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Verbal Arabesque and Mystical Union: A Study of Ibn al-Farid's "Al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra" Author(s): Issa J.

Verbal Arabesque and Mystical Union: A Study of Ibn al-Farid's "Al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra" Author(s): Issa J. Boullata Source: Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring 1981), pp. 152-169 Published by: Pluto Journals Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41854901 Accessed: 18-11-2018 02:24 UTC

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Studies Quarterly

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Verbal Arabesque and Mystical Union:

A Study of Ibn al-Farid's "Al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra"

Issa J. Boullata


The aim of this article is to explore the relationship of style and meaning

in Ibn al-Farid's ode "Nazmal-Suluk" known as "al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra." It

also hopes to show how a poet uses the literary conventions of his culture to

express creative ideas and how, by setting out from the tradition, he can be

innovativeandunique. Butsinceformandcontentareinseparableelements

of literary structure, it is expected that the discussion will also shed light on

Ibn al-Farid's thought, and thus possibly contribute to a deeper under- standing of his Sufism.

It is disconcerting to note how little the literary historians, critics, and

commentators of the past have dealt with this aspect of Ibn al-Farid's work.

They concentrated on his thought to explain his complex ideas, some of themhoping to establish his orthodoxy and win himsupport, others to prove that he was heretical and ought to be banned.1 When his style was

mentioned at all, it was referred to in lavish terms by admirers with little

analytical concern or else it was severely criticized by enemies as surrep-


Issa J. Boullata is Professor of Arabic Literature and Language, Institute of IslamicStudies, McGill University, Montreal.

This is a contribution to a forthcoming Festschrift honoring Dr. Ihsan Abbas on

his 60th birthday, edited by Dr. Salma Khadra Jayyusi and containing essays on

Arabic literary criticism by several of his friends, colleagues, and former students.

1. Among those who wrote in support of Ibn al-Farid are his commentators Sa'id

al-Din al-Farghani (d. 669/1271) in Muntaha al-Madarik (Istanbul, 1293/1876);

'Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani (d. 730/1330)

A.H.); Dawud b. Mahmud al-Qaysari (d. 751/1350) in "Sharh al-Ta4iyya" extant in several MSS.; andothers includingal-Suyuti (d. 911/1505), al-Shakrani (d. 973/ 1565), Hasanal-Burini (d. 1024/1615), and*Abdal-Ghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1143/

1731). Among those who wrote disapprovingly are Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) in

Majmu'at al- Rasa' il wa'l-Masa'il, 5 vols. (Cairo, 1341-1349 A.H.); Ibn H ajar al-

'Asqalani (d. 852/1449) in Lisan al-Mizan , 7 vols. (Haydarabad, 1329-1331 a.h.);

Burhan al-Din Ibrahim al-Biqa4i (d. 885/1480)

Takfir Ibn al-Farid" and other writings extant in MS. form; and others. For a

general conspectus, seeMuhammadMustafa Hilmi, Ibnal-Faridwa'l-Hubbal-

in Kashf al-Wujuh al-Ghurr(C airo, 1319

in "al-Natiq bi 'l-Sawab al-Farid li-

Ilahi (Cairo, 1945), pp. 74-93.

152 ASQ Volume 3 Number 2

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Verbal Arabesque 153

Al-Qashani (d. 730/ 1330), 2 on

al-Suluk," writes:

The obligation to speak about div

state of intoxication made him

unity and the hidden mysteries o

called "The Stringing of Pearls." [

revealed ideas like boudoir-virgins

or jinn , looking like sapphire an

the veil, like paradise nymphs se fluent orators were rendered un

revealed knowledge and vision, and

comeliness. They all recognized

gathered the best arts of rhetori


Al-Qaysari (d. 751 / 1350), 4 ano

less lavish in praise:

He composed the ode of "The St

virgin brides with brilliant faces.

age nor will human nature permi

nights. It cannot be described in la symbolic clarification. For in each

poetic feats such as paronomasia

other devices mentioned in the sci concerned. As for meaning, he use

manners and showed thereby the

guided, and the abodes of those

moving to the stations of knower

pointed to the perfections of th

perfecting, and he revealed the r

stages and reached the highest s

never equalled by any one of the

2. His name published on the titl

Razzaq al-Kashani. But this work is

named izz al-Din Mahmud al-Kash

MSS. of the book, e.g., Paris 3163

mann, GAL , S. I, 463.

