Part 53

The ability to write both good poetry and prose is rarely found in one person

December 26, 2021

This is because a habit is (located) in the tongue. If another habit previously occupied the place of (that habit), the subsequent habit has iii, s26 not enough room to develop, because the acceptance and obtainment of habits is simpler and easier for natures in their original state.

If there are other previous habits, they resist the (new habit) in the substance that is to receive the (new habit). They prevent it from being quickly accepted. Thus, there arises incompatibility. It becomes impossible for the (new) habit to develop (to perfection).

This is, in general, the case with all technical habits. We have proved that fact in the proper place with an argument similar to the one used here. 1432

The same applies to languages. They are habits of the tongue which are in the same position as the crafts. It can be observed how persons with some previous non-Arab (speech habits) are always deficient in (their knowledge of) the Arabic language. 1433 Non-Arabs who previously spoke Persian cannot master the Arabic linguistic habit and will always be deficient in Arabic, even though they may study and (come to) know it.

The same is the case with Berbers, Byzantines, and European Christians. One rarely finds among them any one who possesses a good Arabic linguistic habit. The only reason here is that their tongues previously had the habit of another language.

This goes so far that a student whose native language is one of the (non-Arabic) languages, but who studies (his subjects) among Arabic speaking-people and from Arabic books, 1434 will never be perfect in his knowledge and attainments.

The only reason is the language.

It was mentioned before that languages and dialects are similar to the crafts. 1435 It was also mentioned before that the crafts and the habits of them do not come together in groups. Persons who previously had some good habit 1436 are rarely able to become skilled in another or to master it completely.

54. The craft of poetry and the way of learning it

This discipline is one of the disciplines connected with Arab speech.

The Arabs call it “poetry” (shi’r). It exists in all the other languages. Here, however, we speak only about Arabic poetry. It is possible that the speakers of other languages, too, find in (poetry) the things they desire to express in their speech. 1438 However, each language has its own particular laws concerning eloquence. 1439

Poetry in the Arabic language is remarkable in (its) manner and powerful in its way. It is speech that is divided into cola having the same meter and held together by the last letter of each colon. Each of those cola is called a “verse.” The last letter, which all the verses (of a poem) have in common, is called the “rhyme letter.” The whole complex is called a “poem” (qasidah or kalimah).

Each verse, with its combinations of words, is by itself a meaningful unit. In a way, it is a statement by itself, and independent of what precedes and what follows. By itself it makes perfect sense, either as a laudatory or an erotic (statement), or as an elegy. It is the intention of the poet to give each verse an independent meaning. Then, in the next verse, he starts anew, in the same way, with some other (matter). He changes over from one (poetical) type to another, and from one topic to another, by preparing the first topic and the ideas expressing it in such a way that it becomes related to the next topic. Sharp contrasts are kept out of the poem. The poet thus continuously changes over from the erotic to the laudatory (verses).

From a description of the desert and the traces of abandoned camps, he changes over to a description of camels on the march, or horses, or apparitions (of the beloved in a dream). From a description of the person to be praised, he changes over to a description of his people and his army. From (an expression of) grief and condolence in elegies, he changes over to praise of the deceased, and so on.

Attention is paid to retaining the same meter throughout the whole poem, in order to avoid one’s natural inclination to pass from one meter to another, similar one. Since (the meters) are similar (to each other), many people do not notice (the need to retain the same meter).

The meters are governed by certain conditions and rules. They are the subject of the science of prosody. Not every meter that may occur in nature was used by the Arabs in poetry. The (meters used) are special ones called meters (buhur) by the prosodists, who restricted their number to fifteen, indicating that they did not find the Arabs using other natural meters in poetry.

The Arabs thought highly of poetry as a form of speech. Therefore, they made it the archive of their sciences and their history, 1440 the evidence for what they considered right and wrong, and the principle basis of reference for most of their sciences and wisdom. The poetical habit was firmly established in them, like all their other habits. The (Arabic) linguistic habits can be acquired only through technical (skill) and (constant) practice of (Arab) speech.

