“It may be thou wilt abide in Paradise hereafter; at any rate in quitting this world thou hast escaped from Hell*.” Would the poet have found life so painful if he had not been blind, poor*, and disappointed in his hopes, and if the con­ditions of the age had been less deplorable than they were? Possibly; for we know that pessimism may spring from temperament or from philosophical reflection, and that a man’s state of mind and feeling need not depend at all on the circumstances in which he lives. To grant this, however, is far from justifying the inference that Ma‘arrí’s private misfortunes and his consciousness of public ills had nothing to do with his philosophy of life. The former, culminating in his failure at Baghdád, caused him to feel that solitude was the only tolerable alternative to non-existence, while the latter confirmed him in the belief that all mankind are fools, knaves, liars, and hypocrites, or vented itself in denunciation of particular classes and professions. His contemporaries were not so uniformly black as he painted them, but since understanding comes before criticism, let us consider for a moment what was the general situation of the Moslem empire and especially of Syria during the last quarter of the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century A.D.

The ‘Abbásid Caliphs had long ceased to govern*, though their spiritual authority was acknowledged by most of the independent princes who supplanted them. In Baghdád the Buwayhids, a Persian dynasty, held absolute sway; and while they extended their power over western and southern Persia, another Persian house, the Sámánids, maintained themselves in Khurásán and Transoxania until they were dispossessed by the Turkish Ghaznevids. Ma‘arrí did not live to see the western advance of the Seljúqs, who had occupied Baghdád in A.D. 1055, three years before his death; Aleppo and Damascus fell into their hands about fifty years later. For him the political storm-centre was Cairo, which since its foundation in A.D. 969 had been the capital of the Fáṭimid dynasty. The Fáṭimids, according to their own story, stood in the direct line of descent from the Prophet through his daughter Fáṭima; consequently they regarded the ‘Abbásid Caliphs (who descended from the Prophet’s uncle) as usurpers and claimed the title and prerogatives of the Caliphate by right divine. Their real ancestor was ‘Abdulláh ibn Maymún al-Qaddáḥ, the son of a Persian oculist. He belonged to the Ismá‘ílí sect, a branch of the Shí‘ites which recognises seven Imáms, or pontiffs, of the Prophet’s House, the last of these being Muḥammad ibn Ismá‘íl (ob. circa A.D. 770). Exploiting the Shí‘ite belief that the Imám, although he may vanish and remain hidden for a time, will one day return to fill the earth with justice, ‘Abdulláh set a vast conspiracy in train. His methods of propaganda have been described as grotesque, audacious, and satanic; but whatever we think of their morality, we must be profoundly impressed by the genius displayed in them*. In A.D. 909, thirty-four years after the death of ‘Abdulláh ibn Maymún, his grandson appeared amongst the Berbers of North Africa, announcing himself under the name of ‘Ubaydulláh as the promised Mahdí and giving out that he was a descendant of the Imám Muḥammad ibn Ismá‘íl. This ‘Ubaydulláh founded the Fáṭimid dynasty in Tunis, and his successors, advancing eastward, conquered Egypt and Syria as far as Damascus (A.D. 969-70). If the rule of the Fáṭimids “was on the whole, despite occasional acts of cruelty and violence inevitable in that time and place, liberal, beneficent, and favourable to learning*,” the Ismá‘ílí doctrines bore other fruit which was deadly enough to excuse the worst construction that could be put upon them. I refer to the Carmathians and the so-called Assassins. During the tenth century the Carmathians (Qarámiṭa)— originally the followers of an Ismá‘ílí missionary, Ḥamdán Qarmaṭ— ravaged, plundered, and massacred in many lands of Islam; in A.D. 930 they even sacked Mecca and carried off the Black Stone from the Ka‘ba. They paid a somewhat inconstant homage to the Fáṭimid Caliphs, whose secret diplomacy used them for its own ends and directed their operations, though the alliance was disavowed officially.

At the date of Ma‘arrí’s birth northern Syria, including Aleppo and Ma‘arra, was held by a successor of the famous Ḥamdánid prince, Sayfu ’l-Dawla; but the Fáṭimids were already beginning to threaten it from the south. The struggle went on with varying fortune for about ninety years. It raged most fiercely round Aleppo, which passed to and fro from the Ḥamdánids to the Fáṭimids and from the Fáṭimids to a Bedouin dynasty, the Banú Mirdás. On one occasion the Ḥamdánid Abu ’l-Faḍá’il “endeavoured to obtain the help of the Greek emperor against the Egyptian invaders, and such help was readily given, since the maintenance of Antioch in Christian hands depended on the possibility of playing off one Moslem power against the other. Aleppo after a siege of thirteen months by ‘Azíz’s general was set free by the timely aid of the Emperor Basil*.” Thus Ma‘arrí lived all his life in the shadow of war and was familiar with its horrors and miseries. Once at least he came forward as peace-maker. The historian al-Qifṭí relates that in A.D. 1027, when Ṣáliḥ ibn Mirdás, the governor of Aleppo, besieged Ma‘arra and bombarded it with a catapult (manjaníq), the terrified inhabitants implored Ma‘arrí to intercede with him. “Abu ’l-‘Alá went forth, leaning on a guide. Ṣáliḥ was told that the gate of the town had been thrown open and that a blind man was being led out. He gave orders to cease fighting. ‘It is Abu ’l-‘Alá,’ said he: ‘let us see what he wants.’ He received the poet courteously, granted his request, and asked him to recite some poetry. Abu ’l-‘Alá improvised a few verses which occur in the Luzúmiyyát*.” Another version of the incident is not so picturesque but seems more probable. Ṣáliḥ had arrested seventy notables of Ma‘arra, and Abu ’l-‘Alá was sent to plead for their release, a task which he successfully accomplished*.

