« ZurückWeiter »
difference between the tribes follows, in one couplet of which occurs a truly Arabic personification of death.
Fearless, he rush'd the hostile tents among,
Where Death, the vulture's mother, feeds her young.
He concludes with a number of fine maxims, not unlike the Proverbs of Solomon, which he repeats to his friend as a specimen of the wisdom he had acquired by long experience.
The Poem of Lebeid is, perhaps, the most beautiful in the collection. The author was the longest-lived poet upon record, having died at the age of one hundred and forty-five years; an uncommon age, even after making an allowance of between four and five years for lunar months. At the age of ninety, he became a follower of Mahomet, and is reported to have expressed a wish to bury in oblivion all the reputation he had acquired in the time of his ignorance. Being once asked whom, among the Arabs, he considered the greatest poets, he named the two first of his companions in the present collection, Amriolkais, and Tarafa. On being pressed to fix on a third, he, in an enigmatical way, designated himself. We will quote the lines which Lebeid wrote on completing his hundred and fortieth year.
"Time in his lengthened chain of years has bound
But waxes stronger, while I waste away."
The opening of the poem which is more particularly the object of our present notice, is of the nature of a love elegy, and the greater part of it purely pastoral, yet it seems to have been composed on an occasion more exalted than the departure of a mistress or the complaints of a lover. The poet, having been engaged in a warm controversy with the chief of the Absites, concerning the comparative excellence of their tribes, relates of himself, that he maintained the glory of his countrymen and his own dignity against all opponents: and in order to render his triumph more brilliant, he produced, at the annual assembly, the following poem, which he was allowed to suspend at the gate of the temple.
The first fifteen couplets are extremely picturesque and highly characteristic of Arabian manners. They have been translated into elegiac stanzas by the late Arabic professor at Cambridge, J. D. Carlyle, and were published amongst his Specimens of Arabian Poetry, in 1796. The
subject of this elegy, says the Professor, is one that must be ever interesting to a feeling mind-the return of a person, after a long absence, to the place where he had spent his early years. It is, in fact, an Arabian Deserted Village. The following are the introductory lines, and the reader will assuredly regret, that so able a translator should have only rendered a small portion of but one of these poems.
"Those dear abodes, which once contained the fair,
Amidst Mitáta's wilds, I seek in vain;
Nor towers, nor tents, nor cottages, are there,
The proud canals, that once Rayána graced,
Like moss-grown letters on a mouldering stone.
Rayána, say, how many a tedious year
Its hallow'd circle o'er our heads hath roll'd,
How oft, since then, the star of spring, that pours
How oft, since then, the hovering mist of morn
Hath caused thy locks with glittering gems to glow?
To fall responsive to the breeze below?
The matted thistles, bending to the gale,
Now clothe those meadows, once with verdure gay;
Amidst the windings of that lonely vale
The teeming antelope and ostrich stray:
The large-eyed mother of the herd, that flies
Man's noisy haunts, here finds a sure retreat;
Our only other extract from Lebeid shall be in the words of Sir William Jones.
"But, ah! thou know'st not in what youthful play
Gay songs and cheerful tales deceiv'd the time,
Sweet was the draught, and sweet the blooming maid,
This is a description of a rural banquet of the Arabians, before their primitive manners were invaded and destroyed by the jealous rules of Mahometan life. The occasion of this poet's conversion to Islamism is thus related. Lebeid, who had been a violent opposer of Mahomet, fixed a poem on the gate of the temple, beginning with the following distich, in which he apparently meant to reflect upon the new religion. "Are not all things vain which come not from God? and will not all honours decay but those which he confers?" These lines appeared so sublime, that none of the poets ventured to answer them, till Mahomet, having composed the second chapter of the Koran, placed the opening of it by the side of Lebeid's poem; who no sooner read it, than he declared it to be something divine, confessed his own inferiority, tore his verses from the gate, and embraced the religion of his rival.
Antara is the boldest of the poets of Arabia. He is the Antar whose adventures have lately been given to the English reader by Mr. Hamilton, under the name of a Bedouin Romance. This work is richly interspersed with specimens of his poetical powers, which in vigour and animation resemble the most forcible passages in his Moállakáh. But Antara could descend from his lofty flights to pathetic and pastoral strains. His poem is on the same model as the preceding, and, in common with them, includes a minute description of the camel on which he had planned an excursion in search of his mistress. We will quote a few of the lines.
"I'll choose a camel of surpassing speed,
Patient of thirst, from Shaden's generous breed.
It is, after expatiating on his own various accomplishments and virtues, his mildness to those who are kind, and his
fierceness to those who are hostile to him, his disregard of wealth, his gaiety and liberality, that he breaks out triumphantly and characteristically in praise of his military prowess and spiritual enterprise.
"On! Antar, on! the exulting warriors cry—
"Till streams of blood o'erflow'd my courser's chest ;
And, though the words of utterance were denied,
While sobs of anguish from his heart strings broke;
And proudly charges 'mid his proud compeers,
On! Antar, on! the exulting warriors cry."
He concludes with a wish that he may live to slay his two most rancorous enemies, and with a bitter exultation on the death of their father, whom he had left a prey to the wild beasts and the vultures.
"Oh! may I live till justice on the heads
Of Demden's sons the cup of vengeance sheds !
The two last of the seven poems, those of Amru and Hareth, are said to have been recited, by their authors, at the head of their respective clans, before King Amru, the son of Hinda, who had undertaken to decide their different claims to pre-eminence.
"Wake! damsel, wake! and bring yon generous wine,
Fill, fill the crimson goblet to the brim,
Till the wine totters o'er the circling rim:
Cheer'd by its smiles, the youth forgets his care;
After opening his poem in this jovial strain, he changes the subject immediately to the usual topics of the Arabian bards. He complains of the departure of his mistress, whose beauties he delineates with a boldness and energy highly characteristic of unpolished manners. The rest of his work consists of menaces, vaunts, and exaggerated eulogies on his own tribe. We will give the concluding extract of Amru's poem:
"Ours is the world, and all its riches ours;
And still our ships shall rule the boundless main."
When Amru had finished his extravagant panegyric on the tribe of Tagleb, and had received the loud applause of his own party, Hareth arose, and pronounced the last of the poems before us. This speech in verse he delivered, according to some authors, without any premeditation; but others assert, with greater appearance of probability, that he had prepared and committed it to memory. Although, if we believe one of his commentators, the poet was considerably above one hundred years old at this time, yet he is said to have poured forth his couplets with such energy, that without perceiving it, he cut his hand with the string of his bow, on which, after the manner of the Arabian orators, he leaned while he was speaking.
He thus addresses his impetuous opponent, whose calumnious aspersions had roused the old warrior's indignation:
"Oh! thou adorner of a slanderous tale,
Where sunshine settles, and whence clouds retreat;