Abu Nawas


Maybe you know this poet – maybe not, I think it depends a lot on where you live. He is almost totally unknown in France, for example.

This man is one of the glories of Arabic poetry.

Abu Nawas

What is very interesting about him, besides the poetry, is his learning.

He had an old master.
All the great ones start by having an old master.
This master was a demanding teacher.
When Abu Nawas came to him and said that he wanted to become a poet, his teacher nodded – he had a doubt.
Would he be able to follow the poet’s real teaching?
Abu Nawas felt capable.

So he left with a simple instruction: he had to know by heart all the best poems – that was hundreds and hundreds of poems.
Then he would return to his master.

Abu Nawas memorized hundreds and hundreds of poems. He said them with his heart, he had engraved them in his soul.
Then he thought he was ready and came back to his master.

The master saw everything that the student had learned.
He nodded his head.
Am I now worthy of being a poet, asked Abu Nawas?

The master raised his eyebrows: what a strange idea! what impatience!
No Abu, no – you can’t write poetry – not yet.
It is too early.
Now you must forget everything

Once you have forgotten all those verses, all those images, all those rhythms, all those shivers of the souls, then you can start writing.

Abu Nawas then managed to forget these major poems that he had learned with so much heart.

The story goes that he forgot them in alcohol – he liked to drink a lot – and in the arms of those he liked: he was very handsome – and particularly charmed by boys – which I understand very well.
In a word, he lost what was left of his “virtue”.

He went to Baghdad.

He writes. And his poetry charms everyone – starting with the Sultan. It is a joyful poetry, a poetry of city, a poetry of wine and gaiety, a poetry where love is light and happy.

Translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, Translations of Eastern Poetry and Prose (Cambridge at the University Press, 1922)

Ho! a cup, and fill it up, and tell me it is wine,
For never will I drink in shade if I can drink in shine.
Curst and poor is every hour that sober I must go,
But rich am I whene’er well drunk I stagger to and fro.
Speak, for shame, the loved one’s name, let vain disguises fall;
Good for naught are pleasures hid behind a curtain-wall.

Don’t cry for Layla, don’t rave about Hind!
But drink among roses a rose-red wine,
A draught that descends in the drinker’s throat,
bestowing its redness on eyes and cheeks.
The wine is a ruby, the glass is a pearl,
served by the hand of a slim-fingered girl,
Who serves you the wine from her hand, and wine
from her mouth – doubly drunk, for sure, will you be.
Thus I am drunk twice, my friends only once:
a favor special, for me alone!

In the bath-house, the mysteries hidden by trousers
Are revealed to you.
All becomes radiantly manifest.
Feast your eyes without restraint!
You see handsome buttocks, shapely trim torsos,
You hear the guys whispering pious formulas
to one another
(‘God is Great! ‘ ‘Praise be to God! ‘)
Ah, what a palace of pleasure is the bath-house!
Even when the towel-bearers come in
And spoil the fun a bit.

I die of love for him, perfect in every way,
Lost in the strains of wafting music.
My eyes are fixed upon his delightful body
And I do not wonder at his beauty.
His waist is a sapling, his face a moon,
And loveliness rolls off his rosy cheek
I die of love for you, but keep this secret:
The tie that binds us is an unbreakable rope.
How much time did your creation take, O angel?
So what! All I want is to sing your praises.

Above all, it is a poetry of astonishing power.
A new writing – that no one has ever read – with deep roots in the works of the past – the master’s teaching bore fruit: Abu Nawas made the works of the ancients his own, to the point of integrating them into his soul – and thus he was able to transform them.

That’s why, despite his great age, Abu Nawas is just right for a theatre like Altair – where the old roots are not cut – on the contrary, they are there to see new branches grow, for new fruits and attract new animals all around

Sorry ? The ? the what ? the stage ??????

oh… well, let’s see :

isn’t it wonderful as an adaptation to the stage?

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See you on Friday 🙂

10 Thoughts

  1. Wow to think……memorize hundreds of poems and then forget them. But I guess it worked, his poetry then came through and came through brightly. The music is unusual and I agree with the comment “Proper Belting” .

    Liked by 1 person

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