Despite the fact, or perhaps because he defied the norms of classical Arabic poetry, Ibn Quzman has come to embody the essence of Hispano-Arabic poetry. Indeed, he has become for modern scholarship the best-known literary figure from the entire 780-year Arabo-Muslim presence on the Iberian Peninsula (modern spain and Portugal). Ibn Quzman, whose full name was Abu Bakr ibn ’Abd al-Malik, was born in the Andalusian city of Cordoba in AH 470-472/1078-1080 CE, where he also died in 555/1160.
Little of Ibn Quzman’s biography has been documented. However, as is the case with many premodern literary figures, much biographical information, reliable or unreliable, has been extrapolated from Ibn Guzman’s poetry.
Before Ibn Quzman’s time, the traditional means of livelihood for professional poets in both the East and West was the composition of panegyrics in praise of contemporary rulers. On the Iberian Peninsula this situation changed abruptly with the arrival of the Almoravids, led by Yusuf bin Tashfin (489/ 1096). The Almoravids’ conquest and occupation of territories previously held by the fragmented “factional kings’’ (muluk al-tawa’if) led to the displacement of professional court poets employed by the Almoravids’ predecessors. Because the Berber-speaking Almora-vids had little appreciation for the encomia composed in classical Arabic, poets were compelled to earn a living by composing praise poetry for the lesser aristocracy, or to redirect their efforts into nonpanegyric forms of poetry. Although Ibn Quzman was not the first to compose zajals (Ibn Bajja [d. 533/1138] was the most probable originator), he is considered the genre’s foremost practitioner. In the context of a volatile social and cultural environment, Ibn Quzman interjected and popularized the zajal, a genre of poetry very different from the classical praise poetry that preceded it.
Ibn Quzman’s zajals represent a radical departure from the seriousness of the classical panegyric that had been the standard poetic form in both the East and West of the Arabic-speaking world. Instead of the formalized, ritualized praise of rulers common in the encomia, Ibn Quzman’s zajals constitute a highly ironic countergenre to established norms. Ibn Guzman’s zajal substitutes the bombastic, florid praise of the panegyric with parodic, tongue-in-cheek, faint praise of individuals who in earlier times never would have been the object of serious poetry. This emphasis on the popular, lower strata of society is also apparent in Ibn Quzman’s depiction of popular events, such as carnivals, jugglers’ entertainment, marketplaces, and foods. Transgressive elements, such as drunkenness, seduction, fornication, adultery, divorce, and slapstick violence are prominent features of his zajals.
The zajal, as practiced by Ibn Quzman, not only dealt with subject matter alien to classical poetry, but also, the zajal’s form and language differed significantly from those found in the classical variety. In its structure the zajal resembles its counterpart, the classical muwashshaha, a form consisting of five to seven strophes with a complicated rhyme scheme. However, the zajal differs from the muwashshaha in the use of an introductory strophe rather than a concluding envoi. The most striking feature of the zajal is its language. In contrast to the highly formal diction of all classical poetry, the zajal subverts the classical norm by introducing often-lengthy passages of the written representation of colloquial speech of Ibn Quzman’s time and locale. Ibn Quzman’s zajals, therefore, not only constitute an innovation on poetic language but also his representations of colloquial speech serve as valuable documentation of Hispano-Arabic, a dialect that often incorporated words and structures from the Romance dialect that coexisted with Arabic in the Iberian Peninsula.
Douglas C. Young
See also Adultery; Alcohol; Almoravids; Andalus; Cordoba; Decadence; Divorce; Gender and Sexuality; Markets; Nawrus; Popular Literature; Romance, Iberian; Shadow Plays; Wine