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04-24-2013, 10:28 PM
: May 2009
: 193

Imru al-Qays

( )

Imrual-Qays was born c. 500 C.E, the youngest son of Hujr, King of Kinda and ruler- by their consent of the Assad and Ghatafan tribes. The tribe of Kinda originated in southern Arabia, in Hadhramaut, where texts show that a Kingdom of Kinda had been formed by the second half of the first century B.C.E. After their defeat and subjugation by the Shebans, the Kindites emigrated to north and central Arabia where it became prominent in the late and early sixth century C.E. Imru al-Qays is a laudatory sobriquet, popular among pre-Islamic Arab kings, meaning man of hard deeds. The poets real name was Hunduj rich, fertile ground. He was brought up in the manner of Arab princes of that age, and was taught codes of chivalry, equestrian skills, archery and swordsmanship. He frequented his maternal uncles, the Taghlib tribe, where he learnt poetry from his uncle, al-Muhalhal. But, to his fathers consternation, a lewd streak developed with his accelerating poetic proficiency. His lustful, amorous verses, anathema to the conduct codes of princes, continually distressed his stern, over-righteous father, who eventually banished his incorrigible son who, with a band of vagrants, wandered about Arabia, drinking, hunting and womanizing.

The central event of Imrual-Qayss life was the slaying of his father,Hujr, by the rebellious vassal tribe of Beni Assad. This tribe, leaderless, had agreed to accept Hujr as their suzerain. But his heavy handed treatment of the Beni Assad, and his tax-collectors beating them for delayed payments of taxes drove the tribe to mutinous rebellion. A force of Beni Assad horsemen and camel riders assaulted Hujrs pavilion and fell upon him while his servants tried to shield him with their bodies. Imru al-Qays dedicated his life to avenge his fathers death, soliciting various tribes for aid. Some tribes gave him reluctant support by providing him with armed horsemen, but such aid soon dried up. The Kindite avenger found himself alone and friendless. He wandered, distraught and helpless, from tribe to tribe in vain. A glimmer of hope finally appeared. One Amr b. Jaber, of the Fazara tribe with whom he was staying suggested to Imru al-Qays that he seek the support and guidance of the prominent Jewish poet al-Samawal (Samuel), famous for his hospitality and proverbial for his loyalty to those who place their trust in him. At his mansion al-Ablaq (The Piebald) al-Samawal agreed to help the Kindite poet by writing to his friend Arethas the Ghassanid, (al-Harith al-Ghassani) to intercede for Imrual-Qays with his close friend and ally, the emperor Justinian (527-565). This intercession took place in 541 during Arethass state visit to Constantinople. Arethas spoke well to Justinian of the Kindite poet, suggesting that he might well be, with Constantinoples help, the future king of a re-established kingdom of Kinda.

Imrual-Qays received an invitation from Justinian to visit him in Constantinople. He was graciously and hospitably received by the emperor. In his verse the Kindite poet mentions that A boon companion was I to Caesar in his realm,/ he conferred on me precedence/ so I rode the State Post. The State-Post was a stable of powerful swift horses used to transport high ranking dignitaries, and urgent mail, throughout the Byzantine empire. It is certain that Justinian fully endorsed Imrual-Qays as the future King of Kinda first, so that a re-established Kinda would bolster the hard-pressed Ghassanids in their defense of the Byzantine empires eastern limes (borders) against the Persian enemy and its Lakhmid allies; and second, because the present Kindite ruler, Qays b. Salameh, a cousin of Imrual- Qays, was deemed grossly unsuitable and needs to be replaced. But the future King of Kinda was never to be. He was infected with the bubonic plague which ran its course in the triennium (541-544) which hit Constantinople and Ankyra (modern Ankara). Imrual-Qays died of the plague in Ankyra on his way home from Constantinople c. 542.

