Abu Nuwas

Posted on October 1, 2010


Arab-Persian poet Abu Nuwas (756-864) was sold as a boy to a grocer in Basra, but he ended up in Baghdad, where he became known for his iconoclastic poetry: instead of extolling the virtues of nature and Bedouin life, he wrote about drinking and sex. Mostly sex with boys. He fell in and out of favor with the various sultans of the day, even spending time in exile in Egypt but returning to Baghdad when a more sympathetic sultan came into power. Despite his non-traditional style, he was considered one of the greatest poets of his day, and he is mentioned several times in the One Thousand and One Nights.

A gentle fawn passed around the cup
Delicate of waist and slim of flank,
“Will you be on your way, come morn?” he chirped.
“How can we bear to leave?” came the reply.
He glided among us and made us drunk,
And we slept, but as the cock was about to crow
I made for him, my garments trailing, my ram ready for butting.
When I plunged my spear into him
He awoke as a wounded man awakes from his wounds.
“You were an easy kill,” said I, “so let’s have no reproaches.”
“You win, so take what you will, but give me fair reward.”
So after I had placed my saddle bag upon him he burst into song,
“Are you not the most generous rider ever, of all Allah’s creatures?”

(Tu’atibu-ni ’ala Surbi Stibahi; translation after Philip F. Kennedy)

Abu Nuwas has a wikipedia page here. A biography, Abu Nuwas: A Genius of Poetry by Philip F. Kennedy is at Amazon, here and a Facebook group page here.