Story of the Most Famous Arab Poet, Imruʾ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr
By: Kimothy Wong / Arab America Contributing Writer
Imruʾ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr (501 AD – 544 AD) was acknowledged as one of the most influential poets of pre-Islamic Arabia. He was known as the father of Arabic poetry due to his achievement in establishing the prototype of Arabic poetry. He is one of the seven poets in the famous collection of pre-Islamic poetry, Mu’allaqat.
Mu’allaqat refers to the Suspended Odes or The Hanging Poems in Arabic. It is a collection of seven odes, each considered to be the best ode of the authors. Since all the odes were selected among the best poets in the 6th century, Mu’allaqat represents the golden era of Arabic poetry.
The poems were written down in golden letters on scrolls of linen and hung on the walls of the Kaaba in Mecca because hanging the poem has a symbolic meaning as if the odes hang in the reader’s mind.
Young Imruʾ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr
The most widespread account of his story suggests that Imruʾ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr is the youngest son of Ḥujr, the king of the Kindah tribe of central Arabia. Kindah is part of the present Republic of Yemen. When Imruʾ al-Qays was young, he was famous for writing erotic poetry, which expelled him from his father’s house.
Ḥujr instructed his servant to murder his son and bring back his eyes as evidence. However, the servant did not kill Imruʾ al-Qays but an antelope instead. He brought back the eyes of the antelope to prove that he had already executed the order.
Hujr later felt remorse for his actions after his son returned to the house. However, Imru al-Qays was kicked out again by his father. This time he lived a prodigal life, vagabonding in the desert with a band of companions, devoting himself to the hunting, drinking, gambling, and women.
Life of Revenge
Imruʾ al-Qays remained in a licentious lifestyle until the news of Ḥujr’s death reached him. His father was killed in light of the feuds with a rebellious clan, Banu Asad. But Imruʾ al-Qays did not feel sorrow on the day he heard about his father’s death, and he decided to roister one more day and said one of the most famous quotes,
After that day, Imruʾ al-Qays devoted himself to vengeance for his father and swore,
The Death of Imruʾ al-Qays ibn Ḥujr
For the rest of his life, Imruʾ al-Qays successfully caused heavy casualties on the Banu Asad with help from other tribes. During his search for allies, he met King al-Ḥārith of Ghassān, who later introduced Imruʾ al-Qays to the Byzantine emperor Justinian I.
In the beginning, Justinian l agreed to supply Imru al-Qays with an army to avenge his father’s assassination and regain his kingdom. However, rumors that he had seduced Justinian’s daughter prompted the emperor to send the poet a poisoned cloak. After Imru al-Qays put on the cloak, his body broke out in sores and died.
In Pre Islamic Arabia era, people disseminated poetries verbally. Imruʾ al-Qays’ works were collected into many different forms by various people. Arabic scholars distrust the authenticity of most of them. Imruʾ al-Qays is mostly known for a long, complex poem that was included in the Mu’allaqat. Imruʾ al-Qays’ poem in Mu’allaqat contains 82 lines. He can write the most imaginative and descriptive sentences in conventional lines. Here is an example of the opening stanzas of his poetry, “The Poem of Imrul-al-Qays.”
Stop, oh my friends, let us pause to weep over the remembrance of my beloved.
Here was her abode on the edge of the sandy desert between Dakhool and Howmal.
The traces of her encampment are not wholly obliterated even now.
For when the South wind blows the sand over them the North wind sweeps it away.
The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate;
The dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.
On the morning of our separation it was as if I stood in the gardens of our tribe,
Amid the acacia-shrubs where my eyes were blinded with tears by the smart from the bursting pods of colocynth.
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