allaqat, poems.” The theme in his poem revolve around two main themes: “premature sexuality and the vowing of vengeance for his murdered father.”

He begins his poem as follows:
قفا نبك من ذكرى حبيب ومنزل
بسقط اللوى بين الدّهول فحومل

Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal (places).

In the first part of the poem, Imru describes how he begs his companions to stop at a certain location to deliberate and remember the place where his beloved once resided. (Stetkevych). Professor Stetkevych believes Imru is referring to a women he once loved that is now forever out of reach from him. The remaining aspects of the poem chart his arrival to the campgrounds of his love’s tribe, expecting a romantic rendezvous, and his discovery that the tribe had left the place to look for other pastures. The poet halts the friends that have ridden with him, and sits down to cry, remembering the love that has been and is now gone. To read the whole poem, please visit the following link: http://www.h2g2.com/approved_entry/A3994176

Bibliography

James Robson, The Meaning of the Title Al-Mu’allaqat, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1 (Jan., 1936), pp. 83-86

Levin Gabriel, Who Keened Over the Bones of Dead Encampments”: On the Hanging Odes of Arabia Levin, Parnassus : Poetry in Review; 2006; 29, 1/2; ProQuest Research Library

Suzanne P. Stetkevych, The Mute Immortals Speak: Pre-Islamic Poetry and the Poetics of Ritual

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