Eventually, some sign 1441 of the (poetical) habit may be obtained. Of the forms of speech, poetry is a difficult thing for modem people to learn, if they want to acquire the habit of it through (study of it as) a technique. Each verse is an independent statement of meaning suitable for (quotation) by itself. It requires a kind of refinement of the (poetical) habit, for the (poet) to be able to pour poeticalspeech into molds suitable to this tendency of Arabic poetry (to have verses that are units by themselves).

A poet must produce (a verse that) stands alone, and then make another verse in the same way, and again another, and thus go through all the different topics suitable to the thing he wants to express. Then, he establishes harmony among the verses as they follow upon each other in accordance with the different topics occurring in the poem.

(Poetry) is difficult in its tendency and strange in its subject matter.

Therefore, it constitutes a severe test of a person’s natural talent, if he wants to have a good knowledge of (poetical) methods. 1442 (The desire) to press speech into the molds of (poetry) sharpens the mind. (Possession of) the Arabic linguistic habit in general does not suffice. In particular, a certain refinement is needed, as well as the exercise of a certain skill in observing the special poetic methods which the Arabs used.

What is the word “method” (uslub) used by poets? 1443

They use it to express the loom on which word combinations are woven, or the mold into which they are packed. 1444 It is not used to express the basis (upon which) the meaning (of a statement rests). That is the task of the vowel endings. It also is not used for perfect expression of the idea resulting from the particular word combination used. That is the task of eloquence and style (bayan). 1445

It also is not used in the sense of meter, as employed by the Arabs in (connection with poetry. That is the task of prosody. These three sciences fall outside the craft of poetry.

(Poetical method) is used to refer to a mental form for metrical word combinations which is universal in the sense of conforming with any 1446 particular word combination. This form is abstracted by the mind from the most prominent individual word combinations and given a place in the imagination comparable to a mold or loom. Word combinations that the Arabs consider sound, in the sense of having the (correct) vowel endings and the (proper) style, are then selected and packed by (the mind) into (that form), just as the builder does with the mold, or the weaver with the loom. Eventually, the mold is sufficiently widened to admit the word combinations that fully express what one wants to express. It takes on the form that is sound in the sense (that it corresponds to) the Arabic linguistic habit. Each branch of (poetical) speech has methods peculiar to it and existing in it in different ways.

Thus, in poetry the subject of inquiring after the traces of abandoned camps is treated in the form of direct address. For instance= O house of Mayyah on the height, and the cliff. 1447 Or, it is treated in the form of inviting one’s (traveling) companions to stop and inquire. For instance:

Stop you two, and let us inquire about the house whose inhabitants left so suddenly.1448 Or, it is treated in the form of asking one’s (traveling) companions to weep for the abandoned camp. For instance: Stop you two, and let us weep in remembrance of a beloved and an encampment.1449 Or, it is treated in the form of asking about the answer given to an unspecified addressee.

For instance: 1450Did you not ask, and the traces informed you? Or, for instance, the traces of abandoned camps are greeted by commanding an unspecified addressee to greet them. For instance: Greet the houses near al-‘Azl.1451 Or, (they are greeted) in the form of praying for rain for them. For instance: Let a pouring rain water the traces of their abandoned camps, And let them be covered by luxuriant verdure. 1452 Or, (they are greeted) in the form of asking the lightning to give them rain. For instance: O lightning, look out over an encampment in al-Abraq And drive the clouds there, just as she-camels are driven. 1453 Or, for instance, in an elegy grief is expressed in the form of asking (people) to weep. For instance: So be it. Let the matter be described and treated as an odious one. There is no excuse for an eye whose tears are not shed. 1454 Or, (it is expressed) in the form of stressing the importance of the happening. For instance: Did you see whom they carried by on wooden boards?

Did you see how the light of the (tribal) council went out? 1455 Or, (it is expressed) in the form of stating that (all) created things are destined to misfortune because of the loss (of the mourned person). For instance: Verdant pastures! (You have) no protector and guardian.

