Ayniyyah of Abu Dhu'ayb al-Hudhali and the Metapoetics of Structure

By Jaroslav Stetkevych
Submitted to Session P5983 (Metapoesis in Pre-Modern Arabic Poetry, 2020 Annual Meeting
Arab States;
7th-13th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Up until now, studies of metapoetry in the Arabic poetic tradition have concerned themselves primarily with the thematic and metaphorical level: that is, the images and means by which the poet deals with the subjects of poetry, poetic inspiration and production, and the poet himself. The present paper proposes to extend the discussion of metapoetry beyond this to engage in addition the issue of poetic structure. This study will argue that a poet’s use of structure, too, can have a metapoetic dimension.
The celebrated elegy of the Mukha?ram poet of the Ban? Hudhayl, Ab? Dhu?ayb (d. 649 CE), stands out for its striking departure from the standard tripartite structural matrix of the Early Arabic qa??dah. Instead of the anticipated thematic sections of the nas?b (adandoned campsite of the poet’s lost beloved), ra??l (poet’s journey by camel through the desert wastes), and final theme (boast, praise of patron, elegy), Ab? Dhu’ayb’s poem presents a short elegiac lament section on the death of his sons, followed by three long allegorical panels. The first two of these are ra??l-derived: the onager hunt and the oryx hunt, although, as is required in elegy (as pointed out to us by no other than al-J???z (d. 868 CE) in Kit?b al-?ayaw?n), both animals die at the hands of the hunter (just as it is equally requisite in praise and boast poems that the animals triumph over their pursuers). The third allegorical panel is of a monomachia—the man to man combat of two warrior-knights—in which both combatants perish.
The argument of the present paper is that this radical re-structuring of the qa??dah-form and manipulation of its themes reveals concerns that are ultimately metapoetic. That is, the inversion and re-direction of the triumphant and heroic themes of the qa??dah to convey a message of the ultimate purposelessness of life derives from a deep exploration and radical re-formulation of the qa??dah as ‘Ur-form’. Ultimately, the study concludes, the unique structure of Ab? Dhu?ayb’s ?Ayniyyah reveals that poet’s metapoetic preoccupation.