3. al-Kashani, Kashf al-Wujuh al-Ghurr , pp. 7-8.

4. Dawud b. Mahmud b. Muhammad al-Rumi al-Qaysari, see Brockelmann,

GAL 2:231 and GAL , S. 2:323.

5. al-Qaysari, "Sharh al-Ta'iyya," MS. Add. 3668 (8) at the University Library,

Cambridge, England, folio 3a.

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154 Arab Studies Quarterly

Ibn Hajar al-4Asqalani (d. 852/1449), o

Ibn al-Farid's doctrine of ittihad (mysti

to think well of Sufis generally. He says t

style and symbols there is what he cal

quotes al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1348) who s

adulterated with the idea of ittihad in

most delicate metaphors, and is like po Modern Arab writers have hardly bee

Generally imbued with the modern revu

they have not appreciated Ibn al-Farid's

Muhammad Mustafa Hilmi, who has w devotes hardly more than one page to

characterizing it as one distinguished by

exaggeration in rhetorical embellishme

cerned Ibn al-Farid less than wording a

producing paronomasia, antithesis, paral

cal embellishment.8 The only redeeming f

"occasionally disgustful" ( mamjuja ), is

beginners learning versification, and its

poetic taste is thus formed under its influ

of Ibn al-Farid's Diwan to this feature b of extreme beauty in it.10

Modern Western scholars also do no

attention. When they discuss it, as in t

Arberry, they hover over it lightly, t

character, and fall short of its essence. Lo

of generalities when he described Ibn

d'esthétique transcendantale" (a feat of

he described "al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra" as "a and "a sort of kiswa for the spiritual By contrast, Nicholson and Arberry

attempt at grappling with the style, not o

poetry, but also in their brief but insig


6. Ibn Haiar al-'Asaalani. Lisan al- M izan 4:317-19.

7. Hilmi, Ibn al-Farid wa'l-Hubb al-IlahU pp. 51-52.

8. Ibid p. 51.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 52. See also Muhammad Mustafa Hilmi, Ibn al-Farid: Sultan al -

'Ashiain (Cairo, 1963), dd. 223-36.

II. Louis Massignon, La Cité des morts au Caire (Cairo, 1958), p. 64.

12. Ibid. English translation by Annemarie Schimmel, see her Mystical Dimen-

sions of Islam (Chapel Hill, 1975), pp. 274-79.

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Verbal Arabesque 155

If his verse abounds in fantastic co

degree, the conceits and enigmas

intellectual conjuring tricks, but li

vitally connected with the moods

Here, perhaps for the first time

organic unity of style and m

rhetorical devices are seen in the

the poet's "moods of feeling." B

connection functions at the level

emotive condition. He tries to j

composing his verse in a repor

ascribing it to the power of t



not inclined to doubt the sta


largely depend on materials stor

Since the

literary models with which he is fa

and revelations sometimes find sp

ficial style. The intense passion an

are in keeping with this account

The Lebanese scholar Anis al-

tion (without crediting it to him ing the necessity of conscious ef

poet's reported state of profound

While this may be the only rea

does not explain the literary f

Farid's style and their contribu

poem of his.

Al-Maqdisi considers repetition one of the faults of Ibn al-Farid's style. 16 Nicholson sees it in a more understanding perspective but does not offer an


All his odes are variations on a single theme, and the variations themselves

have a certain interior uniformity. Not only do the same "leitmotifs" recur

again and again, but the same metaphors, conceits and paradoxes are continu-

13. R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism iCamhriHoe IQ9H n 1A7

14. Ibid., pp. 167-68.

15. Anis aì-Maqdisi, Umara' al-Shi'r al-' Arabi fi 'l-'Asr al-4Abbasi (Beirut, 1969,

8th printing), pp. 460-61.