Imrual-Qays is almost universally acknowledged by literary critics, classical and modern, as the greatest of the pre-Islamic poets. The Prophet himself, notwithstanding his disapproval of poets, admitted Imrual-Qayss poetical excellence, describing him as leading poets into hell-fire. The Prophets Companions, the Caliphs Umar and Ali extolled his genius and originality. As to his Muallaqa classical European critics, writes Nicholson have vied with each other in praising its exquisite diction and splendid images, the sweet flow of the verse, the charm and variety of the painting and above all, the feeling by which it is inspired of the joy and glory of youth. Of Arabic classical sources al-Asmasays that Imrual-Qayss descriptive powers are unsurpassable, especially when describing rainfall, citing his magnificent account of a rainstorm and the ensuing flash floods at the end of his Muallaqa (vide infra, verses 70-81). A modern western critic writes of the Kindite poets paramount stature among pre-Islamic poets as exemplified in his Muallaqa which she describes as arguably the most widely quoted, plagiarized, imitated, parodied poem in Arabic; that his verses are the touchstones of the ancestral voice of the Arabic poetic traditionhe was a prestigious and formidable inspiration and influence. So much so that even Tarafa, acknowledged to hold second place after Imrual-Qays in the scale of poetic excellence, is alleged to have stolen verses from the Kindite.

Selected Bibliography:

General R.A Nicholson Literary History of the Arabs (New York: Charles Scribner, 1907, reissued by Kessinger Publishing, undated). Some of Nicholsons account is dated and draws on legendary information given by classical Arabic sources which have now been proven to be unhistorical. On his life and poetry see Ibrahim Mumayiz The Vagabond King/The Life and Poetry of Imrual-Qays (Amman: Jordan University Press, 2002) passim and Ibrahim Mumayiz Arabesques/ Selections of Biography and Poetry from Classical Arabic Literature (Antwerp: Garant, 2006) pp.22-26; On his birth, Gunnar Olinder The Kings of Kinda (Lundt: Lundt Universitets Arsskrift, 1927) p.95; On his death, Irfan Shahid The Last Days of Imru al-Qays in Tradition and Modernity in Arabic Literature (Fayettville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997) p. 217; On Imrual-Qays,al-Samawal, Arethas the Ghassanid and Justinian see Ibrahim Mumayiz Imru al-Qays and Byzantium Journal of Arabic Literature Vol.36.2, 2006 passim ; and al-Isfahani Al-Aghani (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al Ilmiyya, 1992) Vol.IX, p.117; on modern western critics praise of Imrual-Qays, Julie Scott Meisami Imrual-Qays Praises the Prophet in Tradition and Modernity (supra) p.223; on Tarafa plagiarizing Imrual-Qays, Amidu Sanni Did Tarafa Actually Steal from Imru al-Qays? On Coincidence of Thought and Expression (Tawarrud) in Arabic Literary Theory Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures Vol.4, July 2001 pp. 117-136.

The Muallaqa of Imru al-Qays
1. Lets halt! And on the abode of loved ones weep
Where, twixt Dukhool and Hawmal, sands pile deep.