The prevailing anarchy fostered social and economic dis­orders of the gravest kind, and these in turn provoked fresh outbreaks of lawlessness. Here are some extracts from the annals of this period: they may help the reader to imagine what it was like.

Anno 982-3: It is said that on account of the civil wars between the ‘Abbásid and the Fáṭimid Caliphs no one made the pilgrimage from ‘Iráq (to Mecca) during the years 982-90. There were no pilgrims from ‘Iráq in the years 1002, 1008, 1010, 1017-21, etc., etc. Bands of Carmathians and Bedouins infested the caravan routes, robbing travellers or levying blackmail. A certain Badr ibn Ḥasanawayh paid 5000 dínárs every year to the brigand al-Uṣayfir “as compensation for what he used to take from the pilgrims.” In 998 the caravan from ‘Iráq was intercepted by Abu ’l-Jarráḥ al-Ṭá’í, who demanded 9000 dínárs from Raḍí and Murtaḍá, the Sharífs of Baghdád, before he would allow it to proceed*.

Anno 983-4: The price of wheat in ‘Iráq rose to an enormous figure, and “a great number of people died of hunger on the road.” In 992 at Baghdád a pound of bread cost 40 dirhems, and a walnut 1 dirhem. In 1047 Mosul, Mesopotamia, and Baghdád were devastated by famine and pestilence: the number of dead reached 300,000. In 1056 (a year or two before Ma‘arrí’s death) “plague and famine spread over Baghdád, Syria, and Egypt and the whole world, and the people were eating their dead*.”

Anno 1009: Abú ‘Abdallah al-Qummí al-Miṣrí the cloth-merchant died, leaving a fortune of one million dínárs, exclusive of goods, merchandise, and jewels*.

Anno 1002-3: An earthquake destroyed multitudes in the ‘Awáṣim (the province to which Ma‘arra belonged) and the frontier lands of Syria. In 1033-4 a third part of Ramla was demolished by an earthquake: “the sea ebbed to a distance of three farsakhs (about nine miles), and the people went down to fish; then it rolled back upon them and all who could not swim were drowned.” During Ma‘arrí’s lifetime there were similar disasters at Dínawar, Tabríz, Tadmor, and Baalbec*.

It would be tedious to lengthen this list by giving details, for example, of the bloody religious conflicts in Baghdád and ‘Iráq, where authority was divided between a Sunnite Pope and a Shí‘ite Emperor. Of course, such records mean little unless we can regard them as typical. The present case, I think, fulfils that condition in the sense that the symptoms noted above were not isolated or sporadic but continually recurred and affected the welfare of whole provinces and populations. Concerning the deeper causes of the disease— slavery, polygamy, the decay of religion, the unequal dis­tribution of wealth, etc.— we learn more from Ma‘arrí than from the Moslem chronicles.

Literature does not always flourish under a strong central government or languish under a weak one. The damage inflicted by the break-up of the ‘Abbásid Caliphate was to a great extent repaired by the dynasties which succeeded it. The courts of Aleppo, Bukhárá, Ghazna, and other cities became rival seats of literary culture. Every prince gathered poets and scholars around him, if not for love of learning— and this was no rarity— then in order to gratify his self-esteem and assure his prestige. Islamic literature, hitherto confined to the language of the Koran, was enriched by Persians writing in their own tongue. It is true that as science and philosophy developed, poetry and literature declined: the genius of the age was constructive rather than creative, and the materials with which its writers worked were largely foreign. From that standpoint we may call it decadent if we please; but though it lacked the brilliance of the epoch which expired with Sayfu ’l-Dawla seven years before Ma‘arrí was born, it produced many authors of distinction and some of world-wide fame. Our poet numbered among his contem­poraries Firdawsí and Avicenna; Bírúní, the historian of India, ‘Utbí, the biographer of Sultan Maḥmúd, and Badí‘u ’l-Zamán al-Hamadhání, inventor of a new form of romance which was brought to perfection by Ḥarírí; the scholastic theologians Báqilání and Ibn Ḥazm, the critic Ibn Rashíq, the anthologist Tha‘álibí, and the defender of orthodox Ṣúfism Abu ’l-Qásim al-Qushayrí.

The Luzúm contains several references to political affairs in Syria and elsewhere. In the following poem Ma‘arrí laments the fatal blow dealt to the house of ‘Abbás by the Buwayhid occupation of Baghdád (A.D. 945-1055).