16. Ibid., pp. 454 et seq.

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156 Arab Studies Quarterly

ally reappearing in new

The poet has

by means of the delicacy of his art, the beauty o sweetness" of his versification - powerful spells t

in his own language. The Diwan is a miracle of

Nicholson is so engrossed in showing how t

monotony of repetition that he fails to anal

tion itself and to assess its meaning in the

Arberry has carried the discussion a little fur

and rhetorical devices in "al-Ta'iyya al-Kubr

The aesthetic effect created by this sharp contr

strongly dominating themes and their almost e

detail of patterned variation is precisely similar t

a monumental building decorated with delicate a

blance is not accidental; for Ibn al-Farid's style, n

other Arab poet, represents the consummation

which culminated (with building materials instead

Alhambra's perfect balance between strength an

This brilliant comparison of the effect of the p

tracery and Alhambra 's perfect balance wou

he sustained the analysis, carrying it more deep

style in Islamic art with special reference to

times. But somehow he retained the false

rhetorical devices from any intended meanin lose ground gained earlier by Nicholson who

meaning as "vitally connected." Arberry sa

There are passages in which he seems to write fascinated by the shapes and sounds of words

struggling desperately to arrange them into so

While this statement refers only to a few

earlier evaluation of the poet's style, when h

son by comparing the aesthetic effect to th

underlying belief that delicate arabesque tr

monumental building vitiates to a large extent

17. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism , p. 1

18. A. J. Arberry, The Poem of the Way (Lond

19. Ibid.

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Verbal Arabesque 157

Without its arabesque tracery, A

of "al-Ta'iyya al-Kubra" in anothe

is without some

tion is as fine and tightly woven as

of the entire poem

Arberry from

his apt metaphor

filigree, since it is the essence of t silver or gold wire. The ornamental

filigree. Similarly, the ornament

of apart from


his poetry; if it is

This must not be taken as a defense of ornament in poetic style. It should rather be understood as implying the unity within style of all the elements producing it and their integration to create meaning in a successful poem. In the style of Ibn al-Farid, ornament is a dominant element. But this fact must

not blind one to the truth of the inalienable character of ornament: it is

inseparable from the other elements of style that work together to produce

meaning in successful poetry.

Why ornament is such a dominant element in Ibn al-Farid's style or why

ornament is more dominant in the literary style of one age than that of

another is another question. Artistic expression in all cultures seems to pass

through ages of varying styles, sometime along the line manifesting itself in

elaboration of form, complexity of ornamentation, and a pervasive effort

after calculated elegance and studied ornate devices. Whether in literature,

music, and architecture, or in painting, sculpture, and other plastic arts,

there develops at one time or another a style that may be called baroque in one culture or may not be called anything in another; that style lays great

emphasis on fastidious or excessive refinement and on preciosity in expres-

sion. It reflects the values of the society producing it as well as that society's

stage of artistic development.

In trying to survey the artistic styles in Arab literary history, the Egyptian

scholar Shawqi Dayf has recognized three styles common to Arabic verse

and prose of all ages.21 Avoiding the terminology of Western literary criti-

cism because he considers it inadequate for Arabic, he has designated these

three styles by terms derived from the Arabic word for making, workman- ship, and skill. The word is san* a which can also mean art or craft, and Dayf

uses it to designate the style which a poet or a writer adopts to produce a

20. Ibid.

21. Shawqi Dayf, al-Fann wa Madhahibuh fi 'l-Shi'r al- Arabi (Cairo, 1969, 7th

edition) and al-Fann wa Madhahibuh fi 7- Nat hr al-' Arabi (Cairo, 1960, 3rd ed.).

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158 Arab Studies Quarterly

literary text that has definite and necessa

literary expression is not as effortless

imitates it. When the effort of the poet o literary text, Dayf uses the derived word

of style. When the effort of the poet

Dayf uses another derived word, tasan

style. Thus from san* a ("art"), to tasnť

ity") Dayf sees styles in Arabic verse an

does not explain why a certain style is ado

becomes prevalent in a particular age ex

Arab civilization have experienced a sim

and sophistication.

