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“It was a Weeping, and also a Moaning, and a welcome of Teeth:” learned Irreverence in “Mercy” and also Farazdaq

The Bible and also the Qur’ān—they’re easily the most read publications in the background of humankind, and for that truth they’re the many cribbed from, quoted, and critiqued. The civilization of hip-hop is one also preoccupied in numerous ways with the scriptural and spiritual domain, and also many prominent stars in the rap game wear their religiosity on your sleeves—Kendrick speaks openly around his wishes for salvation, possibility the Rapper quips that a “mustard seeds is all you need,” versus a backdrop of ede gospel music in “How Great,” Lupe Fiasco opens his fiery “Muhammad Walks,” a tune critiquing the battle on Terror, through the bismillah, dedicating his lyrics in the surname of God. Rather openly grapple with belief in their music, or even outright disapprove it. There’s the Roots’ questioning, emotional “Dear God” (Dear God, I’m trying hard to with you…/They claimed ‘he’s busy, host the line, please’/Call me crazy, i thought possibly he could mind read), if Childish Gambino jokingly calls self an “Airport atheist,” saying he “may pray when there’s turbulence” in “Won’t Stop.”

Rarer, though, are the folks who make an bald parody or appropriation of religion as part of their personal brand if also plainly having part pretty deep sense of religion about them. I’ve previously questioned Kanye West’s ridiculously outsized ego, which leader him come spout such lyrics as “I am a god,” and identify himself through the moniker “Yeezus,” yet Kanye additionally references the Bible reasonably regularly in his lyrics, borrows imagery from Christian art and iconography into his music videos, and also literally created a track that has actually the refrain “Jesus walks with me” (to be fair, he overrides the message in this tune when, in his song “Otis” feat. Jay-Z, he cases that the song is a kind of indulgence that has bought him out of going to hell…. So, oops?). In one interview, Kanye claims that, “Religion is like clothing. Human being want comfort. World don’t want to have to take that off. Civilization don’t want to expropriate the concept of there not being a sky possibly, or the principle of shedding someone and also not seeing them again.” the is perhaps not coincidental that Kanye is additionally a garments designer…


Ḥammām b. Ghālib, aka al-Farazdaq (which literally method “lump of dough/bread”), to be born in the eastern Arabian territory of Yamāma approximately 641, much less than a decade after Muḥammad’s death, and spent much of his life in the Iraqi city that Basra. He would certainly live through most of both the power of the very first four caliphs and also the Umayyad dynasty, dice in the late 720s/early 730s. The made his name as a poetic figure of note in the court of miscellaneous Umayyad provincial governors, and in a tempestuous insignificant at the court of the caliph Marwān (we’ll look at at one of his odes to Marwān below). Al-Farazdaq caught the imaginations that even countless of his near-contemporaries, and also he had numerous imitators, haters, and hype-men; basically, think of Cardi B’s lyric “They see pictures they to speak ‘goals’/Bitch I’m that they tryna be,” and you’ve acquired Farazdaq’s heritage pretty well-pegged. The details the his biographies frequently read as exaggerated to accentuate his idiosyncrasies (or, in Blachère’s words, his “cowardice, bawdiness, drunkenness, and also venality”), likely to justify inveighing versus him and giving background to his ultimate expulsion indigenous Marwān’s court, i beg your pardon supposedly came about because he boasted that breaking right into the caliph’s harem for part extracurricular fun. The is difficult to authenticate some of his poems (especially satires against the caliph Mu’āwiya), because they may have actually been created by poseurs influenced by Farazdaq’s style; due to the fact that of various other such poems, though, he is often asserted by Shī’ī groups as something of a pioneering dissenter who wrote city in assistance of Muḥammad’s descendants v ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. Among his poems in this vein earned that a stint in prison.

You are watching: Weeping and a moaning and a gnashing of teeth

In many ways, Farazdaq’s career embodies the minute of shift that the Islamic human being was in during its earliest formative decades: as well as the obvious introduction of a whole brand-new religious movement, new power frameworks were solidifying, dynasties and also dynastic models to be in contest, and a change from focus on tribal politics to a more centralized form of rule organized around the principle of a unified belief community, the umma, remained in development. As a result, one can uncover references in Farazdaq’s poems the feel caught between the immediate past and also present—in some of his poems about death, he evinces a respectful are afraid of dahr, the pre-Islamic, noumenal idea Time or Fate, even as in others he speaks of an immortality or the a final judgment. An ext famously, Farazdaq was taken into consideration one of the last of the tribal poets, in that though he was ensconced in a court, the poets through whom the sparred most vigorously in diss competitions (naqā’id) were from various other tribes or other branches the his own tribe, and so the upholds old tribal rivalries also in a new context. His most significant rival, Jarīr, compliment from a different clan within the Tamīm tribe, and this suggest was not shed on the writer al-Hamadhānī when, number of centuries later, that convened an imagined debate around the 2 poets’ respective merits in his own ornate prose (this is Robert Irwin’s translation),

“Jarīr is a much more caustic satirist and also he presents himself as an ext noble in the ar of poetry, conversely, al-Farazdaq is more ambitious and belongs come a noble clan.”