Death took away the (warrior) with the long lance and the great power. 1456 Or, (it is expressed) in the form of expressing disapproval of the lifeless objects that show no grief, as in the verse of the Kharijite (poetess): O trees of the Khabur! What is the matter with you that you are green, As if you were feeling no grief for Ibn Tarif 1457 Or, (it is expressed) in the form of congratulating the adversary of (the deceased), that he can now rest from the force of (the deceased’s) onslaught. For instance:

Rabi’ah b. Nizar, lay down (your) lances.

Death took away your adversary, who was always going on raids. 1458 There are many similar things in all branches and ways of (poetical) speech. Word combinations in (poetry) may or may not be sentences. They may be commands or statements, nominal sentences or verbal sentences, followed by appositions or not followed by appositions, separate or connected, as is the case with the word combinations of Arabic speech and 1459 the position of individual words in respect to each other. This teaches a person the universal mold which he can learn through (constant) practice in Arabic poetry. (This universal mold) is an abstraction in the mind derived from specific word combinations, to all of which the (universal) mold conforms. The 1460 author of a spoken utterance is like a builder or weaver. The proper mental form is like the mold used in building, or the loom used in weaving. The builder who abandons his mold, or the weaver who abandons his loom, is unsuccessful.

It should not be said that knowledge of the rules of eloquence suffices in thisrespect. We say= They are merely basic scientific rules which are the result of analogical reasoning and which indicate by means of analogical reasoning that the word combinations may be used in their particular forms. We have here scientific analogical reasoning that is sound and coherent, as is the analogical reasoning that establishes the rules concerning the vowel endings. (But) the (poetical) methods which we try to establish here have nothing to do with analogical reasoning. They are a form that is firmly rooted in the soul. It is the result of the continuity of word combinations in Arabic poetry when the tongue uses them. Eventually, the form of those word combinations) becomes firmly established. It teaches (the poet) the use of similar (word combinations). (It teaches him) to imitate them for each word combination (that he may use) in the poetry (he produces), just as we have mentioned before in connection with speech in general. 1461

The scientific rules that govern the word endings or 1462 syntax and style (bayan) do not teach (poetry). Not everything that is correct according to analogical reasoning, as used in connection with Arabic speech and the scientific (grammatical) rules, is used by (poets). They use certain ways (of expressing themselves) which are known and studied by those who have expert knowledge of (poetical) speech and the forms of which fall (automatically) under those analogical rules. If Arabic poetry is to be studied under this aspect and under the aspect of the methods in the mind that are like molds (for poetical expression), it means studying word combinations as they are used by the (Arabs). It does not mean studying the things required by analogical reasoning.

Therefore, we have stated that the molds in the mind are the result of expert knowledge of Arab poetry and speech. Such molds exist not only for poetry but also for prose. The Arabs used their speech for both (poetry and prose), and they used certain types of divisions for both kinds of speech. In poetry, these are metrical cola, fixed rhymes, and the fact that each colon constitutes a statement by itself. In prose, as a rule, (the Arabs) observed symmetry and parallelism between the cola. Sometimes, they used prose rhymes, and sometimes straight prose. 1463 The molds for each kind of (expression) are well known in Arabic. The author of a spoken utterance builds his utterance in (the molds) used by (the Arabs). They are known only to those who have expert knowledge of (Arabic) speech, such that in their minds they have an absolute universal mold, which is the result of abstraction from specific individual molds. They use (that universal mold) as their model in composing utterances, just as builders use the mold as their model, and weavers the loom. The discipline of speech composition, therefore, differs from the studies of the grammarian, the stylist (literary critic), and the prosodist. It is true, though, that observance of the rules of those sciences is obligatory for and indispensable to (the poet). When all these qualities together are found to apply to a spoken utterance, it is distinguished by a subtle kind of insight into those molds which are called “methods.” Only expert knowledge of both Arab poetry and Arab prose gives (that insight).


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