Dayfs theory of literary development m

tic to embrace all manner of change in

literature or the other arts. But it may ha

seem to go in cycles and that, when po

and readers have had enough of one style,

process of innovation which introduce

ment seems mostly to be from simple

excessive complexity can often lead to

Individual talent and ingenuity as well

political, religious, or ideological natur

change, though literary theorists sometim

their magnitude, and some even do not sober findings of a member of the Pra

may be helpful to cite here; Jan Mukar

literature is a struggle between the inerti

interventions of personalities. The histo

biography, depicts his struggle with the i is an interaction, therefore, between the l

viduals. But it must be remembered th

viduals are affected by social factors. In

factors into psychological ones that eve

in conjunction with other factors of in


The modern Syrian poet-critic Adonis23 claims that Arab Islamic cultur

has continuously subjugated and suppressed the forces of innovation an

22. Jan Mukarovsky, The Word and Verbal Art, ed. and trans. J. Burbank and P

Steiner (New Haven and London, 1977), p. 175. His essay is entitled 'The Individua and Literary Development."

23. Adunis [4Ali Ahmad Sa'id], al-Thabit wadl~Matahawwil, 3 vols. (Beirut, 1974-


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Verbal Arabesque 159

religiously supported the trends to may be said that style had to devel

to be cornered into ever narrower activities of further elaboration of mere

rhetorical embellishments, often solely to establish or enhance reputation

for virtuosity, because these were safe havens for poets who wanted to

introduce change without being ostracized. But Adonis's theory - a general-

ly Weberian one - is hotly debated. Nor would a Marxist theory be less

hotly debated as it attempts to explode "the myth of sublime literature"24

and consider rhetorical embellishments as so much decadent art nourished

by the ruling and economically dominant class that aims at suppressing the

masses and deluding them by dazzle and tinsel to keep them away from

broaching the real issues of life. As noted earlier, literary theorists generally

disagree on the modality or the magnitude of social factors in literary

development, some even deny their having any effect.

What concerns us here is that by the seventh/ thirteenth century, when Ibn

al-Farid was writing, style in Arabic literature had developed certain fea- tures of elaboration and excessive ornamentation. No poet of any import

ever hoped to get his meaning across by ignoring them. This style had

become the literary idiom of the time - a consummation of over four centu- ries of development. Like the great poet that he was, he must have intuitively known that his contribution to literary tradition could succeed only by using

the established conventions to the best advantage and that, if his individual

talent was to have any effect on the general bearing and orientation of the

tradition, and perhaps ultimately of the culture, he must speak the idiom of his time while trying to transcend it. His total contribution to the tradition

and, eventually, to the culture is measured by his success in adding some-

thing unique, completely his own, yet genuinely embedded in the matrix of

the conventions of his time.

It may well be that his contribution was in a style which Dayf charac-

terizes as tasannu ', i.e., a style replete with traces of excessive technical

effort; but it is not true that technical effort here means merely rhetorical

embellishment. Though rhetorical embellishments are predominant in Ibn

al-Farid's style, they do not constitute his only mark of expert control over

his time's literary conventions. These latter extend to areas of literary structure that go back even to pre-Islamic times and consist of age-old

accumulations of attitudes, maxims, concepts, genres, historical symbols,

literary allusions, and Islamic and other religious and cultural referents. To

be ignorant of them renders Ibn al-Farid's poetry rather incomprehensible.

As Arberry says, "His style, like that of some modern poets, presupposes in

24. There is even a book so entitled in Arabic, namely, Usturat al-Adab al-Rafl'

(Baghdad, 1957) by 'Ali al-Wardi, a mildly socialist Iraqi sociologist.

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160 Arab Studies Quarterly

the reader a ready- familiarity with a wid

Ibn al-Farid mastered the conventions o

them by creating a new artifact to expre

This is what all good poets try to do, the

degree in which each of them achieves t

quality of what he has to say, and ultimately


Control of the tradition means deep and wide knowledge of its master-

pieces, its other writings, and the national lore. It does not mean an

enslavement to the past or a slavish imitation of bygone achievements, for

real knowledge of the tradition results in a creative assimilation of its values.