2. Towdah and al-Miqrat eer there will lay
Sands northern winds pile, southern blow away (1)

3. Oryx droppings in its spaces youll see
Like pepper-corns scattered so wide and free.

4. Now that theyve gone, I feel that I will lead
The life of pickers of bitter apple seed (2)

5. My mounted friends call out, in cheer, to me
Die not of grief! Well armed with patience be.

6. My cure lies in a hot downpour of tear
Are there, at ruins, ones that me could cheer?

7. For Umm al -Huwayrith, and her neighbor
Umm al-Rabab; loves gone, now as before.

8. When belles rise, there musk is so sweet and true.
Like carnations oer which morning breezes blew.

9. My streaming tears, the pangs of love they felt
Bedrenching me full, even my sword-belt! (3)

10. O for a day as that I once had spent,
When maids to Juljul for an outing went.

11. That day I slew my mount for thvirgins sake
They each some things of mine back home did take (4)

12. Each claimed that the mount was slain for her alone
Its white oer- flesh like silks that on them shone (5)

13. I slipped in Unayzahs howdah. She cried
Damn you! Youll maim my mount. Ill walk alongside!(6)

14. Her howdah, with our weight, tilted aside.
My camel! Down quick, Imru al-Qays! she cried.

15. Let go the reins! said I Be calm and still.
Let me of your kisses have what I will

16. Pregnant, nursing mothers Ive loved, through tact
And did, through wiles, from their own babes, distract.

17. When, from behind, wailed loud her tiny tot
She nursed it but forgot to love me not (7)

18. Over a dune, me she once resisted.
In vowing, loudest oaths, she protested

19. Do from your coyness, Fatima, desist (8)
Or leave me, and on being coy, insist.

20. Youve turned vain, now that by your love Im slain
Command my heart. Servant it shall remain.

21. If I gave you offence, then you may
My heart take out from yours; free let it stay (9)

22. Your eyes drop tears, only for you to start
to shoot two arrows at my dying heart.

23. She a howdah-egg, unbroken, unsoiled.
In howdah-nest, I broke and her enjoyed.

24. To visit her, her guards in stealth I braved (10)
If me theyd caught, theyd gladly me have slayed.

25. To her I went when night, oer stars, unfurled
As dark nightgown is broidered and impearled.

26. Behind curtains, shes clad in bed attire
To let all see shes ready to retire.

27- :
27. By God! said she no means have I at hand
To keep away what you from me demand (11)

28. With her I walked, and she, without delay
With her gowns train our footprints wiped away
29. The tents were still. We left them far behind.
Quiet we stood, in pleasure to unwind.

30. To me I drew her temples, then she swayed
With ankles fine, full thighs, slim waist she laid.

31. Her waist and belly, smooth they were and tight
Her chest: glittring mirror eer shining bright.

32. In depths of seas lie precious white pearls
In loves fluids, my pearl from clam unfurls.

33. When shying off, she turns the softest cheek
Like hind with fawn, her welcming eyes are meek.

34. No jewels does her fine slender neck bear
Its oryx-like; its beauty white and bare.

35. Her back is covred with coal-black hair, well-dressed
Her plaits, like palmy shoots, are wound and pressed.

36. Her locks, her plaits; with care they all are dressed.
Some flow straight down; some on her crown do rest.

37. That waist! Slim-round, as if by craftsman made
Legs! Lush as shoots in laden palms cool shade

38. She rises late from bed, scented with musk.
Pampered, well-served is she, from dawn till dusk.

39. She picks with fingers long, rounded and soft
Like worms, (12) or straight Is-hil shoots high aloft (13)

40. In darkest nights her face is clear as light
A praying monks lit lantern glowing bright.

41. To her, gallants, in love, wisely behaved.
Her clothes are between those of child, and maid (14)

42. Gallants attentions foreer do not last
But my love for her, spite time, stands fast.

43. For loving you, reproached Ive been and reviled
Yet I love, spite those who me have defiled

44. Like heavy waves, long nights pon me descend
Im weighed with cares that longer nights extend.

45. I to the nights darkness, with grief, complained.
The carefree find it brief; the care-worn, strained.

46. O longest night! I so await your morn
Though my thorny cares wont by morn be shorn.

47. What kind of night are you! Your stars neer fade!
As if rock-tied with strongest rope eer made.(15)

48. A full water-skin is eer there to stay
On my camel that always drifts away (16)

49. Ive crossed dry wastelands, where starved wolves prowl
Like gamblers starving young, with hunger howl

50- :
50. To howling wolf said I Were of a kind.
We seek, but is sought we never find.