Shun mankind and live alone, so wilt thou neither do injustice nor suffer it.
Thou wilt find that even though Fortune be favourable, there is no escape from her all-destroying onslaught.
Were al-Manṣúr raised from the dead, he would cry, “No peace unto thee, O City of peace!*
The sons of Háshim dwell in the desert, and their empire has passed to the Daylamites*.
If I had known that they would come to this at last, I would not have killed Abú Muslim*.
He had been a loyal servant of my dynasty, and it robed him in the dark raiment*.”

Another poem describes the defeat of the Fáṭimids by Ṣáliḥ ibn Mirdás and his Bedouin allies.

I see that Ṣáliḥ has got possession of Aleppo, and Sinán has attacked Damascus,
While Ḥassán, leading the two clans of Ṭayyi’, bends his course from Ghazza on a piebald steed.
When their horsemen saw the dust-clouds grey as thaghám* hanging over their host,
They threw themselves on the mosque of Ramla, which suffered outrage and was smeared with blood.
And it boots not the damsel taken captive that skulls were split on a keen sword-blade (for her sake).
Many a victim fell unavenged and forgotten; many a prisoner was shackled and never set free.
How many a one did they leave lonely, bereft of wife and child!
How many a rich man did they leave poor!
He goes amongst the tribe, inquiring after his property; but what avails talking about a bird that is flown?*

Although Ma‘arrí sympathised with the ‘Abbásids and disliked the Fáṭimids*, prudence as well as inclination detached him from the political and religious controversies of his time, so that he was able to keep on friendly terms with moderate men in either camp*. Naturally, this does not prevent him from criticising the doctrine of the extreme Shí‘ites, especially their veneration of the Imáms and their expectation of a Mahdí. He also ridicules their claim to possess an apocalyptic book*.

The dead monarch* will return if his grandfather, Ma‘add*, shall return to you, or his father, Nizár*.
No intelligent man believes that there is at Kúfán (Kúfa) a tomb of the Imám which pilgrims visit (in the hope of witnessing his resurrection)*.
The truly religious is he that hates evil and girds his loins with a band and waist-cloth of innocence*.
Ye have gotten a long, long shrift, O kings and tyrants,
And still ye work injustice hour by hour.
What ails you that ye tread no path of glory?
A man may take the field, tho’ he love the bower.
But some hope an Imám with voice prophetic
Will rise amidst the silent ranks agaze.
An idle thought! There’s no Imám but Reason
To point the morning and the evening ways*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Astrologers still go on foretelling a prince of faith
Amidst the enshrouding mirk to rise like a lonely star;
For none shall unite the state disjointed, except a man
Made perfect, who beats red-hot the cold iron, bar on bar*.

Von Kremer (op. cit., p. 60) misunderstands this passage and attributes to Ma‘arrí the belief in a man of blood and iron, who alone could re-establish order and security (“in einem Manne, der mit ‘Blut und Eisen’ wieder die Ordnung herstellt”). The second couplet certainly expresses such a belief, but it forms part of the prediction which Ma‘arrí means to discredit. The world-saviour, the man of the mailed fist, is the Carmathian Imám— the last person our poet expected or desired to see, though the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in A.D. 1047 raised high hopes of his advent*. Let me quote a parallel passage:

And there shall rise amongst mankind a king
Like to an angel that torments the wicked,
His hands cunning to slaughter: he shall smite
With the cold iron adversaries all.
They said, “A just Imám shall come to rule us
And shoot our enemies with a piercing shaft.”
This earth, the home of mischief and despite,
Did never yield a single day’s delight*.

There speaks the pessimist, taught by hard experience that “Man never is, but always to be, blest.”

While Ma‘arrí has nothing to say either for or against the Fáṭimid government as such, he denounces fanaticism wher­ever he finds it; and in his country and age it was rampant everywhere— “men (he observes) take the opposite direction to Right: they are extreme Shí‘ites or bigoted Sunnís*.” Alluding to the Caliph Ḥákim, who pretended to be an incarnation of God, he declares that the worst of mankind is a monarch who wishes his subjects to worship him*. The Carmathians are bitterly attacked for their impiety and immorality. We do not know how far Ma‘arrí’s description of their tenets is trustworthy: in the Risálatu ’l-Ghufrán, where he relates many anecdotes concerning this detested sect*, he mentions that his information was partly derived from those who had travelled in districts under Carmathian rule.

Will not ye fear God, O partisans of (one like) Musaylima?* foṛ ye have transgressed in obedience to your lusts.
Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan— and how many a one amongst you is a follower of footsteps!*
Ye adopted the opinions of the Dualists (Zoroastrians)* after the sweetness of Unity (Islam) had flowed on your palates;
And in resistance to the creed which ye promulgated, the spears were dyed (with gore) and the blood of the horsemen was blown to and fro in the gusts of wind*.
Even the brute beasts did not approve the crimes committed by you on your mothers and mothers-in-law.
The least (most venial) thing that ye hallowed is the throat of a wineskin which makes the whole pack of you drunk and tipsy.
Ye took ‘Alí as a shield (to justify yourselves), though he always punished (his subjects) for drinking wine, even in sips.
We questioned some Magians as to the real nature of their religion.
They replied, “Yes: we do not wed our sisters.
That, indeed, was originally permitted in Magianism, but we count it an error*.
We reject abominable things and love to adore the light of the sun at morning.”
*     *     *     *     *
Ye treated the Koran with contempt when it came to you, and paid no heed to the Fast and the canonical prayers.
Ye expected an Imám, a misguided one, to appear at the con&­junction of the planets; and when it passed, ye said, “(His coming is put off) for a few years*.”