Through a principle of inclusion and exclusion developed under the in-

fluence of social factors and of individual traits, this assimilation helps to

form the poet's vision. When he writes, his personality shows through; his

originality is reflected in how he uses or manipulates the tradition or how he

reacts to it or struggles against it as he places himself in the context of its

total historical effect.

Ibn al-Farid's contribution to Arabic literature attests to a high degree of

control of the tradition. One needs to be familiar with a wide repertoire of

reference to understand him. This is particularly so since his topic is Sufism

which, by his time, had reached an advanced stage of growth whereby Sufi

writings had developed their own tradition within the larger literary tradi-

tion of the Arabs.


It is impossible within the limits of this article to study the ode"Nazm al- Suluk"26 in its totality. I will concentrate on one section, namely, the passage from verse 549 to verse 574, in order to explore the relationship of style and

meaning and to show at least some aspects of the poet's control of the

tradition. This particular section is close to the spiritual climax of the whole

poem and has not been studied enough.

R. A. Nicholson, who has translated the ode except for some verses here

and there amounting to a quarter of the whole,27 has chosen not to render

this passage in English. He explains:

25. Arberrv, The Poem of the Wa'' pp. 5-6.

26. This poem is also known as "al-Ťa4iyya al-Kubra"(The Greater Ode Rhyming

in T) and consists of 761 verses. This name distinguishes it from Ibn al-Farid's "al-

Ta4iyya al-Sughra" (The Minor Ode Rhyming in T) which consists of 103 verses.

27. For the translation of the ode, see Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism ,

pp. 199-266; see also his note 3, p. 195 for verses not translated.

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Verbal Arabesque 161

In language so figurative as to be a

549-574) the Divine Names accord

the benefits which accrue from

respective spheres of influence, vz invisible world ('alamu ' l-ghayb ),

and the world of almightiness ('a plane of undifferentiated unity

peared. This phase, however, is m

mystical experience plurality retur

exclude the Many, but comprehend

is the essence of the whole.28

Muhammad Mustafa Hilmi has dealt with only part of this section of the

poem and briefly analyzed the poet's concept of the divine Essence and the

Attributes and their relation to Being and phenomenal existence.29

A. J. Arberry who has ably translated the whole ode as The Poem of the Way admits to the difficulty of this passage:

The tension is increased more and more, as the poet meditates upon the

profound mysteries of Unity, until he finally delivers himself of a series of lines

highly mannered and ornamented in an almost complete incoherence of

sensual ecstasy.30

He then gives an idea of the intricate verbal patterns of the passage by

transcribing a few lines from the Arabic original.

Only Arberry has considered it important to draw attention to the intri-

cate verbal patterns of this passage, though he calls its style "highly man-

nered and ornamented." He seems to have given up any attempt to penetrate

the intricacies of style and grasp the meaning of the passage by referring to it

as "an almost complete incoherence of sensual ecstasy." His translation31

does not reflect the verbal patterns in it, of course, but it conveys a sense of

obscurity. Arberry states in his introduction:

1 have striven deliberately to match obscurity with obscurity, and light with

light; seeking at the same time to shadow the sustained tension which I have

remarked as so outstanding a feature of the

I have set myself to

rival Ibn al-Farid's own enigmas, the solutions of which are to be sensed rather

than reasoned.32

28. Ibid., p. 251. A footnote to the passage reads: "The 'alamu ' l-malakut and the

'alamu 'l-jabarut denote the Attributes and the Essence."

29. Hilmi. Ibn a!- Farid wa'l-Huhh nl-Ilnhi nn 901-907

30. Arberry, The Poem of the Wa'' p. 84.

31. Ibid., pp. 57-60, lines 1753-1829 of his blank verse.

32. Ibid., p. 8.

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162 Arab Studies Quarterly

It may be true that meaning in certain p

reasoned. But I believe that in this p

reasoned. The intricate verbal patterns o

poet's style, are themselves significant this extent, any characterization of its

ornamented is inappropriate if the im

mannerism or ornamentation is divorced f

elements of style in a successful poem c

verbal patterning as is obvious in this pass

the scrutiny of the critic.

