Al-Mutanabbi : voice of the 'Abbasid poetic ideal by Margaret Larkin

By Margaret Larkin

"Abu'l-Tayyib al-Mutanabbi (915-965) is frequently considered as the best of the classical Arab poets, together with his paintings occupying a special place on the middle of Arab tradition. Born the son of a water-carrier in Kufah, Iraq, al-Mutanabbi lived a tumultuous lif.

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Although the stakes were fairly high for al-Mutanabbi, the brevity and hyper-conventionality of the first of these two poems suggest a more casual performance setting than that of the ode. There is nothing very original about either of these two pieces. qxd 9/14/2007 1:57 PM Page 42 42 AL-MUTANABBI ‘Abbasid poet – especially when he was trying, as al-Mutanabbi was, to impress a potential “maecenas. ” Creatively, the panegyrist of the tenth century was in a very difficult situation. The only question for the poet was how to say, in a somewhat new way, what hundreds of poets before him had said.

Of the three poems composed for Sayf al-Dawlah during his stay at his cousin’s court, only the first was a polythematic ode; the others were occasional poems – “occasional” in both the sense that they treated only one topic and the sense that they were occasioned by the particular circumstances of the moment. Sayf al-Dawlah had decided to leave Antioch and return to Aleppo, and in two short poems alMutanabbi appealed to him to change his plans and stay on. After a brief stylized description of the travails the poet had endured to reach the patron, the hero is lauded in the panegyric section of the poem for his bravery, his generosity, and his nobility of spirit.

Sayf al-Dawlah (r. 945–967 ce), the leader of the northern Syria branch of the Hamdanid dynasty, would eventually represent for al-Mutanabbi the longed-for ideal Arab hero he had thought was no longer to be found. qxd 9/14/2007 1:56 PM Page 14 14 AL-MUTANABBI talented poet. Al-Mutanabbi’s early professional life was a series of frustrations, as he travelled around seeking a long-term and satisfying relationship with a patron. During his days as an itinerant panegyrist, he lauded numerous wealthy bourgeois, but failed to establish a sustained relationship with anyone he deemed a worthy sponsor.

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