There is no evidence that Ma‘arrí was acquainted with the higher teaching of the Ismá‘ílís; and although it has been called “une espèce de culte de la raison*,” we can feel sure that, so far as it preserved any positive character, it would have been entirely repugnant to him. Most of the poems in which they are mentioned lay stress on their violations of law and religion, but he also charges them with revolutionary aims— “the desire, namely, to destroy the power of the Arabs and the religion of Islam whence that power was derived*.”

Whenever ye see a band of Hajarites* their advice to the people is, “Forsake the mosques!”
Time hides a secret which (when it is disclosed) will suddenly put to sleep all who are awake or arouse all who slumber.
They say that the influence of the conjunction of the planets will ruin the religious institutions established by the noblest leaders of men,
And that, when the heavenly fate descends, the spear of the armed champion (of Islam) will produce no more effect (on his enemies) than motes in a sunbeam.
If Islam has been overtaken by calamities which lowered its prestige, yet none ever saw the like of it*.
And if they revere Saturn, I revere One of whom Saturn is the most ancient worshipper*.
The religions of every people have come down to us after a system which they themselves contrived.
And some of them altered the doctrines of others, and intelligent minds perceived the falsity of that which they affirmed to be true.
Do not rejoice when thou art honoured amongst them, for oft have they exalted a base man and held him in honour.
The external rites of Islam have been changed by a sect who sought to wound it and lopped away its branches.
And what they have spoken is (only) the prelude to a great event, as poets begin their encomia with love-songs;
For it is rumoured that on a certain day they that lie buried in the earth shall arise*.

With one exception, which will be noticed presently, our author’s general views on government are quite orthodox.

Fear kings and willingly yield obedience to them, for the king is a rain-cloud that waters the earth.
If they are unjust, yet they are of great use to society: how often have they defended thee with infantry and cavalry!
And did the emperors of Persia and the princes of Ghassán abstain from tyranny and oppression aforetime?
Horses set free to graze go their own way: nothing holds them in check but bridles, which gall them, and reins*.
Sovereignty is fire: beneficial, if moderate, but harmful and con&­suming, if it transgress.
And nearness to it is the sea: if it bring thee gain, yet there is danger of death by drowning*.

It is not remarkable that an Oriental writer should plead for just and rational government* or point out that kings have duties as well as rights; but unless I am mistaken, Ma‘arrí is alone in anticipating the modern democratic theory that the heads of the state are its paid servants.

My stay (in the world) is wearisome: how long shall I associate with a people whose princes command what is not good for it?
They wronged their subjects and allowed themselves to deceive them and neglected their interests, although they are their hirelings*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
If well we consider things, they surely disclose to us
Their secret: the people’s prince is servant of those he rules*.
Leave mankind to do as they please, for if thou look’st, (thou wilt see that) their king resembles a hired slave, who returned (from his work) in the evening.
The shade of acacia-trees whither thou resortest for shelter makes thee independent of him that asks gold in payment of the house (thou dwellest in) and the stones (with which it is built)*.

In two of these passages (Nos. 118 and 119) the maxim rex seruus populi is used as an argument for asceticism. The poor hermit enjoys greater happiness and freedom than the most powerful monarch.

Ma‘arrí spares none of the ruling classes, and we cannot but wonder how such a contemptuous and outspoken critic escaped punishment. His lash falls cuttingly on princes and military governors, but with particular severity on the ‘ulamá, that is to say, on those who represent the legal and religious authority in the Moslem state.

They guide affairs the way of fools;
Their power ends, another rules.
Oh, fie on life and fie on me
And this ignoble sovereignty!*
’Tis sadness enough that all the righteous are gone together and that we are left alone to inhabit the earth.
Truly, for a long while ‘Iráq and Syria have been two ciphers: the king’s power in them is an empty name*.
The people are ruled by devils invested with absolute authority: in every land there is a devil in the shape of a governor—
One who does not care though all the folk starve, if he can pass the night drinking wine with his belly full*.
Never the cup rested idle in the cupbearer’s hand,
But when thy bloated paunch was threatening to burst.
In the morning ankle-wise juts out thy belly,
Drink-swollen, thy head with riot split like a mazard*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Cleave thou to the act and deed of virtue, were all it brings
Of vantage to thee at last its fair sound in ears of men.
So sure as thou liv’st, there’s none that flees from the world in sooth,
Not even the eremites of Christendom in their cells.
The princes of humankind are worser than all the rest,
When like unto hovering hawks they swoop down and snatch their prey.
A ruler in every land: if one by God’s help goes straight,
Another perverts the course of justice to vilest ends.
The property he by fraud removes from its rightful hands—
Then burst forth in overflow the waters of weeping eyes;
Around him a legal crew with visages bleak as crags
Which never were softer made by plenteously-gushing rains*.