The passage comes in that section of th

mystical state known as the sobriety of scended a previous state known as the i In this new state there is unity of wors

awareness that the universe and God are one. But this realization is not as

overwhelming to the mystic as when it first struck him and intoxicated him.

Conscious of the unity, he is now conscious also of the separateness of

worshipper and worshipped, of the differentiation between the universe and

God. He knows that the One comprehends the Many, that unity contains

plurality. This knowledge brings harmony into his being as it expresses the

harmony of Being itself. There is therefore sobriety in the realization of this truth, a clarity of thought and emotion, that understands the order of both

phenomenal existence and pure Being, of both the physical world and the

spiritual universe. As this order is understood, there is rejoicing in its


Writing the ode in this state, the poet offers what may be called an

"objective correlative," to use the language of T. S. Eliot. What he presents as

meaning is presented in a style that embodies the meaning. Elements of

order and harmony predominate in the style of this passage which speaks about order and harmony. The verbal patterns in it are not mere otiose or

superfluous ornamentation but are themselves an expression of the meaning


Let us look at those verbal patterns and note their forms and their

repetitions in a harmonious order characterized by a striking homology. The

passage is made up of twenty-six lines of two hemistichs each. It can be

divided thematically and formally into three parts: part 1 (eight lines), verse

549 to verse 556; part 2 (eight lines), verse 557 to verse 564; and part 3 (ten

lines), verse 565 to verse 574. As Nicholson has observed, part 1 describes

the Divine Names according to their characteristic qualities, part 2 speaks of

the benefits which accrue from them, and part 3 tells of their respective spheres of influence. The Divine Names are shown to be Attributes of One

Essence that manifests itself in a plurality of perceived phenomena making

up one universe harmoniously ruled in an infinity of Being and an eternity

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Verbal Arabesque 163

of Oneness. This apparently si

content is couched in a style w

actually very complex too.

Looking at the morphology of gous structures of vocables pla each other horizontally as well similarity among themselves d omitting the nonhomologous a





- bawadi





- tawahir


554 mathani


- maghani





- ragha'ib


The odd lines have the following sequence on omitting the nonhomologous


549 fa-tasrifuha min hafizi 4l-4ahdi awwalan - bi-nafsin

551 wa-tawqifuha min muthiqi i-'ahdi akhiran - bi-nafsin

553 wa-ta'rifuha min qasidi M-hazmi zahiran -

555 wa-tashrifuha min sadiqi 4l-4azmi batinan -

nafsin bi'l-wujudi

nafsin bi4l-shuhud

Subjecting part 2 to the same survey, shows the following sequences with

even lines:

558 4aqa4iq



562 lata'if


- haqa'iq



- jawami4



- saha'if


564 ghuyuth


- huduth


Odd lines:


fa-li-4llabsi minha bi-4tta4alluqi fi maqa - mi 4l-islami 4an


wa-li-4l-hissi minha bi-4ttahaqquqi fi maqa - mi 4l-mani 'an


wa-li-4nnafsi minha bi-4ttakhalluqi fi maqa - mi 4l-ihsani 4an

563 wa-li-4l-jam4i min mabda ka4annaka wa-4ntiha - fa4in lam takun 4an

33. According to the text in Diwan Ibn al- Farida ed. Mahmud Tawfiq (Cairo, ca.

1945), pp. 55-57 with minor corrections.

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164 Arab Studies Quarterly

Part 3 shows the following sequences




- husul





- sara'ir





- magharis


572 ara'ik


- masalik





- 'awa'id


Odd lines:


565 fa-marji'uha

fi 'alami 'sh-shaha - dati


567 wa-matli'uha fi 'alami '1-ghaybi ma -

569 wa-mawdi'uha fi 'alami '1-malakuti ma -

571 wa-mawqi'uha fi 'alami '1-jabaruti min -

573 wa-manba'uha bii-faydi fi kulli 'alamin -

Grammatically, the syntax has been made to highlight the morpholo homology. All words cited above in the even lines are nouns in the no

tive case followed in the text of the passage by nouns in the genitive case which they form crisp construct phrases. Furthermore, in the even lines t

nouns in the genitive case in the middle of each hemistich come in ho

gous pairs and form internal rhymes symmetrically positioned as foll






. anba'in









































. ilhamin






tional phrase






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Verbal Arabesque 165

3, each line begins with a noun in

tional phrase and a genitive noun

(with a minor difference in the las with the even lines and read with constructions in alternate order he

tartan design in a plaided fabric.

