|By Said I. Abdelwahed
Professor of English Literature
Faculty of Arts, Al-Azhar University Gaza – Palestine
This is a reading of the intercultural experience of the medieval poetry
known as the Troubadour poetry. It’s a study of the origin, meaning, music
and structure of the lyric love poetry which appeared in medieval Spain, in
the period from (3rd to 7th centuries A.H / 9th to 13th centuries AD), with
special reference to the Muwwashah and the Kharja. It expanded to southern
France, then to northern France. The early troubadour was a wondering singer
or minstrel who traveled from place to place singing for gaining his living.
But the French troubadours were mostly of noble birth that wrote and sang
for the upper-class audience. The troubadours wrote their songs and poems of
a metrical form mainly on themes of courtly love. Their poetry was
influenced by Arabic poetry and it became a literary phenomenon that
historians of Western literature and culture could not ignore. This paper
highlights the primary role played by the Arabs in medieval poetry issues
and it alludes to some salient elements of intercultural communication
between the East and the West.
Generally speaking, scholars and historians of medieval Arabic literature
divided the Arabic and Islamic culture and literature of medieval Spain into
three major components. Scholars made divisions of that culture but Gerard
Wiegers made the clearest division as follows:
I. Works on religion (fiqh, tafsir, prayer books, pious miscellanies,
religious polemics magic, popular medicine, and treatises).
II. Works intended for practical use (letters, medicine, and itineraries).
III. Literature of entertainment (adab). 1
The interest of this paper is in literature of entertainment or
Belles-letters (adab) mainly its most popular genre known as the Troubadour
poetry. By nature of things, the Arabs of Spain were fond of song writing.
Their songs were widely known as they were sung publicly on various social
occasions and celebrations including, for example, their marriage
ceremonies, summer night festivals and other happy cultural events. Such
songs were widely known as they were sung publicly in open places, yards and
ARABS, MEDIEVAL MUSIC
Baghdad of the Abbasides became the main center for music. Many men and
women gained popularity and fame for their creativity in this field. Of the
famous musicians of the time were Qamar Al Baghdadia, Ibrahim Al Musuli, his
son Ishaq and his student Abul Hassan Ali Ibn Nafi' (Known as Ziryab). The
later musician immigrated to the Maghreb and Andalusia bringing with him the
oriental music and thus adding flavor to the existing music of Morocco,
Algeria, and Tunisia known as 'Andulusian music'. His music played an
important role in developing the musical theory and practice in medieval
The Arab musicians of Andalusia and their Arabic music contributed to the
human civilization in general and to that of Europe in particular. European
composers and singers learnt much from the Arabic music. For example, the
Arabs introduced oriental music; they brought about and developed types of
musical instruments including the cud (A musical instrument identical to the
lute). They laid the foundation of an organized musical art in Europe; they
opened schools of music in different major Spanish cities including Seville,
Toledo, Valencia and Granada.2
The most important legacy in the field of music
left to Europe by the Arabs is the menstrual music. Before the close of the
twelfth century the Cantus menstruates or measured song was unknown to the
Europeans; the Arabs introduced their iqa’ (pl. iqa’at) or rhythm, which had
been known to the Arabs even as early as the seventh century. The medieval
‘hocket’ is a combination of notes and pauses which is derived from the
Arabic iqa’at.” In his book, A History of Arabian Music to the 13th Century,
H. G. Farmer tells the story of Zalzal (al-Darab), the great singer of
Baghdad who introduced a new type of cud called the cud al-shabbut or the
perfect lute. Then, Hitti’s History of the Arabs mentions that Abu al-Hasan
Ali ibn Nafi’ known as Ziyrab, another musician from Baghdad developed the
Zalzal lute known as al-shabbut, by adding a fifth string to it, and also by
making other replacements. In simple words, as a result of Arabic creativity
and contributions, a mixture of Arabic and Latin cultures generated in
Spain. It reflected upon other types of arts and literature including the
popular love song. “The Hispano-Arab poetry imbibed the native genius as
well as it polished techniques from the Arabs.” 3
ARABS AND THE POETRY OF
The Arabs were known for their ancient poetry. Pre-Islamic suspended odes
survived to represent examples of the Arabs mastery of poetry writing and
reciting; poetry was their most celebrated literary genre. By the ninth
century, Arabic poetry, like all other literary genres, was influenced by
the native Arabic philosophical traditions like those of the Mu’tazilites
(group of rationalists in Islamic theology) and of the Greek philosophy,
mainly that of Aristotle. Thus, the Arabs began to realize the systematic
study of poetry. Hence, Walid Hamarneh writes: “the first attempt to develop
a systematic study of poetry started around the end of the ninth century,
and by the tenth century the study of poetry became a prestigious activity
to which whole treaties and books could be devoted.” 4 By that time, Arabic
poetry of medieval Spain was mixing with the Western culture; it was
flourishing with new meanings, concepts and music. Thus a new hybrid of
poetry emerged. On such intercultural experience Boas writes: “In the
homogeneous culture of Moorish Spain there must have been a constant
exchange of themes, concepts and stylistic devices between courtly and
popular poetry.” 5
Arabic literary history and culture witnessed
outstanding love poets, love stories and thus love poetry. For example,
“Qays Ibn al-Mulawwah, known as Majnun or the ‘Mad One’, was the prototype
of the hero of courtly romance and an exemplum for the Sufi mystic.” 6 Also
there are many Hubb ‘Udri poets of the 7th century Arabia. Thus the love and
mystic poetry of Andalusia was not new to the Arabs though it was seen as
something unique and thus it was widely celebrated, especially in the West.
