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Hunt in Arabic Poetry

The Hunt in Arabic Poetry

From Heroic to Lyric to Metapoetic

Jaroslav Stetkevych

Among the world’s major literary traditions, Arabic poetry is perhaps unique in that the theme of the hunt runs in a continuous, if uneven, current from the pre-Islamic, oral tradition, dating as far back as the fifth century CE, through the coming of Islam in the seventh century and the Umayyad and ’Abbāsid caliphates, ultimately serving as a classical substrate for the radical Modernism of the twentieth century. This striking continuity of theme and motif of the pursuer—the hunter, companions, his steed, hounds, or falcon—and the pursued, whether the prey be oryx, onager, gazelle, hare, quail, or fox, is subject to dramatic transformations of poetic genre, structure, and sensibility throughout the arc of Arab cultural history. Through elegant translations and compelling interpretations, Jaroslav Stetkevych brings this dynamic Arabic tradition fully into the purview of contemporary cultural and humanistic studies.

In the chapters of Part I of The Hunt in Arabic Poetry, Stetkevych explores the divergent themes of the heroic and the anti-heroic hunter within the grand genre of archaic Arabic odes and its transformation with the transition to Islam to a poetics of sacrifice and redemption. Part II traces the emergent aesthetics of the free-standing hunt lyric within the courtly culture of the Umayyad and ‘Abbāsid caliphates and the transition from description to imagism, concluding with the appearance of the long narrative hunt poem. Part III moves to the high Modernism of twentieth-century Arab free-verse poets and with it the reemergence of the classical theme of the hunt, now as a metaphor for the Modernist poet’s metapoetic pursuit of the poem itself.

“In The Hunt in Arabic Poetry, Jaroslav Stetkevych argues for creative evolution and adaption of a little known and little understood genre. He demonstrates how Arabic poets took a pre-Islamic theme found in the rahil (quest) section of the Arabic ode and transformed it into a powerful rhetoric about wanting and pursuing, evoking the lyricism of yearning, and beyond that to metalanguage. The translations are consistently elegant, mood sensitive, and works of literature in their own right.” — Samer M. Ali, University of Michigan

“Jaroslav Stetkevych traces the development of the hunting theme in Arabic poetry from its remote beginnings in pre-Islamic Arabia to the present. He shows how certain social and historical factors, predominant in each period, helped to shape the poet’s compositions, making them highly original with respect to what preceded them. Stetkevych’s book is destined to become a lasting and most welcome contribution to Arabic literary criticism, and one that illuminates a theme central to the study and appreciation of Arabic poetry.” — James T. Monroe, emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

“Jaroslav Stetkevych’s The Hunt in Arabic Poetry is an astounding achievement. Not only does he map the genealogy of the hunt as a poetic preoccupation with a number of thematic and semiotic markers and mechanisms; he also draws a history of cultural complexity through significant temporal signposts that happen to reflect on Arab political and social life. In the end, reading his book is no less than studying Arab cultural history through one significant poetic endeavor that distinguishes it among other cultures.” — Muhsin al-Musawi, Columbia University

The Hunt in Arabic Poetry is a masterful meditation not only upon the hunt motif but also upon the deeper poetic structures in which the hunt motif is embedded, through which it emerges, and with which it is not infrequently in tension. Throughout this book, which readers interested in Arabic poetry may find themselves coming back to again and again, Stetkevych follows his theoretically challenging and elegantly written arguments with close readings of specific poems that are presented in both Arabic and in the author’s meticulously faithful and materially vivid translations. The achievement of The Hunt in Arabic Poetry mirrors that of his earlier book, Zephyrs of Najd, which engaged the Arabic Nasib-—the elegiac remembrance of the lost beloved-—with the same qualities of theoretical depth, conceptual sweep, and brilliant close readings.” — Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago

ISBN: 978-0-268-04151-9
E-ISBN 978-0-268-09292-4
368 pages
Publication Year: 2015

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Jaroslav Stetkevych is professor emeritus of Arabic literature at the University of Chicago.