weaving of key ideas represented

vertical pattern which balances t

configuration of the harmonious

a full translation or transcriptio

manner as follows:

449 tasrifuha

min hafizi 'l-'ahdi


551 tawqifuha

min muthiqi 'l-'ahdi





min qasidi 'l-hazmi




min sadiqi 'l-'azmi



li 'l-labsi minha

bi 't-ta'alluqi fi maqami



li M-hissi minha

bi 't-tahaqquqi fi maqami



li 'n-nafsi minha

bi 4t-takhalluqi fi maqami


563 li M-janťi

min mabda ka'annaka wa 'ntiha fa 'in lam


Control of them [the Attributes] is

by the first one to guard the

Covenant [God]

Their dedication is

by the last one to confirm the

Covenant [Muhammad]

Making them known is

by the seeker of outward prudence

[scholars of Muslim law]

Their exaltation is

by the one of inward sincere pur-

pose [perfect Muslim mystics]

To the body from them

by attachment to the station of


[legalistic obligations

are for the body]

To the sense from them

by ascertainment in the station of


is for the heart]

[certainty in faith

To the soul from them

by character-acquirement in the

station of beneficence


edification is for the soul by


To union of all

from the beginning of "As if you"

to the end of "If you do not"

[allusion to a Tradition in which

the Prophet said, "Beneficence

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166 Arab Studies Quarterly

565 marji'uha

fi 'alami i-shahadati

567 matli'uha

fi 'alami '1-ghaybi

569 mawdi'uha

fi 'alami '1-malakuti

571 mawqi'uha

fi 'alami '1-jabaruti

573 manba'uha

bi '1-faydi fi kulli 'alamin

[ ihsan ] consists in worshipping

God as if you see H im, for if you do

not see Him, He sees you."]

Their resort

in the visible world is

Their rising place

in the invisible world is

Their locus

in the world of Dominion [i.e., the

Attributes of God] is

Their alighting place

in the world of Omnipotence [i.e.,

the Essence of God] is

Their fountainhead

of overflowing grace

in every world is

As the structure begins to build up a montage of semantic effects, one be-

gins to sense that the patterning of ideas and of words leads to a construc-

tion of a harmonious whole. Artistic symmetry and balance begin to express

spiritual harmony and order. A Sufi vision of the world emerges. Based on

Islamic tenets, it expresses a mystic view of God and the universe in which

art and thought blend to create impressions of unity and infinity as they

comprehend physical plurality and phenomenal multiplicity within an

eternity of harmony and order that evoke no other art as strongly as they do

arabesque. It may be said indeed that verbal arabesque has been used here to

describe mystical union: style and meaning have coalesced.


I use the word arabesque advisedly. I do not, however, intend to limit the

effect of this particular poetic structure of Ibn al-Farid's to the aesthetic one as Arberry did when using the term in reference to his poetry.34 Arabesque is beautiful, but it is also meaningful. It is decorative, but at the same time it is functional. The beauty of its abstract form is symbolic of the Islamic view of

God and the universe. In fact, it may be said that it is a visual expression of

the internal experience of it, an exteriorization of the inner state of contem-

plation of God and the universe.

34. Arberry, The Poem of the Wa'' p. 6.

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Verbal Arabesque 167

Ernst Kiihnel, one of the scho

extensively, emphasizes its co

Doubtless, it was foremost the art

view to plunge into linear speculat


memory of what he had see

sense to be the natural laws into unreal forms.35

Kiihnel recognizes that in arabesque there is "delight in ornamental medita-

tion and in esthetic asceticism" but he stresses that there is in it also an

ambition to go "well beyond a mere playful urge to invent ever new varia-

tions of a basic form and to adapt them to all possible decorative neces-


While Kiihnel limits arabesque to the art which the Arabs call tawriq

(foliation) based on variations of design in unreal stylized leafy stems, other scholars include in it geometric interlaced designs also. The leaves and stems are not intended for their own real forms in Islamic art; they are reworked in tawriq into unreal, stylized forms because form is held to be ephemeral and

transitory whereas stylized form, like the natural law sustaining reality, is

more durable since it is abstract. As linear movement leading to interlace-

ment can represent the natural laws of the universe abstractly without any

phenomenal form, geometric arabesque has been highly developed by the

Muslim artist.