Farazdaq self is stated to have been depressed in ~ the decline of what he witnessed as really Bedouin poetry, and he regularly styled his poems in a similar fashion come his predecessors. Possibly this lends come the unbelievable that shows up in few of his poems that deal most clearly with new, Islamic ideas and also language. In a memento mori city (wa’iẓ), expected to repeat the listener the his mortality and call him come righteous, honorable habits in this human being so regarding secure favor in the next, Farazdaq remarks in the last lines top top the futility of such a poetic genre: if you’re the sort of human being who requirements to be reminded the your unpreventable fate, a poem more than likely won’t carry you any type of grand epiphanies.

Yet for countless a cousin consumed by evil, his kindness resides

v some star between Fate’s celestial sweep

For no is over there anything to save him from evil

no one is there anything come impel him toward good

A man’s not assisted by a memento mori

If his own monitorings don’t warn him the his mortality

And there’s no great in a branch the doesn’t benefit its root

therefore if he dies, his relatives aren’t as well sorry end it.

By the final verses, Farazdaq has provided up ~ above the poem itself together a principle in his own tongue-in-cheek way. His remark on the uselessness the wa’iẓ may be taken as a comment on the uselessness of homiletic language more generally. Farazdaq instead asserts the one’s very own subjectivity is the biggest determiner of personal conduct, which is not specifically in maintaining with popular ideals around the transmissibility of reality through proselytization and also pious warning. Farazdaq’s much more bellicose city below around a battle between Marwān’s troops and an apostate army in Mecca is much more invigorated through language usual to expressions of faith, despite again in one ambivalent and ironic way,

When confronting Marwān’s men,

They draw for God’s religion–with swords in a rage!

Our knives bar islām indigenous them (tamn‘u-l-islāma minhum),

Their blows autumn to doubters (yuwakkalu waq‘uhunna bi-man arābā)

met your apostates in Mecca, at the abode,

Where those folks were set aright by bladed beatings

They left no solitary one, praying behind part ruse

All turned ago to the faith or met an ugly fate,

A death, a reckoning!

Were a negative lot, they’d have actually made rather a mess,

But the turned the troops away from grabbing spoils.

The second stich the this city is hefty with semantic irony. As pointed out above, though we can read the start of this line as stating the the blades of Marwān’s men protect Islam, it also appears the opponent is being literally ban or prevent from one of two people Islam the confidence or islām, a surrender, which can be review as winkingly upturning the values of pious war in i beg your pardon conversion would first typically be offered (as he discusses a few lines more down) in donate of a bloodbath. In the second half of the line, the verb used to express that the blows that the swords space inflicted top top apostates is yuwakkal, which literally means “entrust,” and also the source of which creates such terms as wakīl, an individual who has actually been invested through speakership on behalf of a divine entity. Making use of such a verb offers the victims an almost sacred quality, together though they have been provided a holy gift in the kind of their sword wounds. In doing this, Farazdaq elevates the opponent into gift the metaphorical custodians the Marwān’s arsenal and semantically muddles the distinction between the duties of Marwān’s troops and also the enemy. In a last undermining of the poem’s ostensible main theme of holy war against an exterior foe, Farazdaq transforms at the finish from praise of the troops’ efforts on the faith’s instead of to praise of Marwān’s judicious capital of his army, effectively saying the were Marwān’s guys not well-compensated, they’d run roughshod end everything. Pass the troops in heat is the own fight after the fact. With this close up door verse, the soldiers’ discipline is revealed not to it is in the product of their lofty motivations, but rather a handy outcome of their earthly circumstances. While this perhaps pays homage come Marwān as a strategist, the does detract rather from praising the on the strength of his authority as caliph.

In a worship poem for one more patron, Farazdaq when again pits earthly wealth versus the cosmos, and once again worldly wealth wins out,

I oath on her life, when all the rations (al-arzāq) room measured out,

There’s less bread in there than on ‘Adhāfir’s serving tray

If the Antichrist (al-Dajjāl) showed up together a guest, begging hospitality,

and also his armies descended on the man’s pantries,

All the hungry hordes that Gog and Magog

could surely ingredient themselves because that a month in ‘Adhāfir’s larder

We’re now far, much removed indigenous the pious objects the a wa’iz poem. Instead, Farazdaq explicitly brings in the grotesque, doomsday imagery in organization of praising one earthly patron’s material wealth. This profaning of the serious topic the eschatology is perhaps cushioned by the truth that Farazdaq is making use of reviled, devilish images—the Antichrist and the corrupt peoples of Gog and Magog—however, there is one moment beforehand in the poem once Farazdaq take away a sideswipe at God’s generosity. The word arzāq, the many of rizq or succor, deserve to indicate dry goods, but also direct bestowals that sustenance from God, that is al-Razzāq, or the supreme provider. Even with all such provisions piled up in one go, a solitary serving tray in ~ ‘Adhāfir’s table amounts to more.