One of the best examples of that type of poetry can be seen in poems by
Muhyyeddin Ibn Arabi (549-624 A.H. / 1165-1240 AD), a medieval Andalusian
mystic poet. In (585 A.H. / 1201 AD), he visited Mecca where he met with a
beautiful young lady. She infatuated him, thus he composed poetry in good
praise of her. Then he found it advisable to write a commentary on the poems
in a mystic sense. The outcome was mystical in the form of The Tarjuman
al-Ashwaq 7 and the Dhakha’ir.
The most beautiful lines in The Tarjuman
al-Ashwaq are the following:
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba and the
tables of the Tora and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s
camels take, that is my religion and my faith.
We have a pattern of Bishr, the lover of Hind and her sister,
and in Qays and Lubna and in Mayya and Ghaylan. 8
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Roger Boase mentions that “those two books [The
Tarjuman al-Ashwaq and the Dhakha’ir] have been compared to the Vita nuove
and the Convivio of Dante.” 9 Dante Alighieri (649-705 A.H. / 1265-1321 AD)
was born and lived after Ibn Arabi. Like Ibn Arabi, he praised lyric the
poem, he established himself as the leading and the only significant critic
of the Middle Ages.
When the Arabs conquered Spain they brought with them all their ways of
life, culture and civilization to be mixed up with the Spanish society and
culture and thus, by time, a hybrid of the Hispanic and Arabic cultures was
generated. In simple words, for centuries, Hispano-Arabic love and mystic
poetry continued to appear. The contribution of the Arabs and the evolution
of the Hispano-Arabic poetry on love theory passed through three phases:
First is the period (A. H. 3-6 / AD 9-12). Second is the period (A. H. 6-8 /
AD 12-14), and third is the period (A. H. 9-11 / AD 15-17).
I- First phase witnessed the greatest variety in
form and content. It began with two essays by Al-Jahiz, litterateur and wit
of Baghdad and Basra. He wrote Risala fi il-Cshq wa ‘n-Nasa’ (Essay on Love
and Women), and Risalat al-Qiyan (Essay on Singing Slave Girls). Another
essayist was al-Khara’iti’s who wrote Ictilal al-Qulub (The Malady of
In the middle of the (4th century A.H. / 10th century AD), were published
Marubani’s Kitab ar-Riyad (The Book of Gardens) and Kitab al-Mutayyamin (The
Book of those Enslaved by Love). In the (5th century A.H. / 11th century
AD), el-Husari wrote Kitab al-Majun fi Sirr al-Hawa al-Maknun (The Book of
the Well-Guarded Concerning the Secret of Hidden Passion). Ibn Hazm wrote
Tawq al-Hamama (Neckring of the Dove). Jaafar Ibn Ahmad as-Sarraj complied
Masa’ib al-Ushshaq (The Calamities of the Lovers).
II- Second phase witnessed the poetry reaching a
certain internal maturity. The kind of material appearing in the earlier
books continued and the same themes are treated but two distinct attitudes
among the authors gave rise to two kinds of work, the straight literary
tradition and the ethically oriented work. Ibn al-Jawzi wrote Dham al-Hawa
(Love Forced Himself In), then Mughltai wrote al-Wadih al-Mubin fi Dhikr Mn
Estushhida min al-Muhibbin (The Clear and Obvious in the Mention of the
Martyred Lovers). Ibn al-Qayyim wrote Rawdat al-Muhibbin (The Garden of the
Lovers), a well organized, carefully thought treaties that formulated a
coherent Islamic doctrine on human love. Al-Kisa’I wrote Rawdat al-cAshiq wa
Nuzhat al-Wamiq (The Garden of the Passionate Lovers and the Promenade of
the Tender Lover). Fahd wrote Manazel al-Ahbab wa Nuzhatu al-Albab (The
Camping Places of the Beloved and Promenade of the Hearts). Abi Hajala wrote
Diwan al-Sababa (Book Verses of Ardent Love).
III- Third phase (9th – 11th centuries A.H. /
15th –17th centuries AD): Troubadour and Provencial poetry retreated. This
phase is not the concern of this paper.
The Arabic strophic love poetry started in the 9th century in Baghdad of the
Abbasides. The Romantic poetic tradition of love and lovers was a mainstream
of the literature books on the theory of love. The ethically and religiously
oriented subtype of work on love represented by some writers was to
participate in the writing of love theory. But love poets wanted to confront
the idea passed from the Qur’an, Hadith (Sayings, behaviour and pious
anecdotes of Prophet Muhammad), and the four Orthodox Caliphs.
A number of the literary works on love cited in
this paper serve as a reply to the claimants that Arabic language and
literature cannot produce poetry of courtly love. To prove the influence of
Arabic poetry upon the Western Romantic lyric, parallels must be established
between courtly poetry composed in Muslim Spain or may be elsewhere in
Muslim countries (e.g. Levant, Egypt and Iraq) and that poetry which was
composed in the Province or elsewhere in Europe. This, of course, includes
the various types of channels of communication that existed in the Islamic
world and Christian Europe, and also the poets from Southern France could
have gained a direct and/or an indirect access to Arabic poetry. This is
necessary if the intention is to prove that the similarity between Arabic
and troubadour are not a matter of coincidence or mere chance.