Titus Burckhardt, who has studied Islamic art with deep sensitivity to its

meaning, says:

For a Muslim artist

geometrical interlacement doubtless represents the

most intellectually satisfying form, for it is an extremely direct expression of the idea of the Divine Unity underlying the inexhaustible variety of the world.

True, Divine Unity as such is beyond all representation, because its nature, which is total, lets nothing remain outside itself, it is "without a second."

Nevertheless, it is through harmony that it is reflected in the world, harmony being nothing other than "unity in multiplicity" ( al-wahdah fi 'l-kathrah), the

same as "multiplicity in unity" ( al-kathrah fi 'l-wahdah). Interlacement ex- presses the one aspect and the other. But it is in yet another respect that it

recalls the unity underlying things, namely, that it is generally constituted from

35. Ernst Kiihnel, The Arabesque: Meaning and Transformation of an Ornament ,

trans. Richard Ettinghausen (Graz, Austria, 1977), pp. 6-7. See also Ernst Kühnel's

article "Arabesque" in the Encyclopaedia of Islam , New Edition (Leiden, 1957), pp.


36. Kiihnel, The Arabesque , p. 6.

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168 Arab Studies Quarterly

a single element, a single rope or a single

upon itself.37

Arabesque played a major role in Islamic a onwards so that by Ibn al-Farid's time (576 strong and flourishing in all parts of the Ibn al-Farid was aware of or influenced by

tual subtleties of arabesque, although th What I suggest is that arabesque and Ib

sions of a mystical Islamic world view w

rhythm and repetition, create a definite s

of cosmic harmony in which unity and

one eternal reality.

Ibn al-Farid's repetition of forms in su

beautiful order is no more "highly man

repetition of vegetal or geometric for

impressions of the endless forms of pheno patterns of which establish a sense of con

of order and harmony. Like the visual r

the movement of the eye across the repea metre intensified by verbal homologies of logical, and syntactic levels contributes to the poem whose message is that of order a arabesque, therefore, is not mere embellis

every component of which contributes

To be sure, not all parts of Ibn al-Fa

intensity of patterning, nor does the re style of this passage must, therefore, b

of intentional special effects as the ode

The other parts of the ode as well as

verbal patterns of one sort or another,

the boundaries of one line as a unit for su devices must be studied within the contex

features of the poet's style, it must be

treated in all Ibn al-Farid's poetry is t

poem, the "Khamriyya"38 rhyming in M

nowhere better shown than in his "

37. Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam : Lang

Islam Festival Publishing Co., 1976), p. 6

Bakhtiar, The Sense of Unity : The Sufi Tra

Foreword by Seyyed H ossein Nasr (Chicag 38. For the text of this poem, see Tawfiq

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Verbal Arabesque 169

Suluk," his love theme relates mostly man's love for God. For

Being in which is dissolved the a yearning of the Many to be unit One to be known by the Many, a

Unity of Being or Unity of W

therefore, not improbable that

parts of his "al-Ta'iyya al-Kubr

do with his main theme as wa

English translations of it, see Nich

Arberry, The Mystical Poems of

44 'Khamriyyah* (The Wine Song)

School of Oriental Studies (Univer

translation of it, see E. Dermeng poème mystique de ' Omar ibn al 39. In his book Ibn al-Farid wa'l- tafa Hilmi tried diligently to pro

Witnessing (Wahdat a I- Shu hud) an

which was considered to be heretic

show how Unity of Witnessing ca

the two doctrines are but different

angles. Hilmi's book was reprinte

and did not benefit from

after its first printing.

the scholar

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