أبو نواس Abu Nuwas on the Pleasure and Remorse of Wine

 

abunuwas

لا تَبْكِ ليلى ، ولا تطْرَبْ إلى هندِ

I first discovered Abu Nuwas (756–814) in a (somewhat prude) monograph entitled ‘Mujun: Libertinism in Medieval Arabic Poetry’ (mujan meaning ‘callous’, and by derivation, libertine). His poetry is relateable to any free spirit who enjoys indulging in the pleasures of the senses. Famed for his audacious thematics (homoeroticism, alcohol, satires), his Arabic prose is laden with the rich metaphors that characterize Persian poetry. In Do not cry for Layla, we read:

wine is a ruby, and the glass is a pearl

Without a doubt a tremendous influence on the works of the Persian poets Ferdosi, Nezami, Omar Khayyam and Rumi. As we read in the work of 11th century poet Hafez:

If you desire some ruby wine from that gem-studded cup
You must first pierce pearls and rubies with your eyelashes.

The similarity of topoi and images cannot be ignored. Somewhat ironically, however, whereas the praises of wine and erotic love by these later poets is forgiven in favor of their literariness, Abu Nuwas is frequently cast as a depraved debauchee, and his work is often looked upon as foolish. Yet it is precisely the mixture of callousness and subtlety which enriches his work. Just as a philosopher court jester, he finishes the poem by counterbalancing light-hearted amusement with a somewhat dark remark.

[She pours you wine] until you are twice drunk without escape
For me pleasure is double, and remorse is one.

The beauty in the end is it openness to interpretation: one could interpret it as regret for the fate of the drunkard, or as an alleviation. If the pleasure is double the of remorse, then can remorse even be felt during the exultation of the senses? The term for pleasure here is نشوة , which can also mean drunkenness, transport, and hilarity– this last meaning putting into question whether we should take this ‘dark reminder’ seriously at all.

A magnificent and well-paced oral reading of this poem can be found on: https://www.princeton.edu/~arabic/poetry/

لا تَبْكِ ليلى ، ولا تطْرَبْ إلى هندِ،                  واشْرَبْ على الوَرْدِ من حمراء كالوَرْدِ
Do not weep for Layla, and do not exult over Hind /, but instead drink to the rose of the rosy wine!

كأساً إذا انحدَرَتْ في حلْقِ شاربها،                           أترك حُمْرَتَها في العينِ والخدّ
When the glass has flown down the throat of its drinker / leaving its redness on the eye and on the cheek

فالخَمرُ ياقوتة ٌ، والكأسُ لُؤْلُؤة                               من كَفِّ جارِيَة ٍ مَمشوقَة ِ القَدّ
And so wine is a ruby, and the glass is a pearl. / From the palm of the odalisque, svelte in form,

تَسْقيكَ من عيْنها خمراً، ومن يدها                         خمْراً، فما لك من سُكرَينِ من بُدّ
She pours you wine from her eye, and from her hand / wine until you are twice drunk without escape.

لي نشوتان، وللنَّدْمانِ واحدة ٌ،                 شيءٌ خُصِصْتُ به من بينِهِمْ وحدي
For me pleasure is double, and remorse is one. / I was allotted this, from others things, alone.

 

Grammar:

اشْرَبْ: imperative of  شرَب, to drink

حمراء: red (feminine adjective)

خَمرُ: sweet dark red wine

انحدَرَتْ: feminine past tense of انحدَرَ (form 7 reflexive) to descend

حلْقِ: literally ‘neck’

شاربها: Participle (the doer) of شرَب  + posessive: its drinker

جارِيَة: odalisque, slave girl, maid, young girl

ترك :أترك to leave, form 4, 3rd person past

فما لك من سُكرَينِ من بُدّ: literally: until there is not (فما ) for you (لك) from being twice drunk (dual of سكران) a way out ( بُدّ)

نشوتان: dual of نشوة pleasure

للنَّدْمانِ واحدة ٌ: L + نَّدْمانِ= for remorse- literally ‘for remorse, one’

خُصِصْتُ: feminine passive past of خصص, to allot

 

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