The parallels between them are of three kinds:
I. Formal and stylistic elements.
II. Common elements and motifs.
III. Analogies between the concepts of love in both lyrical traditions.
ARABS AND THE POETRY OF
The troubadour poetry was to spread over Spain and France in the period
between 3rd to 7th centuries A.H / 9th and 13th centuries AD. There are two
stories of the origin of the Troubadour poetry in Medieval Europe:
First: It is that courtly love which was the product of the interaction
between Christianity and a primitive Germanic / Celtic / Pictish matriarchy.
This insured the survival of pre-Christian sexual mores and veneration for
women among the European aristocracy. The story appears in the following:
I- The privileged status of women in pagan Europe.
II- The Gothic spirit of chivalry.
III- A subterfuge to avoid an ecclesiastical censorship.
Second: It is that of the Arabic origin in Spain
where the Islamic culture, poetry and philosophy of the Arabs in Muslim
Spain showed great influence on the Troubadour poetry. According to Roger
Boase, there are several factors that may prove the Arabic influence as
I- Scholarship and culture of the Islamic world.
II- Etymology of the Troubadour.
III- Arabic music and Troubadour music.
IV- Rhyme and poetic forms.
V- Etymology of ‘trobar’.
VI- Poetic themes.
VII- The concept of love in poetry. 10
In this context, many theorists attempted to
refute what is called the “Arabist” theory, but their efforts have gone
astray as the story appeared over and over again and it became a story that
is hard to deny. In defense of the Arabist theory, I argue that the original
meaning of the word “Troubadour” is “Tarab” which is an Arabic word meaning
the transport of joy. This meaning led some scholars to believe that the
word constitutes the original meaning for Troubadour. “Tarab” as well
conveys the idea that Arabic poetry offers. In addition to sorrow, and
frustration, it is an expression of radiant joy for life. In other words,
the Arabic love poetry is as old and genuine as Arabs ever composed poetry.
It has always been as one of their major themes ever since they composed
poetry in the pre-Islamic period. This appears in whatever available of the
Arabic suspended Odes. Of the early Arabic poetry, the most notable type of
love poetry is their courtly love poems.
There are two points of view on the question of
courtly love as scholarship on this issue is divided into two camps:
supporters of the theory of the Western origin of courtly love and
supporters of the theory of Eastern origin of the genre. Defenders of the
Western origin of troubadour poetry refer it to some Medieval Latin texts
written by clergymen. They confused themselves by mixing between the Goliard
poets 11 and the Troubadour poets. Goliard poetry was written in vernacular
Latin. Its surviving manuscripts are collected in a book entitled Carmina
Burana.12 and its housed in Cambridge University. The most famous of the
Goliard poets was Golias.13 Some sources say that Goliard poetry borrowed
from Ovid as he wrote poems in praise of love and lovers to embody human
spirit, and some others believe that “[Goliard Poetry] may perhaps owe
something to Latin translations of Plato.” 14 Other supporters of the
Western origin argued that the troubadour lyric might have been adopted from
some prose texts and poetry of Andreas Capellanus (6th century A.H. / 12th
century AD),15 especially his love poem De amore, or On Love. It’s a kind of
manual and guide book on lovemaking in the courtly style. On the other hand,
the anti-Arabic theory suggests the possibility of attributing textual
similarities to direct interaction between Latin-Romance languages and
Moreover, they argue that, courtly love and the
poetry in praise of women could not come from a culture that, according to
them, so despised and possessed women, and thus the origin of modern poetry
would not be found starting from the Arabic culture! They also referred the
origin of the troubadour poetry to religious descent. It is worth mentioning
that those scholars built their judgment either on clichés and stereotypes
or on fanatic beliefs. In simple words, they offered a subjective judgment.
Thus, the possibility of some Arabic origin or influence was effectively
banished. Meantime, in the 12th century, the Knight Templers, a
military-religious group of Crusaders founded in Jerusalem in 1118 and they
were charged with protecting the Holly Sites in Jerusalem. They are
considered one of the major groups that brought Islamic mystical ideas and
beliefs into Europe until Jerusalem fell to the hands of Muslims in 1187.16
The troubadour poetry was written in vernacular Spanish-Arabic.
Unlike any Western lyrical poetry, the
troubadour poetry is famous for its Arabic muwashshah and kharja. Maurice
Bowra argues: “It may have some remote connexion with the arrival of Cathars
from the East in the beginning of the eleventh century. … Courtly love has
more affinities with Persian epics, like that of Nizami ([524-586
A.H]/1140-1202 [AD]).” 17 Originally speaking, Cathar or Catharist is
someone who maintains dual religious theology. This kind of people was
common in the medieval time and cultures. Bruce used the term to describe
scholars who came from the East with dual religious theology. 18
The origins of the Troubadour poetry is still subject to debate and surmise.
In support of the assumption of the Arabic origin starting by saying that
troubadour poetry has much in common with the Hispano-Arabic poetry of
Medieval Spain or Al-Andalus. It is mainly poetry of courtly love and deep
passion. Love poetry existed ever since man composed and sang poetry.
