When a Poet’s Heart Burns for a Burned City: Ibn Sharaf al- Qayraw?n?’s Elegy for Qayrawan

By nizar f. hermes
Submitted to Session P4775 (Literary Genealogy in Medieval and Modern Iberia and North Africa, 2017 Annual Meeting
7th-13th Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Ibn Sharaf al-Qayraw?n? (d.1067) should be deservedly considered one of the most prolific city-elegists of the medieval Mediterranean world. Even if an original di?wa?n has not survived, Maghribi and Andalusian sources have preserved no less than seven mara?thi? (elegies) by Ibn Sharaf for Qayrawan. Interestingly, it is the Andalusian anthologist Ibn Bassa?m al-Shantari?ni? (d. 1147) who preserved most of Ibn Sharaf’s elegiac/nostalgic poems which I prefer to call Qayraw?n?yy?t. All in all, Ibn Bassa?m cites seven city-elegies by Ibn Sharaf, providing brief critical comments on specific verses he likes or, in a few cases, disproves of — especially lines burdened with what he sees as extreme ?ajar (angst) on the part of Ibn Sharaf. Among the seven city-elegies incorporated by Ibn Bassa?m, it is a la?miyya that he singles out as the poetic jewel of the Maghribi émigré. Thus, he dwells at length on some of its most eloquent lines, comparing them to similar verses by the likes of Abu? Tamma?m and Ibn Ha?ni? al-Andalusi? (d. 973), dubbed the al-Mutanabbi? (d. 965) of al-Andalus.

In my presentation, I will undertake a close reading of the forgotten city-elegy’s elegiac/nostalgic verses and explore some of its most salient linguistic and rhetorical features. I will also discuss the elegiac and nostalgic representation (or lack thereof) of Qayrawan’s once majestic ‘cityscape’ and its iconic buildings. I will do so by comparing the la?mi?yya to the n?niyya of Ibn Rashi?q, as well as the relatively more studied city-elegies from al-Andalus and al-Mashriq which have received scholarly attention. I will further make the case that turning attention to the forgotten corpus of Maghribi city-elegies can dramatically change our overall understanding of the genealogy/development of the genre of ritha? al-mudun (city-elegies) far beyond the Mashriq and al-Andalus.