Ma‘arrí’s opinion of the ‘ulamá (Moslem divines) is briefly expressed in the verse—

With wakeful grief the pondering mind must scan
Religion made to serve the pelf of Man—*

and is best illustrated by the poems which give us his views on that subject. Meanwhile a few specimens may find a place here.

I take God to witness that the souls of men are without intelli&­gence, like the souls of moths.
They said, “A divine!” but the divine is an untruthful disputa&­tious person, and words are wounds*.
There are robbers in the desert, camel-rievers,
Robbers too in mosque and market may be seen;
And the name of these is notary and merchant,
While the others bear the name of “Bedaween*.”
What man was ever found to be a cadi and to refrain from giving
judgments like the judgment of Sadúm?*
Things insensible bear no burden of calamity: does it trouble
rocks that they are hewn with an adze?*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Who knows? Some that fill the mosque with terror whene’er they preach
No better may be than some that drink to a tavern-tune.
If God’s public worship serve them only to engine fraud,
Then nearer to Him are those forsaking it purposely.
Let none vaunt himself who soon returns to an element
Of clay which the potter takes and cunningly moulds for use.
A vessel, if so it hap, anon will be made of him,
From whence any common churl at pleasure may eat and drink;
And he, unaware the while, transported from land to land—
O sorrow for him! his bones have crumbled, he wanders on*.
For his own sordid ends
The pulpit he ascends,
And though he disbelieves in resurrection,
Makes all his hearers quail
Whilst he unfolds a tale
Of Last Day scenes that stun the recollection*.
They recite their sacred books, although the fact informs me that these are a fiction from first to last.
O Reason, thou (alone) speakest the truth. Then perish the fools who forged the (religious) traditions or interpreted them!
A Rabbi* is no heretic* amongst his disciples, if he sets a high price on stories which he invented.
He only desired to marry women and amass riches by his lies*.
Softly! thou hast been deceived, honest man as thou art, by a cunning knave who preaches to the women.
Amongst you in the morning he says that wine is forbidden, but he makes a point of drinking it himself in the evening*.

The lay professions are not forgotten. At the head of those who prey on human folly and superstition come the astrologers; and of them Ma‘arrí speaks with an indignation corresponding to the almost universal faith in their pre­dictions and to the very important part which they played in Moslem life, both public and private*.

Could I command obedience, never in life
Astrologer had shamed the causeway’s crown.
Be he blind churl or keen-eyed reprobate,
From him pours falsehood without stint or stay.
He with his arrows gets to work betimes*
And turns his astrolabe and tells a fortune.
The foolish woman stopped, and ’twas as though,
Stopping, she rushed into a lion’s den.
She asks him questions— of a husband changed
Towards her: he starts writing with riqán*
In characters distinct. “Thy name?” quoth he,
“Ay, and thy mother’s? Verily, I can
Expound by cogitation things unseen.”
He swears the genies do frequent his house,
Submissive one and all, whether they speak
Clear Arabic or barbarous gibberish.
This fellow plies his craft in many a land,
The while at home his wife eats food she loathes.
What! hath a man no means of livelihood
Except the morsels thrown him by the stars?
To pelt o’er deserts with a caravan
Is trade more honourable than gains like these
Of one who, were he stoned, would justly die.
Ah me, the thoughts that boil within my breast!
I keep them close and simmering under lid.
’Tis marvellous, when the rack has done its worst,
The miscreant with drawn and tongueless mouth
Recants not ever. What escape for us?
Earth is a raging sea, the sky o’erflowing
With cloudbursts of calamity, the time
Corrupt: nor truth puts out a first spring-leaf
Amongst mankind, nor error fades away.
Saddle and bridle, that thou quick mayst flee:
They all are saddled and bridled for thine harm.
And bright is Good, but thither hastenéth none;
And dark is Ill, and thence doth none retire.
They smile upon thee if thou bring’st them lies;
Speak truth and lo, they furiously fling stones.
Thy sourness unto them defends thee from them:
Whene’er thou art sweet, they run at thee to bite*.
She is gone out early in her boots and mantle to consult the blind astrologer;
But he cannot tell her what she wants to know, for he is ignorant, nor has he wit enough to make a guess.
“To-morrow,” says he, “or afterwards there will be a steady fall of rain: if it pour abundantly, it will be a great help.”
He induces the blockheads of the quarter to believe that he can read the secrets of the unseen world,
Although, if they asked him about something on his own breast*, he would answer falsely or mutter in silence*.
She questioned her astrologer about
The child in cradle— “How long will it live?”
“A hundred years,” cries he, to earn a drachma,
And death came to her boy within the month.
Changed times! when fair young women seek a husband,
Offering high sums to furnish his due dower*.
*     *     *     *     *
The fool dislikes his daughters, though his son
Brings worse destruction than his son-in-law.
I view as man’s most bitter enemy
A son, the proper issue of his loins,
Howbeit in his folly he believes
The mares outmatched in racing by his colt*.

Astrology, of course, ranked as a science and was often practised by celebrated Moslem astronomers, but the “astrologers” to whom Ma‘arrí refers are evidently vulgar fortune-tellers and impostors of evil reputation*, who seem to have found their clientèle chiefly in the more credulous sex. The type is familiar and not without variety.

