” Poetry is the Diwan ( the register, the memory of the Arabs ” , so said the Caliph Umar.

” Shair ”  is  term for a Poet.

Amongst those endowed with knowledge and with power in ancient Arabia is the figure of the Shair.

Originally the Shair was the repository of magical rather then divinatory knowledge: his speech and his rhymes were directed towards enchantment. The primordial expressions of his expressions of magical power were the 1) Hidja ( satire ) 2) Ritha ( Elegy ).

The Kahin and Shair expressed themselves in “Sadj ” and ” Radjaz”- a style originally used for the enounciation of the oracle of the ” Kahin ” and for the chanting of verses of the Shair at the head of the column of troops.  The ” Radjaz ” was the basis of secular poetry and the “Sadj ” remained the mode of expression of the ” Kahin ”

The 2 functions, united at the outset, progressively divesrsified as did their sources of inspration. The functions of the Kahin and the Shair were frequently assumed by the ” Sayed “. Furthermore, from the 6th century AD s Syed was chosen who, amongst his tribe, was distinguished by his qualities of elocution, decision, and persuasion.

The Syed was not entrusted with the powers of coercion but his prestige depended on his power of persuaion.

Poetic talent was widely distributed amongst the Nomads and the settled Arab communities in ancient  Arabia and North Africa. This included female poets also.

1) Poet of the Tribe-

here the Poets traits are honour and  loyalty. A tribe without a Poet of renown was considered inadequate.

It was usually in the context of Fairs, generally organised in the vicinity of the Pilgrimage routes- the most famous being Ukaz and Dhul-l- Madiz near Mecca that poetic competitions were held.

2) Poet of the Court-

This is where the Poet went to urban towns and became a panegyrist of a patron.

Poetry circles were formed around Ghassanid and Lakhmid leaders near Damascus and at Hira by which means Bedouin poetry began the process of evolution It was at Hira that the personality of the Poet was forged in the form in which it was to flourish at Basra and Kufa when Iraq emerged as the intellectual centre of the Muslim world.

3) The Poet after Islam-

The Prophet of Islam took into his service in Medina a Syed as an eminent poet. Other poets were to join also and under the 4 Caliphs there was a return to an appreciation of poetry on a condition that it upheld a certain ethic – the Makarim al Akhlaq.

During the Umayad period that the poet became appreciated again and regained his place in the tribal group and also as a client of patrons, Calpihs, and Governors.

During this period great poets emerged such as Al-Akhtal, Djarir, and Al Farazdak. The poets who gained eminence were the sons of the desert communities where freedom of movement , discovery and the witnessing of the phenomena of nature gave a sense of wonder to their writings. They remained closely tied to their communities and families even though they were often now attached to the Courts.

However, due to urbanisation , the audience of the poet had changed but the sumptous life of the Court in Syria could not eradicate the desert from the poet. In these urban centres there emerged a new phenomena began – literary salons run by women and women poets.

With the renaissance of the Arabic language and culture in the 19th century under the reforms of Ali Pasha a class of secular offocials sought to revive the classical Arabic rhetorics.

The semi independent rulers of North Africa and the Middle East encouraged poets and men of letters.

With the influence of western thought and poetry , a new generation of Arab poets, from 1850 to 1920, negan to break with tradition. From that period the responsibility of the poet became the nation, the country and culture, and also a spiritual revival.

Muslim Spain-

Poet soldiers had participated in the Muslim conquest of Spain. Even after the Abbassids emerged the Andalucian poets remained loyal to the Syrian tradition, although this was to change later.

Folk Poet in Arab society-

Arabic folk poetry and song exhibit a far greater formal diversity then the written tradition.

Folk poets and poetry have survived in an ambigious relationship viz a viz Arab high culture. Part of this ambiguity lies in their intimate association with music.The first public defence of colloquial Arabic is from Ibn Khaldun and despite attacks folk poetry has survived.

The distinction drwan between the poet ( Shair ) , reciter ( rawi ), and singer ( mughani or mutrib) in literary histories is often blurred within the domain of folk poetry and song; in many communities however this division of labour is maintained in a highly articulated system.

In Turkey-

In Anatolian Saldjuk society many of the poets were engaged in propagating the values of Islam.

In the 13th century AD the mystical poems of Rumi achieved spiritual superiority in Anatolia. He wrote mainly in the Persian rather then the Turkish.

The works of Yunus Emre ( d.1321 AD ) echoed some of Rumis themes of mystical humanity, established new prospects for poets to serve as critics of society and government. Many of his verses,  kept alive in the oral tradition in the countryside , came to constitute the basis for Turkeys secular humanistic literature in the 20th century AD.

Two thirds of the Turkish Sultans wrote poetry. Amongst the educated elite composing verses was virtually a ” Sine qua Non ” of being an intellectual.

But Ottoman poets were largely outside the religio-political system and often rebelling against the establishment. In the declining years of the Empire some great poets as Kemal and Firket played a role in the mobilisation of masses against the Ottoman regime.

In India-

From the ascendency of Muslim rule in the 13th centuery AD until its decline in the 18th century AD, there was the development and glory of Persian poetry in India. After the 16th century AD Persian poets left for India in big numbers- the centre for Persian literature now became India.

Abul-Fadl gives a list of 51 poets poets who were in the service of the Mughal King Akbar. Gaining entry into the Court was very difficult. Poets such as Kalim Nazir, Talib, Amuli , came from Persia andd died in India, others went back to Persia having made their fortunes in India. A number secured jobs in India, others were charged with writing dynastic histories. They also wrote Kasidas.

The highest rank amongst the Court poets was held by the ” Malik al Shuara ” – an institution established in the Mughal period. He was the main poet.

After the Court ” Sufism ” was the next important platform for the activity of the poets. It is important to note that Sufi ideas were spread through poetry but with the decline in Mughal power Persain declined and was replaced by Urdu. Marthiyas emerged under the patronage of the Nawabs of Awadh.

The failure of the Indian mutiny in 1857 led to the emergence of middle class intellectualism and where Urdu poetry gained fresh allignment. Here Iqbal symbolised the new role of the poet.

Also the Mushairas ( poetry recitals ) led to poets facing larger audiences and with the introduction of the printing press the door to internationalism became available to poets and their ideas.

One thought on “Shair

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