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P03305

Modern Arabic Poetry

Revolution and Conflict

Waed Athamneh

P03151

Medieval Islamic Republic of Letters

Arabic Knowledge Construction

Muhsin J. al-Musawi

P01451

Early Modern Dialogue with Islam

Antonio de Sosa’s Topography of Algiers (1612)


Edited with an Introduction by María Antonia Garcés
Translated by Diana de Armas Wilson

The Hunt in Arabic Poetry

From Heroic to Lyric to Metapoetic

Jaroslav Stetkevych

The Hunt in Arabic Poetry: From Heroic to Lyric to Metapoetic
Paper Edition

Among the world’s major literary traditions, Arabic poetry is perhaps unique in that the theme of the hunt runs in a continuous, if uneven, current from the pre-Islamic, oral tradition, dating as far back as the fifth century CE, through the coming of Islam in the seventh century and the Umayyad and ’Abbāsid caliphates, ultimately serving as a classical substrate for the radical Modernism of the twentieth century. This striking continuity of theme and motif of the pursuer—the hunter, companions, his steed, hounds, or falcon—and the pursued, whether the prey be oryx, onager, gazelle, hare, quail, or fox, is subject to dramatic transformations of poetic genre, structure, and sensibility throughout the arc of Arab cultural history. Through elegant translations and compelling interpretations, Jaroslav Stetkevych brings this dynamic Arabic tradition fully into the purview of contemporary cultural and humanistic studies.

In the chapters of Part I of The Hunt in Arabic Poetry, Stetkevych explores the divergent themes of the heroic and the anti-heroic hunter within the grand genre of archaic Arabic odes and its transformation with the transition to Islam to a poetics of sacrifice and redemption. Part II traces the emergent aesthetics of the free-standing hunt lyric within the courtly culture of the Umayyad and ‘Abbāsid caliphates and the transition from description to imagism, concluding with the appearance of the long narrative hunt poem. Part III moves to the high Modernism of twentieth-century Arab free-verse poets and with it the reemergence of the classical theme of the hunt, now as a metaphor for the Modernist poet’s metapoetic pursuit of the poem itself.

“In The Hunt in Arabic Poetry, Jaroslav Stetkevych argues for creative evolution and adaption of a little known and little understood genre. He demonstrates how Arabic poets took a pre-Islamic theme found in the rahil (quest) section of the Arabic ode and transformed it into a powerful rhetoric about wanting and pursuing, evoking the lyricism of yearning, and beyond that to metalanguage. The translations are consistently elegant, mood sensitive, and works of literature in their own right.” — Samer M. Ali, University of Michigan

“Jaroslav Stetkevych traces the development of the hunting theme in Arabic poetry from its remote beginnings in pre-Islamic Arabia to the present. He shows how certain social and historical factors, predominant in each period, helped to shape the poet’s compositions, making them highly original with respect to what preceded them. Stetkevych’s book is destined to become a lasting and most welcome contribution to Arabic literary criticism, and one that illuminates a theme central to the study and appreciation of Arabic poetry.” — James T. Monroe, emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

“Jaroslav Stetkevych’s The Hunt in Arabic Poetry is an astounding achievement. Not only does he map the genealogy of the hunt as a poetic preoccupation with a number of thematic and semiotic markers and mechanisms; he also draws a history of cultural complexity through significant temporal signposts that happen to reflect on Arab political and social life. In the end, reading his book is no less than studying Arab cultural history through one significant poetic endeavor that distinguishes it among other cultures.” — Muhsin al-Musawi, Columbia University

The Hunt in Arabic Poetry is a masterful meditation not only upon the hunt motif but also upon the deeper poetic structures in which the hunt motif is embedded, through which it emerges, and with which it is not infrequently in tension. Throughout this book, which readers interested in Arabic poetry may find themselves coming back to again and again, Stetkevych follows his theoretically challenging and elegantly written arguments with close readings of specific poems that are presented in both Arabic and in the author’s meticulously faithful and materially vivid translations. The achievement of The Hunt in Arabic Poetry mirrors that of his earlier book, Zephyrs of Najd, which engaged the Arabic Nasib-—the elegiac remembrance of the lost beloved-—with the same qualities of theoretical depth, conceptual sweep, and brilliant close readings.” — Michael Sells, John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature, University of Chicago

ISBN: 978-0-268-04151-9

368 pages