51. Each looks for what he in hunger devours.
Lean is the wretch whose living is like ours (17)

52. I rise before the birds in nests awake
To mount a steed that none can overtake.

53. To charge, retreat, and wheel hes strong and fast
As boulder, by floods, down from high, is cast.

54. Much sweat from its rock-like back downward goes
Like rain oer polished stone so swiftly flows.

55. Though lean, its work-power eer is at toil
Its neighs so like a cauldron brought to boil.

56. Onward it flies, when swiftest steeds do tire
They, heavy-hoofed, bedusted, soon retire.

57. Weightless boys cannot, for long, on it stay
At speed, its riders clothes are blown away.

58. Like stone-and-string(18)that boys oerhead entwirl
My steed, its stone-hard frame fast forward hurls.

59. With waist of deer, ostrich pace, wolfish core
And fox-cub hind legs oer-leaping its fore.

60. Its ribs and flanks well-curved, its rear will show
Its thick tail blocking its hind legs from view.

61. Its withers are like grindstones, hard and sound
where brides incense and bitter-seed (19) are ground.

62. Its neck smeared with blood of hunted prey
So like henna that, over gray-hairs, lay (20)

63. A herd whose ewes far ahead appeared (21)
So like virgins unsunned, by sin unsmeared.

64. Their like Yemen beads that well-born boys wear
Their necks and cheeks are black, their bodies fair.

65. My steed did soon the herds vanguard oertake
The slow were left their slow way on to make (22)

66. A ram and ewe were felled in the chase
sweatless was the steed throughout thhectic race.

67. The copious hunt cooks set out to prepare
Some boiled some on hot stones roasted the fare.

68. In splendid form was this my splendid steed
Upon its perfection eyes greedly feed

69. Saddled and bridled it I eer keep
And neer to pasture let it happly leap.

70. Look up, my friend, and see those lightning streaks!
So like the wildly flailing arms of freaks.

71. It flash lights all, like monks lantern; well built
As oil rushes to soak its wick at tilt.

72. Twixt Dharj and Uthayb cloud-watching sat we
Amazed I was how far my eyes could see.

73. Cloud-topped mount Qatan was there on our right
To left, Sitar and Yethbel were in sight.(23)

74. Torrential rain over Kutayfah poured
Uprooting trees that once up high had soared.

75. Qinans high mount was struck by that deluge
Its frightened elk scurried for safe refuge.

76. Taymaas date palms were swiftly overthrown.
The floods swept all but mansions built of stone

77. Thebeers high mount was braced for that onslaught
As a cloaked lord, storm shelter would have sought (24)

78. The loaded floods around Mujaymir swirled
And spun as swiftly as a spindle twirled (25)

79. Ghabeets desert was then with color laid
Like wares Yemen merchants in full displayed (26)

80. Mikak bird-song throughout the valley rang (27)
S if peppered wine had drunk, they happly sang.

81. The beasts that were in floods beswept and drowned,
Like flooded crops, in mud were fully bound.


(1) The locations Towdah and al-Miqrat are subjected to conflicting winds. Northern winds bury the two locations with sand which southern winds blow away again, revealing traces of deserted dwellings; distressing, says the poet for him to observe.
(2) Bitter-apple, or colocynth, the Arabic handhal is a small apple-like desert growth proverbial for its unbearable bitterness. It is gathered by professional pickers who roam the deserts to collect it; its seed used as medicine and incense. Slicing bitter-apple, like onions causes tear- flow. He likens himself, tearful and lonely at desolate locations, to pickers of bitter-apple.
(3) This hyperbolic downpour of tears is a standard poetic device showing depth of pained love for the beloved who once dwelt in the now deserted campsite.
(4) Having sacrificed his mount to feed the girls grilled meat, he is expressing his amazement at each girl taking some of his belongings home with her as a souvenir of this occasion.
(5) The metaphysical conceit here is that the white layer of fat on the slain camels flesh is likened to silk. The verse specifies silk as twisted silk braid