All of us know the astrologer, all of us know the physician:
One hath his almanack still, and the other his pharmacopoeia;
Flattering our troubles away— and who doesn’t want to be flattered?—
Laying a snare for the prodigal youth or e’er he grow wiser*.
Over the earth from land to land you drifted,
Some yielding more of bounty’s rain, some less;
Against the yelping curs your staff you lifted,
Amazed were they at your stout-heartedness.
You dearly wished for each man’s wealth and fortune,
And none so base to wish for yours was found;
You stopped at every doorway to importune,
Till Abú Ḍábiṭ* drove you— underground*.
You cross the desert, a good chance sends you diet;
You roam around, and so your living’s made;
You beg your bread in the name of “holy quiet,”
But more devout is he that plies his trade.
Abandon flesh for the oil of olive-trees,
And fare on wild-figs, not to rob the bees!*
Thy thought kindled a fire that showed beside thee
A path whilst thou wert seeking light to guide thee.
Stargazers, charmers, soothsayers are cheats,
All of that sort a cunning greed dissemble:
Howbeit the aged beggar’s hand may tremble,
It none the less lies open for receipts*.

The poets are stigmatised as frivolous and immoral*; and Ma‘arrí austerely dissociates himself from them.

O sons of Learning, ever were ye lured
By rhetoric empty as the buzz of flies.
Your poets are very wolves— the robber’s way
They take in panegyric and love-song,
Doing their friends worse injury than foes;
And when they verses write, out-thieve the rat.
I lend you praise repaid with praise as false,
Whence ’tis as though between us taunts had passed.
Shall I let run to waste my time of eld
Amongst you, squandered like my days of youth?
*     *     *     *     *
Fine eloquence I do cast off from my tongue,
Resigning to the Arabs who have wit
Base occupations uncommendable,
Whereof the whole return is utter loss.
Leave me, that I may babble in vain no more
But, waiting Death, close on myself my door*.

The Luzúm throws many a side-light on the state of con­temporary Moslem society. Granted that the author is an ascetic as well as a pessimist, the corruption which he describes was real and deeply rooted, though less extensive than his poems suggest. Wine-drinking* and female luxury* are favourite topics. He condemns polygamy as being an injustice to the wives* and is fully aware of the evils which flow from it. Family life was embittered. Harems filled with foreign slaves produced a hybrid race, adding new vices to the old*. The Arabs no longer ruled, the Arabic language had become debased*; the influence of Jews and Christians was such that often a Moslem would place himself under their protection. As for religion, even its outward forms had fallen into contempt. References to some of these points are given below, while others are illustrated by the following poems or the parts of them printed in italics.

Live a miser like the rest of us in these degenerate days,
And pretend to be a churl, for lo, the world hath churlish ways.
A people of iniquity; sons against fathers rub,
And the fierce cub rends the lion and the lion eats his cub.
Wouldst thou fain bestow a kindness on any gentle man,
Be thyself the first one chosen out to profit by the plan*.
Refrain from tears at parting, and desire
The tears, the blessed tears, by hermits shed,
Whereof a single drop puts out Hell-fire;
So by report of ear, not eye, ’tis said.
Fear thou thy God and still beware of men
Garbed not as those who for religion fight.
They eat up all; in song and dance they then
Get drunk and with the loveling take delight*.
Old bonds are broke: how many a Moslem strives
An alien’s intercession to obtain!*
Time, ever dealing out to human lives
Justice unjust, makes all our labour vain.
One watches through the night and ne’er arrives
At the same goal which some, unwatching, gain*.
Wealth hushes Truth and swells loud Error’s voice,
To do it homage all the sects rejoice.
The Moslem got his tax-money no more,
And left his mosque to find a church next door*.
Ah, woe is me for night and day whereof the months are moulded,
Twin elements of Time who ne’er his mystery hath unfolded.
Religion now is naught, its signs effaced by ages blasting:
No prayers, no ablutions pure, no alms-giving, no fasting;
And some take women dowerless in lieu of marriage lasting*.

Leaving particular instances, let us see what is the poet’s judgment on society as a whole.

