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The First Poem of
Abu Nuwas

"This is how my first poem came about." said he one day. "In those days I was still a mere youth. All my literary education I had picked up on the Mirabad of Basrah, where the dates are laid out to dry. It was there that the poets and thinkers came to hang out every day. One time I came upon an Arab of the tribes of the desert, a bearded bedou who had just sold his camels and was seated in a corner counting his money. I had heard him talk, and the purity of his language had seduced me. I sat down not far from him, and he started to ogle me. "What's up with all this looking at me?" I asked him. "You bet I'm looking at you. And there are plenty of other things I would like to do with you too!" he answered.

"Let me hear your poetry!" I demanded. He recited a quasida, a poem about camels and ruined houses in the sands, rhyming on the letter nuun. "I can do better than that!" I boasted. "Let's hear it!" said he. I focused my mind and concentrated, and this is what I came up with:

Better than ideas
a mind can invent,
Better than cities
whose splendour is spent,

Better than ruins
where time has stood still
Leaving weeping and sadness
to flow there at will,

Is the gazelle, whose eye
outshines all others,
putting them to shame,
Dozing sweetly,
as if stunned by his own beauty.

Like a dazzling sun
in the wind-driven dunes
As yet untouched.
Unaware how much he resembles
The leaf-cladded branch which he now bends to strip!
          (With thanks to M.)

"These verses describe none other than you and me!" he exclaimed, "and illuminate the elegance of your style. May my mother and father stand ransom for you! I had not thought you capable of such refinement." He stuck his hand into the pile of silver in front of him, took out a fistful and gave it to me. From that moment on I resolved to be a poet.

Retold after the French version of Ahmad al-Tifashi's The Delights of Hearts, tr. Rene Khawam.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Editorial Board, World History of Male Love, "Arabian Folktales", The First Poem of Abu Nuwas, 2000 <>

Read a short biography of
Abu Nuwas, with links.

Abu Nuwas and the Wily Young Man
  Arabian Folk Tales

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