Love poetry among the Arabs was well known in
pre-Islam Arabia. There are many pre-Islamic Arabic stories of courtly love
that still exist in Arabic literature. Islam never stopped poetry of love,
and the Muslim states witnessed a tremendous revolution from the scholars of
Basra and Kufa who made a major contribution to the preservation of the
Arabic language and literature after they mingled with other nations of the
conquered lands. These scholars recorded the Arabic lexicon and poetry from
Najd in the middle of Arabia, and also proposed grammatical rules and
created orthographic diacritics to assist in the correct pronunciation of
the Quran. They also made dictionaries and analyzed the prosody of poetry.
The most remarkable pioneer in these fields was Al Khalil lbn Ahmad Al
Faraheedi (d. 175 A.H. / 791 AD) from Basra. His student, the Persian
scientist Abu Bishr Amr Ibn Othman--nicknamed Stbawaih-- (d. 177 A.H. / 793
AD) followed him. Baghdad quickly developed into a center for this work and
scholars from Kufa and Basra such as Abu Hanifa, Al Mufadal Al Dhabbi, Al
Kis'al , Al Fir'a and Ibn Al-Sukait traveled to Baghdad and settled there
helping to develop it into the main forum for discussion.
Interestingly enough the Caliph and poet
Abdullah Ibn Al Mu'tazz (d. 296 A.H. / 912 AD) reported in his book 'Tabaqat
Al-shu'ara' (Categories of Poets) that at the end of the third Hijri century
(10th century AD), there were more than 130 poets in the Abbasid state. This
number excludes women poets and other writers who played important roles in
the literary life of Islamic society. Of the well-known women poets excluded
were: Rabi'a bint Ismail Al Dawiya who led an ascetic, mystical life;
Princess Ulayya bint Al Mahdi whom Al Husari described as "equal to numerous
noblemen in reasoning and decorum; she also has good poetry and wonderful
singing." Princess Al Abbasa bint Al Mahdi whose writing is infused with
extreme imaginativeness; and finally, A'bida Al Juhaniya described by Al-Sayyuti
as an "eloquent and gentle poet and writer.”
I stand with the scholars who say that the roots of the troubadour poetry
come from those Arabic origins. Bowra writes: “It has been claimed that it
[the troubadour] learned much from Arabic poetry composed either in Moorish
Spain, which was in easy reach of southern France, or in Syria, where it
attracted the attention of the first Crusaders.” 19 Bruce MacLennan states
that “it is not too surprising that half of the surviving songs of the first
known troubadour, William of Poitiers, agree with a certain form of Arab
mystical poetry (the zajal) in their detailed metrical structure and
conventional expressions.” 20
The early troubadours traveled from place to place playing their music and
singing their poems to gain their living.
When they became a phenomenon, their poetry
spread strongly into southern France. The southern French troubadour wrote
their poems in the vernacular Spanish Arabic language of medieval southern
France or langue d’oc. In describing that poetry, some scholars like Bruce
MacLennan interchangeably uses the terms Province, Langue d’oc, Poitou to
describe the troubadour.21
The earliest French troubadours was William of Poitier ([455-661 A.H.]/
1071-1127 AD), and of the famous French troubadours were Bernard de
Ventadour ([?- 579 A.H.] / ?-1195 AD) and Guiart Riquier ([?- 678 A.H.] /
?-1294 AD). 22 In the (6th –7th centuries A.H / 12th-13th centuries AD), the
troubadour phenomenon flourished and spread to the northern parts of France
introducing new form and content of love poetry. By then, troubadour poetry
began to be written in the language of medieval northern France or langua
d’oil. This new type of poems was called trouveres. Of the trouveres were
the French born king of England Richard the Lion-Hearted ([541-583 A.H] /
1157-1199 AD) and his faithful friend Bondel de Nesles ([534?-584? A.H.]
/1150?-1200? AD). 23
The Troubadour poetry was devoted to praising
the woman lover and to express her male lover’s submission to her that
reaches a point of idealization of the lover. The troubadour remains a
symbol of faith, loyalty and unconditional submission to the beloved. Even
after the troubadour phenomenon was over, poets continued to celebrate them
and their love poems. For example, in the nineteenth-century, the Romantic
poet Walter Scott celebrates the troubadour in a short poem entitled “The
troubadour.” There, he describes a troubadour, singer and musician,
regardless of anything living around him, marched to the battlefield in
defense of his country, “with helm on head and harp in hand” idolizing his
beloved to the end of his life.
The first stanza of the poem reads:
Glowing with love, on fire for fame,
A Troubadour that hated sorrow
Beneath his lady’s window came,
And thus he sung his last good-morrow:
‘My arm it is my country’s right,
My heart is in my true love’s bower;
Gayly for love and fame to fight
Befits the gallant Troubadour. 24
The most notable Arabic contribution to the
literature of Europe was in “zajal” (strophic poetry in dialect), “kharja”
and “muwashshahat” (plural of muwashshah). These were luminous confirmations
of the bilingual Muslim Spain. The muwashshahat were invented in (c. 300
A.H. / c. 900 AD) by Muqaddam ibn al-Mu’afa. It flourished in the Almoravid
period (475-529 A.H. / 1091-1145 AD); one can say that Almoravid period was
the golden age for the muwashshah. The best-known Almoravid strophic poets
and songwriters were Tutili and Ibn Baqi. Philip Hitti mentions that the
best known among the Arab songwriters was Abu al-Abbas (510 A.H. / 1126 A.
