Literary CornerAn Anthology of Arab Humor In Arab Literature(3-3) [Archives:2005/880/Culture]

September 26 2005

Abu Al-Kalmah Al-Tayyibah
The anthology under review is no significant, not just from a literary standpoint, but also because it gives the reader of these modern times a vivid portrayal of the social life that prevailed in the various intervals of the post-Islamic history of the Arabs. The character of such life was also prevalent in the various “opened” territories that fell under Arab or Islamic rule, in which the Arabic language was the key medium of communications in officialdom, the scholastic community and among the elite. The significance of Arab poetry as a medium of giving rulers news about the trends in pyulbic opinion continued at theis period as well, because of the rhythmic nature of Arabic poetry and its structure. As such it is easy to memorize. I know of many people who can memorize thousands of verses of several poets, from the past and from the present, and the verses flow of their lips like any normal conversation coming out of their mouths and it is really outstanding to listen to these people. Even if they may have forgotten a line or two the unique structure of Arabic poetry enables them to realize this quickly and entice them to go to reciting the missing verse.

When the Abbasid Caliphate become relatively weak and the calips succumbed to the proddings and dictation of the people of theoccupied territories, namely the Persians and the Turks (in all their various genealogical orientations) and have lost their charisma over the subjects as a whole and their charisma amongst the Arabs in particular, a poet could not help but recite the following verses:

A Caliph in a box,

Among servants and conquered subjects

He says what they tell him to say

Like the sayings of a parrot.

Then there is the poetry of wisdom and proverbs that are to give guidelines on life and some civility to society:

The wealth of the the bankrupt

Don't't be a slave to hope, as wishful thinking

Is only capital of the bankrupt.

On the other hand there are the discontent among the poets as well (Chapter 2), many of which recited poems that were made in jest at their miserable lot, with a clear indication htat they still have their dignity nevertheless given in a somewhat sarcastic way:

This is Omer Ibn Al-Hudeir describing his miserable feelings at misfortune always rainging upon him:

I stood not knowing where to go,

And which matters should I be committed to ride on

I wondered at ill-fates that occurred in sequence,

With the misfortune of my poverty oall my life a wonder

When I sought the rope of subsistence to relieve me,

And it did not prescribe for me from its fresh water sea any drink.

Then he went on to dezscribe hwo he sought the hand of a poor girl from her father, hoping htat he could be reqwarded a better fortune in life. All he could come up with a son, who was just as miserable as he was, and had he wanted to hide behind his shadow from an evil,

The light of the sun would have come from where it sets!

He continues in later verses:

If I see good in my dreams then it will depart,

But if I dreamt an evil,

Then from me it will surely be close!

If I a pursue an endeavor, I wish to succeed in,

I woiuld only meet up with ahwks and rabbits .

Before is a legions of deprivation,

And behind me all one sees are legions of poor poets

There are also many nice poems about a man who describes how he had to bear the annoying noise of a rat at night, so he went on this long discourse about why a rat should only stay up at night, the time of his lseep and escape from the struggle for life. Why can't the rats eat and wake up like humans, and he asks several questions about how he could bring himself to cause him so much annoyance. He then decides to get a mousetrap and sets it up. When it catches the scoundrel, the latter starts shrieking and screaming:

Its painful cries rose as I he saw me,

And sought my sysmapthy by showing his broken limb

It called me by its tongue of condition, to you verily do I

Repent, so please release me and let me be.

He did feel sorry for him and let him go. When his friends saw this as foolish he says:

I cared not for the resentment of all my friends,

After having gained the satisfaction and acceptance of me by that rat!