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46 46 Three Love Epigrams by ʿUlayyah bint al-Mahdī Among the very few free women whose love poems have been preserved is a princess, ʿUlayyah (160/777–210/825), daughter of the caliph al-Mahdī and half-sister of the famous Hārūn al-Rashīd.154 She was a gifted singer, composer , and poet, and said to have been pious.155 She composed many short love poems on a few palace servants—one can assume they were eunuchs. One of them was called Rashaʾ (“Fawn”); in order to conceal not only his identity but also his sex, she referred to him in her verse by a girl’s name, Zaynab. Another was called Ṭall (“Dew”), whose name she hid in her verse by adding one dot, changing Ṭall into ẓill, meaning “shade” or “shadow”. In the first poem it is as if she describes a pretty girl, even though she speaks of a male gazelle. In a strange reversal of gender roles ʿUlayyah thus seems to pose as a man speaking of a girl; the fact that the men were probably eunuchs makes it odder still. In the second piece, in spite of her love for two men, she claims to love only one (at a time?). The third is on the ubiquitous theme of being unable to mention the name of the beloved. ʿUlayyah set all three poems to music and sang them herself. I. “Greetings to that gazelle” ِ ‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ � ‫ل‬ � � ‫د‬��‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫ي‬ � �‫ب‬ � ْ ‫��س‬ ُ ‫م‬ ‫ل‬ �� ‫ا‬ ‫�د‬‫ي‬ � ْ‫�غ‬ � ‫أ‬� � ‫ل‬ � � ‫ا‬ ‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬‫غ�ز‬ � �‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬‫ر‬‫ك‬ � ��‫�ذ‬ ‫ى‬ � ‫ل‬��‫ع‬ � ْ ‫م‬ � ّ ‫ل‬ ��‫س‬�� ِ ‫ل‬� � ‫�ج�ا‬ �‫ر‬‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫ب‬ �‫ب�ا‬ �‫ل‬� �‫أ‬ � َّ ‫ل‬� ُ ‫غ‬ �� � ‫�ا‬ ‫ي‬ �� ‫ه‬�‫ل‬� � ْ ‫ل‬� ‫ق‬ �� � �‫و‬�� ‫ه‬�‫ي‬ �‫ل‬��‫ع‬ � ْ ‫م‬ � ّ ‫ل‬ ��‫س‬�� sallim ʿalā dhikri l-ghazā- li l-ʾaghyadi l-musbī d-dalālī sallim ʿalayhi wa-qul lahū yā ghulla ʾalbābi r-rijālī156 Meter: (al-kāmil, shortened form): SSLSL SSLSL / SSLSL SSLSLL (SS may be replaced by L). 47 47 47 47 ʿUlayyah bint al-Mahdī Greetings to that gazelle, so graceful and so tempting! Greetings to him, and say to him: O You who keep men’s hearts enchained, You left my body scorching in the sun while you live in the shade of women’s quarters. You’ve brought me to my wits’ end, where I don’t know what to do. II. “Whoever loves two persons” ِ ‫ر‬ ‫ش�ا‬ ��� ‫ن‬ ��‫م‬�‫ب‬� ْ ‫ر‬ ‫�ش‬�� ‫ن‬ �� ُ ‫ي‬ �� ‫و‬�� ‫أ‬ � َ ‫ب‬ � َ ‫ل‬�� ْ ‫�ص‬ � ُ ‫ي‬ �� ‫ن‬ � ‫أ‬ � ‫ن‬ � ْ ‫ي‬ ��‫س‬�� ‫�ف‬�‫ن‬ �� ‫ق‬ � � ‫�ش‬��‫ع‬ �‫ي‬ �� ‫ي‬ � � �‫�ذ‬��‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ّ‫ق‬ � � ‫ح‬ � ‫ي‬ � � �‫ر‬ ‫ب�ا‬ �‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫د‬��‫ح‬ �‫ا‬‫و‬�‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ َ‫ن‬ �‫ي‬ �ِ ‫د‬ ‫ص‬� � ‫ل‬��‫�خ‬ � ‫أ‬ � ‫ي‬ � � �‫�ذ‬��‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ُ ‫ل‬�‫ث‬ ��‫م‬� ‫د‬��‫ح‬ �‫ا‬‫و‬�‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ُ‫ق‬ � � ‫�ش‬��‫ا‬�‫ع‬ �‫و‬�� ḥaqqu lladhī yaʿshaqu nafsayni ʾan yuṣlaba ʾaw yunshar157 bi-minshārī wa-ʿāshiqu l-wāḥidi mithlu lladhī ʾakhlaṣa dīna l-wāḥidi l-bārī158 Meter (al-sarīʿ): XLSL LXSL LSL / XLSL LXSL LL. Whoever loves two persons should be crucified or sawn in twain. But loving only one is like believing with one’s whole heart in the One Creator. I have endured it until sickness conquered me: Can halfa grass159 withstand the fire? If I can’t hope for his, my master’s, sympathy I will remain as if I sat between two stools.160 48 48 48 48 Verse III. “I have hidden the name of my love” ‫ي‬ � � �‫د‬‫ا‬‫�ؤ‬� ‫�ف‬ � � ‫ي‬ � � ‫�ف‬ � � ‫ة‬ ��‫ب‬ ��‫ب�ا‬ �‫�ص‬ � ‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ُ ‫ت‬ �‫د‬ ّ ‫د‬‫ور‬�� ‫د‬‫ب�ا‬ �‫ع‬ �‫ل‬� � ‫ا‬ ‫ن‬ �‫م‬� ‫ب‬ �‫ي‬ ��‫ب‬ �‫ح‬ � ‫ل‬�� ‫ا‬ ‫م‬ � ‫س‬��‫ا‬ ُ ‫ت‬ �‫�م‬ ‫ت‬ �‫ك‬ � �� ‫ي‬ � � �‫د‬‫�ا‬‫ن‬�� ‫أ‬ � ‫ى‬ � � ‫و‬�‫ه‬� ‫أ‬ � ‫ن‬ �‫م‬� ‫م‬ � ْ ‫س‬��‫ب�ا‬ �� ‫ي‬ � � ّ ‫ل‬��‫ع‬ �‫ل‬� � ّ ‫ي‬ � � ‫ل‬��‫�خ‬ � ٍ ‫د‬��‫ل‬��‫�ب‬� ‫ى‬ � ‫ل‬�� ‫�إ‬ ‫ي‬ � � ‫�ق‬ � � ‫و‬� ‫�ش‬��‫ا‬‫و‬� ‫�ف‬ � � katamtu sma l-ḥabībi mina l-ʿibādī wa-raddadtu ṣ-ṣabābata fī fuʾādī fa-wā-shawqī ʾilā baladin khaliyyin laʿallī bi-smi man ʾahwā ʾunādī161 Meter (al-wāfir): SLSSL SLSSL SLL / SLSSL SLSSL SLL (SS may be replaced by L). Note that the rhyming hemistichs in the first line give the poem the rhyme scheme (though not the meter) of the rubāʿiyyah or quatrain (aaba), a later, Persian form adopted by Arab poets too. I have hidden the name of my love from the crowd: for my passion my heart is the only safe space. How I long for an empty and desolate place in order to call my love’s name out aloud. ...


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