D.) a blind poet of Toledo. He was one of the well-known composers of
muwashshah (Hitti, 561-2). Also there was the popular song called the zajal;
it was popular in the middle of the 6th century A.H. / 12th century AD; it
was mastered by Abu Bakr ibn Quzman. 25
By time, both muwashshah and zajal have become
types of song indicative of the influence that the Andalusian and Provincal
poetry had upon one another. 26 Both zajal and muwashshah won the admiration
of the Christian neighbors. They gave birth to villancio, which became a
very popular verse in the Spanish City of Castle. From what is available,
the zajal was written only in the Arabic dialects of Spain, and Ibn Quzman
the famous zajal poet was so brilliant that he earned the undisputed title
of ‘leader of the zadjaleeon or zadjalistsArdquo or (imam al-zadjdjalin). In
his zadjal Ibn Quzman used the Arabic dialect of southern Spain as it was
spoken by the educated people of his time; vocabulary of that language was
much enriched with borrowings from the classical language, but always
deprived of grammatical inflections (i’rab).
On the other hand, the Arabic love poems established itself swiftly and
flourished in Andalusia, then it spread into southern France and other parts
of Europe including German-speaking land of Rhine and Danub (534 A.H / 1150
AD) and Palmero and Sicily and southern Italy (604-634 A.H. / 1220-1250 AD).
Afterwards, they exerted influence upon the Italian sonnet, the poetry of
the Iberian Peninsula and England. Bowra explains:
In England where the ruling classes spoke Norman
French, about ([634 A.H.] / 1250 [AD]) there is a sudden outburst of
vernacular of what looks like spontaneous song. … What had begun in southern
France became a truly European movement, and France did what she was to do
more than once in later centuries by setting a standard of poetry which
caught the imagination of other countries and inspired such emulation in
them that to write in any other manner looked dowdy and provincial. 27
Among the great number of the troubadour poets were Ibn Hazm and Said ibn
Judi. Abu Muhammed ‘Ali Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (d. 1064) wrote one of the most
interesting and famous books of that time; his book Tawq al-Hamama (Necklace
of the Dove) or (Ring of the Dove) was a symbol of courtly love. The book
was written in 1022 in south of Valencia. 28
ARABIC MUWASHSHAH AND
The poetry of the troubadour reveals characteristics unknown before them
anywhere in Europe; their origins come from the Orient. The Troubadour songs
enjoy established roots that were obeyed, in a remarkable way, by all those
who wrote or sang it. In his book, Love Songs from Al-Andalus, Otto Zwartjes
mentions that the origins of muwashshah and kharja go back to the
pre-Islamic Arabic Ode or qasid[a]. It’s one type of a variety of Arabic
strophic poetry. For instance, the Abbasid strophic poetry is called musamat;
it’s the internal rhyme (tarshic).
Then there is the muzdawaj which is a poem with
a hemistich rhyme scheme aa bb cc, etc. with an exception of the segments
aaa bbb ccc, etc. Then comes the muwashshah. It is for laudatory and erotic
poetry, and it begins with an introductory strophe (matlac) [taam] or
complete. In the muwashshah there is a kharja. It’s the last line of the
muwashshah when the muwashshah is a love song only. Of the other related
Arabic song types common in the Andalusian culture was the zajal, the
muzannam, and the qasida zajaliyya. It is interesting that the main features
of the Troubadour poetry are already visible in what is called muwashshah
and kharja. They are essential for the form and the spirit of that medieval
type of poetry and love-song. It was expanded and enriched by some gifted
men from the East. They differed greatly from one another in terms of their
temper, technique, imagery, outlook, clarity and obscurity. However, they
fall into a coherent group without being called as constituents of a
movement. Their similarities are more marked than their dissimilarities.
Following the rhyme, one can say that there are
two types of muwashshahat: Rhymed and unrhymed.
First: The rhymed Troubadour poetry. It is identical to the Arabic poetry in
its rhyme, rhythm and meter.
It can be divided into two types:
I. The muwashshahat which are rhymed, and where its qafl does not
differentiate it from other types of classical poetry. Therefore, this kind
of muwashshahat is considered as weak and unfavorable; it is called the
II. The muwashshahat which are rhymed and its
qafl and verses contain a word or perhaps a diacritical mark that
differentiates it from pure and classical poetry. Therefore, it is
Following the qafl itself muwashshahat can be divided into two types:
First is the muwashshah where its qafl rhymes as the verses themselves so
that all verses are identical to the qafl. Second is where qafl differs
clearly from its verses so that it sounds unlike the qafl. The second part
is always the work of the distinguished Troubadour poets.
Following the music muwashshahat can be divided
into two types:
I. What can be put into music without any interruption. It constitutes the
majority of the Troubadour poetry.
II. What cannot be put into music except by adding a new supportive word to
the text. This type is uncommon and unfavorable Troubadour poetry.
Second is the unrhymed muwashshahat. It has no relationship with the Arabs
by any means. This type of poetry was easy to write and thus much of it was
available among the Troubadours.
The form of the muwashshah was traditional in some aspects, such as the
Romance kharja. Many of the Almoravid poets cultivated classical and
strophic poetry with equal facility. They belonged to a group headed by two
masters already mentioned as Tutili and Ibn Baqi.
