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Abu al-Atahiyah (c. 820)

By:
Abu al-Atahiyah
Document type:
Poem/Song

    Abu al-Atahiyah (c. 820)

    Commentary

    The poet Abu al-Atahiyah (d. 828) earned the name “Father of Craziness” by breaking with traditional poetic forms in order to espouse a simpler and somewhat more vulgar style. Atahiayah was from a family of mawlas—in other words, he was from a poorer, non-Arab ethnic group, a background which many scholars have used as an explanation for his outsider status among fellow poets. He is associated with the so-called “New Poets” of the Abbasid Dynasty, and his blunt, passionate, and often gloomy style is evident in the excerpt below, most notably in the very graphic line, “Surely Fate will disjoint the proudest nose.”

    Get sons for death, build houses for decay! All, all, ye wend annihilation's way. For whom build we, who must ourselves return Into our native element to clay? O Death, nor violence nor flattery thou Dost use; but when thou com'st, escape none may. Methinks, thou art ready to surprise mine age, As age surprised and made my youth his prey.

    Surely shall Fate disjoint the proudest nose, All wears away by movement and repose. In long experience if wisdom be, Less than my portion is enough for me.

    O thou that gloriest in thy worldly state, Mud piled on mud will never make thee great. Nay wouldst thou see the noblest man of all, Look at a monarch in a beggar's pall!

    Translated by R. A. Nicholson

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