(6) Imrual-Qays loved his cousin Unayzah (little goat). He asked for her hand but her family declined, due to his reputation as a womanizing libertine. A group of girls, including Unayzah, went on a days outing to Juljul springs (vide supra, verse 10). Having dismissed their servants, they were bathing in the spring when Imru al-Qays came upon them. He collected their clothes, refusing to hand them over till each girl emerged from the spring to collect her clothes herself. The last one to do so, embarrassed and coy, was Unayzah. Later that day the girls complained of hunger, so the poet killed his camel to feed them grilled meat. Late in the evening he mounted with Unayzah on her howdah-camel and delivered her safely home. Verses 13-15 descibe the scene inside the howdah. Her criesto him to get down was part of her arch coyness which endeared her to him.((Mohammad Abul Fadhl Ibrahim Diwan Imrual-Qays (Cairo: 1959 ed.) p.10))
(7) This and the following lines refer to other, married, and single women, excluding Unayzah .
(8) Fatima is her proper name. Unayza (little goat) is her nickname.
(9) The Arabic verse speaks of clothes, meaning the heart, as is usual in Arabic metaphorics. He says If Ive given offence and you mislike anything in me, give me back my heart and I then shall leave. In other words, take my heart out of yours so that it my heart would go its own separate, way.
(10) It is not clear if the nocturnal amorous rendezvous here was with his cousin Fatima or with someone else.
(11) Another version of this verse: By God! said she your scandal comes so late/ No means have I your passions to abate
(12) We have a metaphysical conceit in worms. The pre-Islamic Arabs usually compared womens fingers, actively and nimbly at work, picking or weaving, to articulated, serpent-like worms burrowing their way energetically through damp soils.
(13) Is-hil is a species of oasis tree known for its dead-straight shoots growing higher up the foliage. In this verse he likens her fingers either to articulate, burrowing worms or to dead-straight Is-hil shoots.
(14) Her clothes being between child and maid is related to her being pampered. Pre-Islamic Arabs considered part of the attractions of a young woman of prosperous, distinguished parents her being indolent, well-served, completely work-free, pampered, and her clothing as the poet is describing between child and maid.
(15) He sees long nights of care as never ending; their stars never fading with daylight as if they are secured firmly in place, tied to rocks with stoutest rope.
(16) The full water skin on his wayward camel that is always drifting away stands for his good deeds: bearing others burdens; feeding the weary and the thirsty; giving to those who ask; paying the blood-money of those who cannot afford to. He feels that all this is vain and wasteful like a wayward camel drifting away with water for those he does not know and who just happen to be thirsty.
(17) The translation of this line is based on that of Nicholsons in Literary History p. 107
(18) Stone-and-string khudhroof is a flat circular stone pierced in the middle, with a length of string tied to it through the hole. Young boys, playing, twirl it over their head.
(19) Bitter-seed is the seed of the bitter-apple, colocynth (handhal) vide supra verse 4n.
(20) Henna is an organic dark-red hair dye.
(21) The herd refers to a herd of oryx, specifically to the females in the herd.
(22) The swift steed soon overtakes the swiftest of the herd, leaving the slower ones behind.
(23) Watching clouds over distant heights, in expectation of rainfall, was a pastime in pre-Islamic times.
(24) Mount Thabeer, heavily enveloped by cloud, with rain falling on it in thick straight lines is likened, in its towering eminence, to a lord muffled in a white striped cloak; the rain-lines standing for the garments stripes.
(25) The high, swift and swirling floodwaters were loaded with debris.
(26) This desert, after heavy rainfall, burst with blooming vegetation; flowers of every hue. Sudden heavy rainfall is likened to the hectic descent of Yemeni merchants upon a market. The floral exuberance is like the merchants numerous colorful wares.
(27) Mikak is a species of song-birds. They warble happily in celebration of the valleys sudden, exuberant floral display after heavy rainfall.

07-10-2013, 06:28 PM
hasany81 hasany81
: Mar 2010
: Syria
: 8

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