Zajal is a poetic genre that appeared almost in
the same period as the muwashshah. In simple words, it is a variety of the
muwashshah. In an explanation of the Zajal, in his essay “Moorish Spain”
Emilio Gracia Gomes writes: “There is some evidence for the belief that it
was invented by the famous philosopher and musician known as Avempace (d.
[522 A.H.] / 1138 [AD]).” 29 Its chief characteristic being that it is
written entirely in the vernacular. The muwashshah is a popular genre. It
treats the same subject as the various kinds of poetry, i.e. love, praise,
marthiya (mourning), hija’ (invective), mujun (frivolity), and zhud
(asceticism). Similarly, Ibn Khaldun (iii. 390): “In this genre [zajal] one
makes erotic or panegyric verses as in the qasida or poem.
What distinguishes the muwashshah from the poem
(qasida) is its “kharja.” The difference appears clearly when one contrasts
it with its sister genre of the “zajal.” The muwashah mainly contains
“madihs” or panegyric rendered in the “majlis” or the audience-room of the
prince. Also in honor of the prince those “madihs” were composed. They
contain a “khamriya” (wine song) in the drinking-sessions of court society
and the “ghazal” (love songs) which are made for singing-girls to sing on
the same occasions. The poet, in the muwashshah form, very often recited the
“madih.” In almost all cases the muwashshah was sung, in the presence of the
prince. However, the muwashshah, like poetry in general, was not only an
ornament of courtly life, but also a product of art, to be enjoyed and
judged as such.
It was believed that the only differences between muwashshah and zajal, lay
in the language, the advocates of the “Arabic” origin of the strophic poetry
defended the priority of the muwashshah written in classical language, its
exchange for the vernacular gave rise to the zajal. The supporters of the
popular and Spanish origin may say that in the beginning, zajal was the
first vernacular for the classical. This means that the zajal appears in
history later than muwashshah.
Arabic Andalusit muwashshah is known as strophic
poem written in classical Arabic; sometimes its kharja comes in vernacular,
while the zajal is all in vernacular and it is the same vernacular dialect
of Arab Spain. There is a small but important contrast between the structure
of the two. The fundamental scheme of the muwashshah is as follows:
AA bbbAA cccAA
AB cccAB dddAb
That is to say the structure of the smit corresponds exactly to that of
matla’. Accordingly, if the matla’ has a more complicated scheme, the smit,
too, will follow suit:
ABAB ccABAB dddABAB
ABCB dddABCB eeeABB
It is noteworthy that there is no exception to this rule. On the other hand,
the characteristic structure of the zajal is:
AA bbbA cccA
or in the case of a more complicated scheme of rhymes:
Thus, the smit reproduces half of the element of
the matla’. Moreover, the scheme of zajal is much more rigid than that of
the muwashshah: besides the fundamental form AB cccA – on which is composed
the overwhelming majority of the poems – there occur only very small
variations. Above all, the zajal does not share with the muwashshah that
very characteristic of the kharja. It is panegyric in which it expresses in
a condensed phrase the phrases of the person celebrated in the main portion
of the poem.
The second characteristic is eroticism where the kharja is in a sentimental
and melancholic tone expressing the feeling of separation that the lovers
The third characteristic is “dala” which is the
style of “coquetry.” In many cases the kharja is written in vernacular
Arabic, but most of kharjas are in a language provided with more or less
superficial vulgar gloss. The use of vernacular Arabic is not the most
extravagant of the conventions of the kharja.
There are some Spanish kharjas in Arabic muwashshah and they have remarkable
features as they were written in Spanish dialects spoken in medieval Spain
or al-Andalus. Those dialects were vernacular languages besides vulgar
Arabic. They were spoken by all classes of society. There also existed
Arabic muwashshah with Spanish bending.
The main characteristics of the kharja were well
understood by Ibn Sana’ al-Mulk, who gave a good exposition on the subject
following some Andalusian authority. Kharja is the name of the last “gufl”
(closing part) of the muwashshah. If it employs the classical form of the
language, in the same way as the rest of the strophes and gufls that precede
it, the muwashshah is not a muwashshah any more in the true sense of the
word. The only exception is the case of a panegyric, where the person to be
praised is named in the kharja. In this context it is permitted that the
kharja should be in classical language. Sometimes, the kharja is in
classical language even if it does not contain the name of the person
eulogized. In this case, its expression should be erotic and moving,
enchanting, alluring, and germane to passion. This has not been achieved in
more than two or three muwashshahat, e.g. Ibn Baqi’s Laylun Tawil (A Long
Strophic forms similar to the zajal are to be found in various parts of the
West: closely associated forms in Spain, northern France (where they are
called virelais), Italy and England. In the mid-thirteenth century, some
Italian poets employed the schemata of Arabic Spanish poetry in their “lauda.”
In general, there were forms related to more distant fashion in the poetry
of the Troubadours in southern France.
The Hispano-Arabic school of poetry had exerted influence upon and
participated positively in building the forms and meanings of the troubadour
poetry. The centers of that culture in the 9th-10th centuries were not only
in Cordova (Cordoba) but also in Toledo, Seville, Grenada and other
The Ummayyad emirate, which gave the first unitary order to the Arab
peninsula, at first looked naturally upon its homeland, Syria, as a model.
