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A critical survey of the development and achievements of Arabic poetry over the last 150 years.
In Islam the fascination for “the word” is as vigorous as in Judaism and in Christianity, but an extra dimension is, that the revealed text, the Koran, is considered to be verbatim the word of the Almighty Himself, thereby providing the Arabic language with just an extra quality. No wonder that throughout Islamic history the study of the word, the Koran, the prophet's utterances and the interpretation of both, has become the main axis of knowledge and education.As a consequence the intellectuals – and also the poets in Islamic culture - were thoroughly familiar with religious terms and the phraseology of a language which was highly estimated because of the divine origin with which it was associated. No wonder therefore, that allusions to religious texts can be found throughout Arabic literature, both classical and modern. The subject of this volume is the representation of the divine in Arabic poetry, be it the experience of the divine as expressed by poets or the use of imagery coined by religion.
Sperl's study questions whether mannerism and classicism can be applied to the analysis of Arabic poetry. While mannerism in Arabic literature has traditionally been associated with an excessive use of rhetorical devices and illustrated with reference to poetic fragments and extracts, Sperl approaches the question through a structuralist examination of poems as a whole. The texts selected range from the 9th to the 11th centuries AD and are drawn from the works of Abu l-Atahiya, Buhturi, Mihyar al-Daylami and Maarri. The poems which are studied in detail in successive chapters exhibit profound stylistic differences in sound, imagery, and composition. In the light of structuralist analysis, these differences do indeed appear to conform to a characteristic classicist/mannerist continuum also observed in other literatures. The structuralist approach moreover leads to a broader reevaluation of these terms in the final chapter.
"The purpose of this book is to trace the development of the differing forms employed in various liteary movements in modern Arabic poetry. This development seems to me the most important elemment in the understanding of the contemporary revolution in Arabic poetry. Moreover, this revolution is considered to be the first in the history of Arabic poetry in which the influence of foreign literature has been such that it las almost completely cut off modervn Arabic poetry from its classical heritage." from Introduction.
In Old Arabic poetry from the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods to the end of the orthodox Caliphate, one theme is the lightning-scene. In this the protagonist asserts that he could not sleep because he saw lightning flashing far away in the sky. The book explores the various functions of this scene, and its relationship with other parts of the poem. This study achieves two main goals. The first sheds light on two important terms connected with Old Arabic poetry: the function and the narration. We see how a certain element can function differently from text to text, and how these different functions influence the narration of a poem and consequently make it - to some degree - idiosyncratic; i.e., a text that differs from other poems that include the same element. The second purpose is to make a comprehensive study of the components, namely the motifs included in the lightning-scenes. Here, the author reaches conclusions regarding whether these components differ significantly from text to text, or whether they are merely repetitions. In other words, this study examines whether the lightning-scenes in themselves are idiosyncratic or - on the contrary - are fossilized and conventional follow long-established poetic traditions.

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