By Margaret Larkin

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This exhaustive and but captivating examine considers the lifestyles and paintings of al-Mutanabbi (915-965), usually considered as the best of the classical Arab poets. A innovative at center and infrequently imprisoned or compelled into exile all through his tumultuous lifestyles, al-Mutanabbi wrote either debatable satires and whilst hired via one in every of his many consumers, laudatory panegyrics. making use of an ornate type and use of the ode, al-Mutanabbi was once one of many first to effectively movement clear of the frequently inflexible kind of Arabic verse, the ‘qasida’.

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The inevitable result of this thinking was an era of manneristic poetry, in which poets composed works that focused primarily on novelty of expression rather than meaning. In poems that can best be likened to the works of the English metaphysical poets, ‘Abbasid poets employed an abundance of rhetorical figures and emphasized abstract, and sometimes far-fetched, conceits. This self-consciously clever poetry did not escape the criticism of the critics; poets such as Muslim ibn al-Walid, Bashshar ibn Burd, and Abu Tammam were criticized for their extravagant use of punning, double entendre, and antithesis, among other figures.

The golden days of ‘Abbasid patronage reached their height under Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809 CE), whose era boasted some of the most outstanding poets of the time, 38 including Abu Nuwas (ca. 755–813 CE) and Abu ’l-‘Atahiyah (748–826 CE). In the multi-cultural environment of the ‘Abbasid caliphate, where many of the outstanding poets were of Persian origin, the poet’s stock-in-trade was his ability to produce compelling panegyric poems that served to legitimize and aggrandize the caliph and his officials or whoever was wealthy enough to engage the poet’s services.

For example, when the Buyid dynasty, which ruled the most influential confederation of principalities born out of the ‘Abbasid ashes, exalted Arabic poetry, – which it did vigorously in many of its provincial courts – it was none the less a Persian dynasty, which paid little more than lip service to the ‘Abbasid caliphate, celebrating the Arab cultural tradition. Though al-Mutanabbi was to find, in the Buyid prince ‘Adud al-Dawlah, the kind of deferent indulgence and generosity that he required, along with sincere admiration of his poetry, he remained discontented with this essentially Persian environment that lacked a deep-seated sense of identification with Arab culture and values.

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