Had Time in his course spoken, he would have reckoned every one of us as dirt.
He would have said, “Lo, I repair to Allah*, and ye are the foulest obscenity.
Once I coughed you out by mistake— will ye excuse me for coughing?”*
The world’s abounding filth is shot
O’er all its creatures, all its kinds;
The evil taint even she hath got
Whose loom for her a living finds,
And tyrant-ridden peoples moan
No worse injustice than their own*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
The staff in a blind man’s hand that guides him along his way
Is more kind to him than all companions and bosom-friends.
Give thou to the sons of Eve a wide room apart from thee,
For lo, ’tis an open road of unfaith they journey in.
Their features if sin shall mar, then sure on the Judgment Day
Thou’lt see none but all his face is haggard and black of hue.
As often as Reason points the right course, their nature pulls
Them wrong-ward with grip intense, like one that would drag a load*.
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
If men but knew what their sons bring with them— were there to sell
A thousand such for a copper piece, no mortal would buy.
Woe, woe to them! for within their arms they foster and rear
An evil brood, which is guile, envy, and cankering hate.
*     *     *     *     *
And ever thus have they been, Earth’s people, since they were made:
Let none in ignorance say, “Degenerate they have grown.”*
Nowhere we sojourned but amongst the nation
We found all sorts of men cursing their neighbours,
Stabbing and stabbed in every congregation—
Although, maybe, they combat not with sabres.
Happy the infant that set forth to leave them
And took farewell ere yet it could perceive them!*
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I see that the doom of Allah first bade His creatures be,
And then turned in power back upon them with nay for yea.
And o’er living men doth rule their passion in every clime,
Tho’ noble they be as hawks of mettle and strong to rule.
They run yelping, cur at cur, and all for a carcase’ sake—
Vile pack! and I count myself the sorriest cur of them.
We hug in our bosoms guile; yet comes not the good reward
Of Allah but unto few, the purest of us in heart.
And what son of Time deserves the praise of the eloquent?
The more they are put to proof, the larger their due of blame*.
The soul her centre hath in the highest sphere,
Unsown with bodies are the fields of air.
From one foul root our human branches strike,
And all, to eyes discerning, are alike:
Adam their ancestor, their bourne the mould,
Tho’ creeds and heresies be manifold.
*     *     *     *     *
Mind makes the only difference in men,
Birds vary from the eagle to the wren*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
“Good morrow!” he cries aloud, professing his love to thee,
Tho’ better than he a lion tawny and stout of neck.
By neighbouring with thy friend some profit thou hop’st to gain;
Thy farness from him is in reality gainfuller.
Unless from mankind thou flee, acknowledge that one and all
Are wolves howling after prey or foxes with bark malign.
No cure for thy suffering but patience! If they commit
Iniquity, is not worse iniquity wrought by thee?
Thou early and late dost run to folly unconscionable:
The evening beholds thy sin, the morning thy wickedness.
The world’s woes are like a sea: whoso from excess of thirst
Shall die, even he amidst the waters is cast to swim*.
From north or south may blow the changing wind,
But where Sin leads thou never lagg’st behind.
Well, go thy way! If thirty years be spent
Without repentance, when shall man repent?*
(Metre: Basíṭ.)
If men were passed thro’ a sieve to purge them all of their dross,
No residue would at last be left behind in the sieve;
Or were the fire bidden fall upon the guilty alone,
The robes they wear ’twould refuse to touch, but feast on their limbs.
*     *     *     *     *
To Him the glory! for He filled all the races of men
With inspiration that leads straightway to frenzy and woe—
With sidelong looks of the eye and vain desires of the soul
And eager rush of the lips to kiss and kiss yet again*.
Reason set out by hook or crook to reform the world,
But lo, mankind were past all reformation.
Whoe’er would cleanse the crow, in hope to see the sheen
Of a white wing, on him falls tribulation*.
If sweet is falsehood in your mouths,
Sweeter is truth in mine.
Man’s nature to refine I sought,
Which nothing could refine*.
One living person looks unlike another,
But let them die, there’s not a hair between them.
Time and his children’s haviour whoso searches
Will deem the wide world, east and west, blameworthy;
Will find their speech a lie, their love a hatred,
Their good an ill, their benefit an insult,
Their cheerfulness a cheat, their want a plenty,
Their knowledge ignorance and their wisdom cunning.
*     *     *     *     *
Towards the farthest goal of their ambition
They pierce a way with lances through your breast-bones;
If ye are tamarisk leaves, they launch to strip you
A devastating locust-swarm of arrows.
O Grief, my nightly guest, wilt thou excuse me
Whenas thou find’st in me no strength to journey?
I cannot get me water for my thirst’s ease,
Or live unless I quaff it foul and muddy.
Men are as high-peaked mountains, and as valleys
Below the sand-dunes and the pebbly ridges:
One, crazed, would fain be charmed and offers money;
Another, sober-minded, scorns the charmer*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
Ay, whether I slumber sound or keep vigil in the dark,
’Tis all one to me if I my Maker obey not.
And even such are men: the sword that smites them will naught avail,
Tho’ cuts of the whip serve well thy wicked old camel*.
Glory to God! how men with passion fond
Or fall below the mean or run beyond!
Ears love as madly rings and drops of pearl
As wrists the bracelets that about them curl.
Some seek from sword and lance on fields hard-fought
Fortune which others from the scalpel sought.
In charity, whence grace to thee redounds,
Give, were it but a little. Pence make pounds*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
To Allah complain I of a soul that obeys me not,
And then of a wicked world where no man is righteous:
Intelligence mouldering in dust, as an empty house,
But ignorance stuccoed o’er— a mansion with tenants*.
The sons of Adam are fair to see,
But each and all to taste unsweet.
Their charity and piety
Draw to themselves a benefit.
A rock the best of them outvies:
It does no wrong, it tells no lies*.
He knows us well, the God most high;
Our minds have long been forced to lie.
We speak in metaphor and wot
That as we say it is ’tis not*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
A man’s tongue is called a spear awhile and a scimitar,
And oft by a single word were necks cloven asunder.
Of mortals a multitude have gone down to drink of Life
Before us, and left but mud behind them and staleness.
A black head of hair soon Time will bleach, or the launderer
A garment— but what e’er cleansed a nature of evil?*
Body, we know, feels naught when spirit is flown:
Shall spirit feel, unbodied and alone?
And nature to disgrace swoops eager down,
But must be dragged with halters to renown.
With evil dispositions here we came:
Wicked and envious, are we then to blame?
Before your time were Earth’s folk ill-behaved?
Or have their characters become depraved?*
Ne’er wilt thou meet a friend but vexes thee
And troubles all thy days
And counts thy being here calamity:
Well, such are this world’s ways*.
(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
O children of Earth, there’s not a man blest with righteousness
Below ground nor any save a rascal above it.
Was Adam, your ancestor, so noble in what he wrought,
Yet look ye for nobleness amongst his descendants?
The grave-dwellers, send they not a message to us, although
The words of the messengers ye hear not, unheeding?*
The purblind traveller’s feet were saved from fear
Of stumbling, once they mounted on the bier.
Admire the stricken elder how he stands
Hunched o’er a staff that trembles in his hands!
When called to prayers, he must at home remain—
But walks in deserts to increase his gain*.