Accordingly, the cultural influences from the East continued (in the 9th
century the Abbasides influences from Iraq were particularly stressed,
despite the rivalry of the two dynasties: Ummayyad and Abbasides) in the
already mentioned circulation of ideas, persons and things in every part of
the medieval Muslim world. At the same time the Arabic-Spanish state came
into contact with Byzantium.
The most notable Arabic contribution to the
literature of Europe was in zajal, muwashshahat and kharja. Undoubtedly,
they were luminous confirmations of the bilingualism of Muslim Spain. These
discoveries opened a new phase in the controversial question of the Arabic
influence on the forms and spirit of the Iberian and Provencal lyric poetry,
mainly the troubadour poetry. The troubadour phenomenon could be explained
in two ways: either in postulating that all these forms were invented once
and for all and then disseminated from one single center, or in admitting
the possibility that similar forms were invented independently more than
In the oral poetry in Romance in Muslim Spain
about the year 900, there existed new series of schemata. In the second half
of the twelfth century there appeared in northern France the “virelai” on a
different scheme. The majority of the scholars concerned are inclined to
think that the same form may have been invented twice over independently.
Moreover, the supposition that the “zajalesque” form passed through Arabic
before reaching northern France is based on an affirmation of the fact that
it never existed in its complete form in Romance before it was perfected by
the Arab poet Muqaddam Ibn al-Mu’afa.
The means by which the content of Arabic poetry might have been transmitted
to the troubadours can be classified under two ways: indirect contacts and
direct contacts. The indirect transmission of poetic ideas would presuppose
that these first came to the knowledge of part of the population which lived
in close symbiosis with the Muslims, the Mazarabs and the Christians living
under Islamic rule and the inhabitants of the Christian kingdom of the
north. Among these communities there were many bilingual groups who did act
as agents for the transmission of elements of Islamic civilization to Spain.
The second method of possible division is of course through direct contact
with Arabic poetry. As far as the content of the troubadour poetry is
concerned, the Arabic theory has two aspects. Some critics believe that
troubadour poetry and courtly love were such out-of-the-way phenomena in the
development of Western culture that it was necessary to suppose that they
may have been borrowed from somewhere and Arabic poetry seemed a likely
Another possibility is to give up trying to find
a complete explanation for courtly love (which is the essence of the poetry
of the troubadour) by reference to Islamic sources and limit oneself to
defining a certain number of motifs which the troubadours might have taken
from Arabic poetry.
The cultural supremacy of the Islamic world in the period immediately
preceding the rise of the troubadour lyric is indisputable, and the
importance of the Arabic scholarship as a medium for the transmission of
Greek classical texts is widely acknowledged and the mastery of the Arabs in
composing poetry. Those are good reasons for supporting the Arabist theory.
The contacts between Arabic poetry and the Romantic poetry of Muslim Spain
arose from the symbiosis of Arabic and Romance dialects in the Iberian
Peninsula. What had begun in southern France in the ninth century became a
truly European movement and it is that at no other time in European
literature, with its vast array of love-poetry has particular system been in
favor. The troubadour represents a splendid witness to the high age of
Arabic and Islamic culture in medieval Spain. It is interesting that from
(mid-6th century A.H./ mid-12th century AD) until our present day the
concepts of the romantic love dominated Western thinking. The phenomenon of
the troubadour poetry is still worthy of elaborate studies.
1. The word Adab is originally an Arabic word. It means courtesy or
appropriate behavior. This may range from showing respect for someone elder
to doing the right thing at the right time. It implies keeping attentive to
one’s actions and their effects on others. In other contexts, it means
literature of entertainment. Adab is one of the key words used by mystics
and Sufi poets.
2. S. M. Imamuddin. Some Aspects of the Socio-Economic and Cultural History
of Muslim Spain 711-1492 AD in Medieval Iberian Peninsula Texts and Studies,
Vol. ii, Edited by C. Marinescu, Jose Millas-Vallicrosa and Hussain Mones.
(Netherlands; Leiden: E. J. Brill., 1965), 197.
3. H. G. Farmer. A History of Arabian Music to the 13th Century. (London:
Oxford University Press, 1929), 121.
4. Walid Hamarneh. Arabic Theory and Criticism: Guide to Literary Theory &
Criticism. (New York: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), 6.
5. Roger Boase. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A Critical Study of
European Scholarship. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977), 64.
6. ibid, 65.
7. Tarjuman al-Ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical Odes by Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi
(560-638 A.H. / 1175-1254 AD). It was written in Andalusia in (585 A.H. /
1201 AD). It consists of sixty-one sections of poetry. All of it is in good
praise of the young woman whom the poet met with in Mecca and felled in love
with. Though The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq is the only extant manuscript of his one
hundred and fifty works, I noticed that in his introduction to scribed Ibn
‘Arabi, in The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq, Reynold A. Nicholson described Ibn ‘Arabi
as “the most celebrated of all Muhammedan mystics.”
