The qasldas of Attar

There is no question about Farld ad-Din 'Attar's position within the tradition of Sufi poetry, as we saw already in the previous chapter where his collection of mystical quatrians was discussed. Although the emphasis of his work was on other forms, especially the ghazal and the masnavi, 'Attar also left a number of homiletic qasldas. They are quite interesting specimens of the genre which deserve a more detailed examination than it is possible to enter upon here. However, one feature should be mentioned as it adds significantly to the characteristics of zuhdiyat poetry noted already, namely the use of narratives. The first poem in the o o collection, as it occurs in the edition of the Divan, includes samples of several topics current in this genre. The themes of God's Unity (tauhid), the praise of the Prophet (na't) and the Heavenly Journey (mi raj) are all included, serving to build up an impressive homily on the subject of man's insignificance when faced with the radiance of the Divine. In addition to a varied imagery, 'Attar also inserts a fable:

A gnat, so it is told, was sitting at the seaside,

Bowing its head in deep thought, deploring its weakness.

When asked what it wanted so badly, the poor gnat replied:

7 wished I could hold all this water!', it said.

'You could not contain it, they said, don't say such things!'

It answered: 'But how could I consent to despair?

Do not regard the impotence of my body;

Look from where the desire to attain this arose!'.

To conclude this brief survey, a few words need to be said about the qaslda as it was used by later poets. It could be argued with some justification that the rise of the religious qaslda since the time of Sana'! saved the form from complete oblivion. After the twelfth century, its role as a medium of court poetry was sharply diminished and it remained very much in the background until the neo-classicist revival of the Qajar period. Instead the qaslda became primarily a vehicle of religious praise directed towards the Prophet and, increasingly, also to the Imam 'All and his descendants. A growing interest in the writing of this kind of poems, designated as manaqib ('[enumeration] of virtues') can be noticed already before the general spread of Shi'ite Islam in Persia under the Safavids. The central theme of these poems was, quite naturally, the lament for the suffering of the holy martyrs at the battle of Kerbela (680) where the third Imam Husayn and his followers were slaughtered by their Ummayad foes. Most manaqibs were, therefore, elegies which gained great popularity because of their usefulness for the religious ceremonies during the festival of Muharram. The most famous poem of this kind was

the duväzdah-band by the Safavid poet Muhtasham (d. 1587).

This poem was not written as a qaslda, but in the more elaborate form of a stanzaic poem, consisting of a sequence of short stanzas with different rhymes linked together only by their final lines.

Several variations of these forms have been created but their importance to our subject is only slight.


1. Cf. E. Wagner, Grundzüge der klassischen arabischen Dichtung, ii, Darmstadt 1988, pp. 120-30.

2. See Stefan Sperl and Christopher Shackle, Qasida Poetry in Islamic Asia and Africa, 2 vols., Leiden 1996, especially the contributions by Julie Scott Meisami and Michael Glünz on Persian qasldas, Vol. i, pp. 137-203.

4. EI, s.v. Kisä'i, and De Blois, PL, v/1, pp. 179-80 with further bibliographical references.

5. Muhammad 'Aufl, Lubäb al-albäb, Part ii, ed. by E.G. Browne, London-Leiden 1903, p. 33.

6. The edition of his Divän-i ash'är, by N. Taqavl contains a still valuable essay on his life and poetry by Hasan Taqlzäda; see further De Blois, PL, v/1, pp. 201-06.

7. See the examples translated by Browne, LHP, ii, p. 162.

9. Tarjama-yi Kalila va Dimna, ed. by M. Mlnuvl, Tehran 1343/1964, p. 396 = Sanä'i, Divän, p. 396, bb. 4-6.

12. This qasida was analysed by A. Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger, pp. 195-200. The Koran is quoted, here and elsewhere in this book, from the translation by A J. Arberry.

14. On the life of this poet see B. Reinert, EI s.v. KhäkänI.

15. These poems belong to the genre of prison-poetry the most important specimens of which are to be found in the poetry of Mas'üd-i Sa'd-i Salman; see EI Suppl., s.v. Habsiyya.

17. The Kashf al Mahjub, p. 155; the virtue of himmat in the conception of Khäqänl is discussed by A.L.F.A. Beelaert, A Cure for the Grieving, privately published, Leiden 1996, pp. 108 ff.

20. Browne, LHP, ii, pp. 540-42; Arberry, CPL, pp. 244-48; Rypka, HIL, p. 214; A.H. Zarrlnkoob, EI, s.v. Kama] al-Dln.

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