Throughout the years and to all different walks on the face of the earth, heroes exist with various meanings to each individual. It is extremely hard to put one definition to this word. What one may see as a hero, another may not. Some definitions include, a brave man, a superman, a champion, a conqueror, a victor, and a winner. This definition though varies through diverse people’s eyes. A serial killer may view Charles Manson as his/her hero, while others may view someone who has favorable traits as their hero (in a good sense). It is all relevant to who people are, their identities, and whom they relate to.
The topic of this essay deals with Pre-Islamic poetry (qasida’s), which were recited orally and had a strong social purpose. That purpose being the reinforcement of the poets identities and values. This Bedouin, nomadic society was dominated by poetry, for entertainment and social purposes, especially the latter. Therefore, the statement, “Poetry is the speech of heroes” is proven valid through several examples from various Qasida’s (whether literary or literal truth) portraying favorable traits or attributes from within the societies, reinforcing their identities, making poets regarded as heroes by their people.
Numerous themes that appear throughout all qasida’s in different forms and tones, include: the Nasib(memory of his lost beloved), the Rahil (the theme of survival in the desert), sections such as the wine section, the hikma section, proverbs, and the Gharad (where the performative purpose of the qasida is being told). Four qasida’s in which Poet’s came through as heroes were: Is What You Knew Kept Secret, The Mu ‘allaqa Labib, Bid Hurayra Farewell, and Shanfara-The Arabian Ode in L. Each qasida pretty much has the same format, with different and sometimes overlapping meanings. “A poet was the pride and ornament of his people, for he alone would perpetuate the fame of their noble deeds, dignify the memory of their dead, and trap their enemies in songs of mockery,” making him a hero (337text,68). The purpose here is to see how in each qasida, the poet is a hero.
The first qasida, Is What You Knew Kept Secret, the poet in bayt 13 expresses at the end of the nasib the only image concerning the loss of his beloved, uttering the image of her clinging to him. This is quite ironic because this is the only reference he chooses to give her while he constantly talks of her loss. It is of course a given that the audience at that time knew that in the nasib a loss of a beloved is remembered, so they become sympathetic with the poet because he expresses things that his audience feel but do not have the skill or courage to express. Then comes the description of the ostrich in the rahil (personification to stand for the poet),who quickly rushes home to protect his eggs (his babies). This is meant to portray the picture of love and security. One might ask, why an ostrich? The ostrich in this specific qasida because it is not only a survivor of the desert, but also makes sure his family are attended to and protected, he is their hero. Here the personification is meant to mean that the poet is going to his kinship group and to be a protector. The poet then shifts from the rememberance of his beloved to his tribe (the ostrich eating the colocynth), symbolizing his return to his family. The hikma section comes next, (not mandatory) where the poet declares what should matter to a man, which is his respect, reputation(name),and his honor, saying that everything material can come to an end at any given time. Therefore exclaiming that one should sacrafice all material things. He further expresses, that the only thing that lives is your name and what you are remembered for since all is immortal. He mentions that generousity is an important virtue, and reminds the audience of their societies values, reinforcing what they already know, it reminds the audience of what should be of importance to them. In the wine section of this qasida, the poet is just having a good time, living to enjoy live (cheerful passage). Similar to the hikma, he is stressing to the audience that enjoying life by drinking is good, internal enjoyment, not external (material). Finally, we come to the gharad where the poet praises himself and his tribe. He says he is a warrior, protecting and serving the tribe, reinforcing their tribal identity and thus their hero.
The second qasida, Labid, the poet expresses in the atlal the loss of his beloved and compares the site of departure and the wild. Once again, the poet is being brave by sharing his experience of loss with the audience which is a hard thing to do. Then he leaps into the Rahil, the journey desert undertaken by 2 camels, one male and one female. One camel personifies himself, and the other (the female) what he is protecting. He is the heroic one here through the difficult desert journey, and overcomes it. A lot of personification and hidden meaning are present in this qasida. While in the desert, he gets into a fight, almost getting killed but heroically surivives, thus surviving the loss of his beloved. The female camel survives the loss of her fawns symbolizing the poet loosing his beloved (same intensity). His love experience was a traumatic one, portrayed in the nasib (directly) and in the rahil (indirectly). To the poet, surviving the desert journey is nothing less than surviving the loss of his beloved, it is equal is great courage. Then comes the wine section, where the poet has fully recovered the loss of is beloved and has completely gotten over her and this is evident in the wine section as he drinks. Here I think that the poet is trying to send a message to the audience that loss of a beloved is tragic but to be overcome heroically. In the gharad of this qasida, it is centered around himself, then moves to gracefully boast of his tribe, bringing their spirits up surely. This example is a strong one because the poet really does overcome the tragic loss of his beloved and moves on with his life, sending a powerful message to his kinship and also at the same time boosting their identities and values.
Bid Hurayra Farewell, starts off with the nasib and the departure of the beloved saying that the loss of the beloved is a big deal and that it is a test of manhood. He describes the beloved with great detail and worth. The whole nabib revolves around her, which is not present in the above qasida’s and is ideal for him and his audience. It is a very tragic love triangle, where he loves her, she loves another, whom loves another. In the Rahil a storm takes place which symobizes the water washing away his pain, cleansing him. He waits for the rainstorm and it washes and floods everything. Here he cannot drink and forgets his beloved but at the same time needs the storm to cleanse himself and his broken heart. Then comes the Fakhr section where he boasts of himself and his pride, says that if someone kills one of ours, we don’t have to kill that specific person, any uncle or relative of that person would do. In the wine section, he says if you can’t drink, then don’t, but only tough people do (himself being tough). He is the ideal, tough guy who is waiting to get his wine first and drinks it. In the gharad, he is addressing another tribe, a trouble maker tribe (Abu Thubayt) provoking other people against his tribe. He is overly full of his tribe, which they presumably enjoy. The purpose here is to praise his tribe while at the same time lampoon another, at the end of the recital it is sure that he ( the poet) is their superman, and makes them feel powerful.
Arabian Ode in “L”, in my opinion shows a different hero than the above qasida’s. He was a su ‘luk- an outcast, the relationships within the qasida are different than the above seeing he has no tribe. The nasib starts off with the departure of his tribe, replacing the most common-departure or loss of the beloved theme of the nasib. Shanfara has a very bitter tone in his expressions, and feels betrayed by his tribe and kicked out. He constantly compares himself to animals, the camel and the wolf, saying that outcasts are like animals with no one or no where to turn to. Shanfara sees himself as the camel being sacrificed in meysir, saying his tribe sacrificed him. In the gharad he becomes a wolf, saying that he raids alone without a tribe, how come it’s okay for groups of people to raid, but not one man alone? At the end Shanfara returns to his tribes the wolves. Although he may have been laughed at and mocked by his audience, he is a hero in my eyes reading this qasida, now. He was a form of entertainment and probably was rewarded by food for the recital of his poem, not because he was a hero to his audience.
The presumed heroism of the poet’s of the qasida’s above are all valid and looked upon differently in different people’s eyes. One thing is for sure though, that the first three discussed were most definitely viewed as heroes of their times, and the latter perceived as a hero by modern day man. Given a background on their lifestyle, environment, values, and society, it is for sure that the poets were seen as distinct from the others of their societies. They were able to express and share their feelings in a way that related to the audiences in such a manner that they were the heroes of their times.