favor any great court poet, Farazdaq knew exactly how to write about wine. We can dismiss the whole genre the khamriyyāt, or drinking odes, as being just a de facto irreverent, unorthodox form of poetry because of the subject matter, but first of all, this overlooks a far-ranging amount that wine-as-metaphor poetry the deals rather deeply and also reverently with spiritual topics in the mystical tradition and also second, because that those poems that are just straight-up drink shanties, part are much more overtly riotous than others. Before, I’ve talked around Abū Nuwas’ erotic, devil-may-care wine songs. Here, Farazdaq has actually his very own take:

The vessel is bedewed through drink together though

A star’s hurry deep into the flask (ka-annahā idhā aghtumisat fī-hā al-zujājatu kawkabu)

Sealed up since the period of Persian kings,

We damaged into it at dawn, prior to the cocks’ caw

When it’s done, let’s expect the day of judgment (yawm al-qiyāmah) hastens,

for what’s the use

When youth’s currently passed with Judgment’s gate? (wa-mā li-l-ṣabā ba’du-l-qiyāmati maṭlabu)

Farazdaq’s discussion of the irradiate hitting the moisture on the party looking like a star is beautiful, to it is in sure, and also it additionally is familiar. The 35th city of Sūrat al-Nūr in the Qur’ān, dubbed the “Light Verse,” looks like this:

Allah is the light of the heavens and also the earth.

The instance of His irradiate is favor a niche in ~ which is a lamp,

The lamp is within glass, the glass as if it to be a pearly star (al-zujājah ka-annahā kawkab durrī)

Lit from a blessed olive tree,

Neither the the eastern nor that the west,

Whose oil would nearly glow even if untouched by fire.

Light upon light.

Allah travel guide to His light who He wills.

And Allah presents examples for the people,

and Allah is knowing of every things.

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See any type of similarities? God is likened in the verse over to luminous body on luminous body, a glass hold a lamp the shows choose a star. That Farazdaq’s glass bottle is likewise lit up choose a star can be a coincidence—this could be a stock image—but the closing recommendations to the work of judgment make me think the the overlap is intentional. Farazdaq end the poem by praying that after the bottle—an old, well vintage—has been totally drunk fatality will come quickly, due to the fact that after the time of youthful bacchanalia has actually passed there’s small point in living. Both fatality itself and the death of youth (i.e. Old age) are described as a kind of final, irrevocable judgment, over which God alone is claimed to preside. Farazdaq seems to desire to wrest some manage of his fate far from magnificent powers; drinking wine and stealing part moments of rowdy fun is a part of this reclamation. That he phrases together a mundane form of illicit activity (there was no shortage the wine drinking in Farazdaq’s time) in Qur’ānic language bring away what could be a ho-hum poem and also rebrands it together something inflammatory, anti-establishment, and really Farazdaq.



With Fuzzy Jones’ frame verses in mind, the remainder the the tune can likewise be construed as layering irreverence ~ above irreverence; no only have the civilization excluded native the production procedure been put in Kanye’s imagined purgatory, yet they then have to be torture accordingly—the opened of the song begins with “your chick,” i.e. The listener’s woman, lusting ~ the rappers in the song, committing action of infidelity v them, and so on. The title “Mercy,” as a double-entendre for an plot of dispensation and also the nickname because that the automobile in which these acts are occurring (a Lamborghini Murcielago) might relate come the rappers in the tune begging “mercy” from your thirsty fan, or it might evoke the grace the Kanye and also his collaborators may market their rivals who have actually been planarization by their music. In any kind of case, one thing’s because that sure: it’s Kanye and also his girlfriend who room playing God, who shape our world and its entertainments, and who pass last judgment top top the remainder of the industry’s fate. The complex pastiche through which this impression is achieved—sampling an already kind of irreverent however densely religiously referential little bit from Fuzzy Jones and using it as a an equipment to bookend standard images of rappers’ success choose sexy cars and also women, bumpin’ dance floors, flossy French vacations, etc.—resembles Farazdaq’s own method of fusing standard poetic genres the are, perhaps, doctrinally heterodox in their significance with Qur’ānic referrals in together a way as to render lock confrontational and contrarian. It’s this that leads him to compare polishing off a bottle of wine to judgment Day or Marwān’s earthly provisions to divine inspiration, and to re-inject ancient soothsayers’ concepts of fate and the irredeemable nature the (some) humans into a genre that poetry that had due to the fact that mostly been reformed to emphasis on pious Muslim themes; his contrarian streak likewise sometimes leader him into piety, ~ all, his rebellious city in defense the Zayn al-‘Abidīn ‘Alī b. Ḥusayn in the court the the caliph Hishām that acquired him in so much warm water is essentially a godly praise-poem. Once Kanye go this type of stuff, he always does it to trounce various other rappers in ~ their own game, and often he succeeds. Meanwhile in fairness, as soon as Farazdaq walk it, he’s periodically acting on principle rather than ego, and at time he faced far-ranging consequences come doing so. Possibly Kanye’s reckoning with an effect is additionally on the horizon…