8. Muhyi’ddin Ibn Arabi,. The Tarjuman Al-Ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical
Odes in Oriental Translation in Fund New Series, Vol. XX. Edited with
Translation by Reynold A. Nicholason. (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1911),
9. Roger Boase. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love, 66.
10. Ibid. 62-63.
11. The Goliard poets are vagabonds, and wandering scholar-poets. They
appeared in the (5th century A.H. / 11th century AD), but their glory was in
the (6th and 7th centuries A.H. / 12th and 13th centuries). Their first
appearance was in Germany, then France and England. They described
themselves as followers of the legendary Bishop Golias. They are wandering
scholars mainly students and rebelled clerics and clergymen including
unfrocked priests and runaway monks. They stood against the church and its
principles; they reacted against medieval ascetic ideals of the rigorous
church. By their irresponsible life they were seeking freedom against the
rigorous rules of the church. They sought freedom of speech in lascivious
singing about love, wine, and women, and in their praise of debauchery and
careless life. They wrote satirical Latin verse in celebration of
conviviality and sensual pleasure. Like the early Troubadours they traveled
from place to place and walked from house to house singing to gain their own
living. Meantime, they were unlike Troubadours who appeared in Spain and
southern France, and who had many of them of noble birth especially the
Troubadours of southern France, also they differ from the Goliards in that
the majority of their songs and music were designed and written for upper
12. Cambridge Songs: Carmina Cantabrigiensia.
Some of the Goliard lyrical poems are still alive from a (7th century A.H. /
13th century) edition that was placed at Cambridge University in the 19th
century. The original copy was found in Benediktbeuern near Munich in
Germany in 1803. In 1998 Jan Ziolkowski edited it and gave it the name of
Cambridge University. It appeared in a book entitled Cambridge Songs:
Carmina Cantabrigiensia. This collection included 83 lyrical songs, poems
and short plays.
13. Golias is a name perhaps derived from
Goliath. The medieval archpoet Golias is the mystical patron who was
celebrated as the lord of vagabonds. He stood against the church and exalted
the delights of wine, love and song. Thus he was supported by other clerics
and lay people. He employed his talents to secure favors for himself and his
friends. Only ten poems of his survive. His book The Confessions of Golias
(c. 544 A.H. / c. 1160 AD) is regarded by medievalists as source book. It’s
a book of mock confession in which he employed scriptural quotations in a
14. Maurice Bowra. Medieval Love-Song. (London: University of London; the
Athlone Press, 1961), 8.
15. Capellanus was Andreas Capellanus, literally, “Andreas the Chaplain”
commonly known as Andreas. He wrote his book The Art of Courtly Love at the
request of the Countess Marie of Troyes, daughter of Elianor of Aquitaine.
The book portrays conditions at Queen Eleanor’s court at Poitiers in the
period (554- 558 A. H. / 1170-1174 AD). In addition to the poems of medieval
courtly love and Romance, and human sexuality, there is the book sociology,
anthropology and archeology. Some scholars argue that the book became well
known among the Troubadours of southern France.
16. For more about the Templers and their role in the East and their
relation to the culture of the East see William Anderson, Dante the Maker.
London: Riutledage & Kegan Paul, 1980.
17. Maurice Bowra. Medieval Love-Song, 9.
18. The Cathers called themselves Christian, but the Church reconsidered
many of their beliefs as heretical. However there were competing, more
orthodox movements within the Church. They had the God of Love and the
Creator (or God Arrogant), who had created the material world, which was
considered evil. It is said that they contrasted their Church of Love with
the Church of Rome: AMOR vs. ROMA.
19. Maurice Bowra. Medieval Love-Song, 8.
20. Maclennan, 25.
21. The term Province is given to the region of southern France. It is the
land located east of the Rhŏne. Languedoc is located west of Province.
Languadoc is part of Poitou, a region in west central France.
22. Durrell, 443 qouted in Bowra, 20
23. ibid. 443.
24. Abdelwahed, Said I. Twenty English Romantic Poets: Selected with an
Introduction. Cairo: Dar Al-Nahda Al-Arabia, 1998, 85.
25. Encyclopedia of Islam mention that “Ibn Kuzman was in no sense a
troubadour singing of courtly love, that ‘ishk al-muruwwa which he in fact
derides. Like Abu Nuwas and Francois Villon, he led the life of a needy
bohemian, reckless troper, and an epicene rake (khali, zani, lawwat). … Ibn
Kuzman’s delinquencies and his incorrigible passion for wine led to his
being accused of impiety and irreligious and thrown into prison.”
(Encyclopedia of Islam CD-ROM, 3).
26. Hitti, P. K. History of the Arabs. 10th ed. Edited by Walid Khalidi.
(London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 144.
27. Maurice Bowra. Medieval Love-Song. 143.
28. Tawq al-Hamama fil-Ulfa wal-Ullaf, commonly known as Tawq al-Hamama, by
Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi was written in around (406 A. H. / 1022 AD) in Valencia
to represent one of the most famous and celebrated book of love and lovers.
The one volume manuscript contains thirty coherent chapters that treat
thirty moments of love or situations related to love, lovers and their
anecdotes. Most of Ibn Hazm’s examples are taken from real life experience
and his book is replete with stories told in his own poetry. Most of the
stories told in the book introduce an invaluable picture of love among the
aristocracy in the Medieval Andalusian courts and palaces, and in the
meantime, the book criticized and condemned sodomy and the heterosexual
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Andalusian Literature). 2nd ed. Cairo: Dar Al-Nahada Al-Arabia, 1995.
Al-Samarrai, Q. “New remarks on the text of Ibn Hazm’s Tawq al-Hamama” in
Arabica 30 (1983): 57-72.
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