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15 15 Polemics in Verse: An Invective Qaṣīdah by al-Akhṭal and a Reply by Jarīr The lives and works of three of the four great poets of the Umayyad period were intimately intertwined. All three were esteemed as eulogists of leading persons. Moreover, for several decades al-Farazdaq (ca. 20/640– ca. 110/728) and Jarīr (ca. 33/653–111/729) attacked each other in vicious poems of invective and satire (hijāʾ), and a similar but less extensive series was produced between Jarīr and al-Akhṭal (ca. 20/640–ca. 92/710). (On the fourth of these, Dhū l-Rummah, see immediately below). Their invective verse (usually combined with fakhr) is an odd mixture of the personal and collective; all three had Bedouin backgrounds and their poetry is strongly tribal, full of names and allusions to genealogies and tribal feuds and battles, often going back to pre-Islamic times. These may not fascinate modern readers with literary interests, and I have accordingly kept the annotation to a minimum; but contemporaries, urban as well as Bedouin, took a lively interest in all this. Such exchanges were part of state politics, and the three poets were highly esteemed by governors and caliphs. Al-Akhṭal was a Christian, which was exceptional for a leading poet in Islamic times; this was exploited by his opponents but did not prevent him from functioning as a kind of court poet. It was customary, when replying to a poem, to use the same meter and rhyme; such a reply poem was called naqīḍah and the plural naqāʾiḍ is used for the whole series. The reply poem, while not necessarily a blow-by-blow refutation, normally alludes to and echoes the earlier poem, as the following example will show. I. al-Akhṭal, “Among us, thoroughbreds are always marked” ‫ي‬ � � �‫ر‬ ‫ع�ا‬ �‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬‫و‬�� ّ ‫ل‬� � ‫�ذ‬��‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ُ ‫ط‬ �� �‫ب�ا‬ ��‫ر‬ ٍ ‫م‬ �‫ي‬ �‫�م‬ ‫ت‬ � ‫ي‬ � � ‫�ف‬ � �‫و‬�� ‫ة‬ ��‫م‬�ِ ‫ل‬�� ْ ‫ع‬ � ُ ‫م‬� ‫ل‬�‫ي‬ ��‫�خ‬ � ‫ل‬�� ‫ا‬ ُ ‫ط‬ �� �‫ب�ا‬ ��‫ر‬ ‫ن�ا‬ �‫ي‬ � ‫ف‬ � � � ‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫�ز‬ ‫�ا‬‫م‬� ِ ‫ر‬ ‫�ج�ا‬ � ‫ل‬�� ‫ا‬ ‫م‬ � َ ‫ر‬ ْ ‫ح‬ � َ ‫م‬� ٌ ‫ب‬ �‫ي‬ �‫ل‬�� ُ ‫ك‬ � �� ‫ح‬ �‫ي‬ � ‫ب‬ �� ‫ت‬ ��‫س‬�� ‫ت‬ �‫و‬�� ‫ا‬‫و‬�‫ل‬� � ‫�ز‬‫ن‬� ‫ن‬ � ‫�إ‬ ّ ‫ل‬� � ‫�ذ‬��‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫ر‬‫ا‬‫�د‬‫ب‬ �� ‫ن‬ �‫ي‬ ��‫ل‬� � ‫�ا�ز‬‫ن‬ �‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ 16 16 16 16 Verse mā zāla fīnā ribāṭu l-khayli muʿlimatan wa-fī tamīmin ribāṭu dh-dhulli wal-ʿārī an-nāzilīna bi-dāri dh-dhulli ʾin nazalū wa-tastabīḥu kulaybun maḥrama l-jārī51 Meter (al-basīṭ): XXSL XSL LLSL SSL / XXSL XSL LLSL LL. Among us, thoroughbreds are always marked with honor; but among Tamīm they’re bred in lowliness and shame.52 They dwell in lowliness wherever they dwell; Kulayb will seize their neighbor’s land unlawfully.53 They move from one place to another at their women’s whims; they have no ancient glory (but their donkeys do!). Is it with Muʿriḍ or Muʿayd, or with the sons of Khaṭafā that he, Jarīr, thinks he can vie with me and my prestige?54 Sit down, Jarīr, you’ve found a height too arduous for you to climb, you’ve met a turbulent and overflowing sea! When guests make their dog bark these people urge their mother, “Quick, piss on the fire!”55 But she is stingy and holds back her stream of piss and urinates for them only in dribs and drabs. They don’t avenge the blood of kinsmen killed, they never rally when they have been routed once. They’re always busy sitting in their tents, some are depressed, some cowards want to flee. Did you perhaps assist Maʿadd in a fierce fight like we stood by Maʿadd, during the battle of Dhū Qār?56 There Kisrā’s squadrons came, the horses marked, but they eradicated them, killed every tyrant foe.57 Did you perhaps stop Shuraḥbīl from being killed when rabble from Tamīm surrounded him?58 It was the battle of Kulāb; your womenfolk were led away like cattle to be sold, women and maids, As pillion-riders taken, spoils gained by our spears, while crying for Riyāḥ and crying for Marrār.59 There Abū Ḥanash stabbed him, giving him a gaping, wide-mouthed wound too deep for probes.60 5 10 15 17 17 17 17 Jarīr Al-Ward with ʿUṣum in pursuit chased those of yours who fled, as if he were a polo player, a mallet at the ready, Calling the riders of Lahāzim, armed, no cowards they, gray haired, not lacking in experience,61 Who in the horror of war’s morning keep bad things at bay, when the advancing and retreating men are mixed, Who dole out food when a cold north wind blows that drives rain-emptied...


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