We gather from these passages that Ma‘arrí not only regarded human nature as evil but mankind in the mass as incorrigible and incapable of practising the virtues on which the utility of social intercourse depends. “You must choose,” he says, “either a solitude like death or the company of hypocrites*.” He himself fell far short of the complete seclusion advertised in his letter to the people of Ma‘arra*, and it is interesting to come across poems which tell us what his neighbours thought of him and he of them, how he dis­liked mutual compliments, how he talked to his visitors from Persia and Arabia, and so forth. He confesses that the truth cannot be spoken in society without giving offence and that he felt obliged to behave as every one else did*.

(Metre: Ṭawíl.)
I simulate unto thee— may Allah forgive my fault!
The whole world’s religion too is but simulation.
And often a man belies the thought of his dearest friend,
Tho’ fair his demeanour be, his countenance comely.
If Allah they worship not— my people— with faith entire,
Him only, I cut myself clean off from my people*.
I play the hypocrite with men. Truly, they are an affliction to me, and would that my deliverance from them were near at hand!
He that lives without flattering those in his company is a bad companion to his friends and intimates.
How many a friend would wish to hear the news of my death, yet if I am ailing, he will show regard for me and exclaim “May I be thy ransom!”*
(Metre: Wáfir.)
The sage and the fool, what time you observe them shrewdly,
They stand but as far as kinsman apart from kinsman.
Whenever my fate shall light on me in my homeland,
Cry over my corpse and call me by name “the stranger.”
Whomso I encounter, warily I address him
And show him my teeth, for none is of my persuasion*.
I mark the false smiles they deliver
To me o’erwhelmed with Fate’s whole quiver.
Neighbours, not friends; like Z and D,
Which never meet in symphony*.
Who’ll rescue me from living in a town
Where I am spoken of with praise unfit?
Rich, pious, learned: such is my renown,
But many a barrier stands ’twixt me and it.
*     *     *     *     *
I owned to ignorance, yet wise was thought
By some— and is not ours a wondrous case?
For verily we all are good-for-naught:
I am not noble nor are they not base.
My body in Life’s strait grip scarce bears the strain—
How shall I move Decay to clasp it round?
O the large gifts of Death! Ease after pain
He brings to us, and silence after sound*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
I praised thee, and thou delighted repliedst with fair words
In payment of mine, and I was in turn delighted.
If downright give-and-take cannot be, then better
Between us vituperation than adulation*.
(Metre: Wáfir.)
Whenever a man extols me for any virtue
That I am without, his eulogy satirises.
And justly am I displeased with his false invention:
’Twould show meanness of nature to be rejoicing*.
What is it in my society men seek?
I would be silent, they would have me speak.
Far must we travel ere we come in line;
They on their path are set, and I on mine*.
All the world visits me: this one’s native land is Yemen, this one’s home is Ṭabas*.
They said, “We heard talk of thee.” I rejoined, “Accursed above all are they that cloak their real object.”
They desire of me a fiction which I cannot invent, and if I tell the truth, their faces darken with frowns.
God help us! Every one meets with anxiety in making his liveli&­hood. Pour over us, O sky!*
What do ye want? I have neither money for you to beg nor learning for you to borrow*.
Will ye ask an ignoramus to instruct you? Will ye milk a camel whose udder is dry?
*     *     *     *     *
I am miserable because I am unable to give you any assistance, but the times are hard*.

In his later years Ma‘arrí suffered from the reputation of being rich*. No doubt he deserved it, for he must have received considerable fees from the students who came in crowds to hear him, and his letters show him “in the charac­ter of a liberal man, helping persons of his own rank with gifts*.” When he speaks of himself as poor and lets us know that in spite of his poverty he had often declined the presents which his friends offered to him*, that is only the pessimist’s self-indulgence and the ascetic’s self-denial. We can believe that the demands made upon his charity justified him in protesting that he was not what rumour declared him to be*.