Love #27: The Mercantile Soldier Poet Abu Ja’far and the Aristocratic Lady Hafsa in the Grand Garden of Hawr Mu’ammil
Roya's path led into one of the villa’s enclosed gardens. It was a spacious garden, formal paths flanked by orange trees and ornamental bushes, offset by tiled walls. A fountain splashed loudly at one end.
Sitting on a bench close to a fountain were two men; her father and a stranger, dressed in the manner of one who travels.
Her father called her forward and introduced to the stranger, the geographer Ibn Sa’id, “A great friend of our family and La Mota. You will extend to him the respect you owe to any of your brothers.”
There was silence for a moment as her father stood and left.
There was something unmistakable about Ibn Sa’id. The man before her was slight, well proportioned, and perhaps ten years older than her.
A peahen walked calmly to the fountain and drank.
She asked straight out, “Do you remember me? Have we met before?”
He says, “I was born here, in the Sierra Magina. I studied in Marrakech and since then have traveled the world.”
She hears a lilt in his voice, born of this place but broadened by the forests and deserts of the Maghreb and the wider world.
“I have served in the courts of the earthly princes. I have fought in their armies. If I met you, you would have been a child.”
They sat in silence for a moment.
He started directly, “You are familiar with love poetry of the Court in Granada?”
“Yes, foolish men agonizing over women they will never possess.”
“You do not like love poetry?”
“There is a sameness to it that is repetitive and tiresome. It is always the same. They meet in a garden such as this, watched by some censor, favored by a turtle dove crooning or sparrow chattering. Fountain water is splashing and firm fruit ripening and arrows frightening.”
Her voice falter and become a little dry, conscious suddenly of the control in his voice. She volunteered, “The man... is wounded by his strong feelings for the woman, who he can never possess.”
“So you said already. It is also true that this is the correct form of a love poem. I am pleased that you have this form in mind. But today, I am going to talk to you about the poetry of the Al Andalusia, the real poetry of love. You will be expected to be aware of these forms in the Court of your husband to be.”
“I have not met him.”
“He has not met you. You are both young.”
“What else have you come to teach me? What special skills do you possess that would be truly useful to me at Court?”
He stands and gestures to the heavens, “I have studied the science of alchemy and followed the stars. I am a geographer and am engaged in the task of drawing a map of the world. I study medicine and all types of magics. Your father knows me because my family has been collecting poetry of the Andalusian provinces for the past 100 years.”
“A geographer tutoring me about love poetry?”
“I am uniquely qualified. Not only do I come from a fine family of poets, but I am a fine poet myself. And I have fallen in and out of love many times, so can speak from experience. And for the next eleven days, before you leave for Granada with your bridal party, I have agreed with your father to teach you what I can.”
“Please do not waste my time with poetry. Teach me alchemy and magic instead.”
He shook his head, “Love poetry is far more powerful than alchemy and magic.”
“I do not believe you.”
“Let me demonstrate.”
Her eye followed the peahen as it made an indirect path to a fallen pomegranate deep to one side of the garden. She was not ready for the splash of cold water.
Again she blushed as he laughed, “When we are together I will use whatever means I have to keep your eyes on me.”
She turns to the old woman, “Takiyah! Surely I do not have to deal with this impudence?”
Takiyah responds quietly, “Extend to him the respect you have for your brothers. Attend to your father’s request.”
Ibn Sa’id smiled and said quietly, “I promise to tell you of my travels if you attend to your lessons. And perhaps some simple magics.”
They made themselves comfortable, and he started:
“Now, you know that the great Eastern poets give us the original form of the love poem. Out of respect, we follow that form.”
“We do not tread in the shoes of the mystical love premised by others, and even sometimes by the great Omar Khayyam. Still, even Khayyam expressed willingness to be content with the present - a loaf, a jug of wine and you. No mystical love, at least not before he became befuddled by the jug.”
Ibn Sa’id was waiting for them. To their delight, he started with a couple of simple sleights of hand, one that lightly brushed hers.
When he had her attention, he continued with the poetry lesson. He said:
We have touched on the difference between mystical and practical love.
As you have pointed out, the usual poem is spoken by a suitor who will be unlucky in love: a safe, tired form of discourse.
I will not waste your time telling you things you already know. Let me tell you instead of the exceptional. Those things that will keep you and your children alive.
Let us consider the desperate, an exchange between two real lovers, the mercantile soldier poet Abu Ja’far and the aristocratic lady Hafsa. The story of their love I may have time to tell you another time.
For now, let us focus on one exchange. Abu discreetly sent Hafsa a poem affirming a love tryst, in the grand garden of Hawr Mu’ammil, a terrace similar to your father’s Orange Gardens. It was a silly thing for him to do, perhaps a misstep occasioned by his love for her. Maybe it was an effort to impress her.
He chose not to follow conventional form. In the poem, there was no hint of failure or disappointment. There was no unlucky suitor. Every part of the verse sung of breasts that touched and lips that met. In his poem, a turtle dove sang rapturously of their love, and the meadow quivered with delight.
Anyone fool could write such, of love satisfied. It is a fraught piece, exposing both of them to risk, but worse, it displays him as a bad poet. Lacking the consummate skill of the old soak Khayyam, his prose was empty and conveys nothing other than his self-satisfaction.
Fortunately, we are not left here to contemplate this sorry state, because the lady Hafsa responded in direct form. We will study her response this morning. Her poem should serve as a warning to all those who step onto the field of love. It is a telling rebuttal to Khayyam’s jug-warped posit of mystical love.
The lady Hafsa responded by saying, bluntly, that neither the dove not meadow had the slightest interest in their love. She warned him not to overthink love. High thinking is not always wise. Love is a matter of the moment. Practical to a fault, she then reminded him that the stars only came out to spy and they did so with jealous eyes.
A servant attended, carrying iced water and sweetbreads.
She asked, “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because in Court you need to be practical about love. You must accept love is physical, not mystical. Do not have regard to the meadow, or the dove, or the doe or the ripe fruit and especially not the stars. Nothing is as it seems. The stars are not your friend. They will report every word and every sigh to the person you least want to hear them.”
She had tried not to listen nor understand. But against her wishes, she had.
And she found herself in disagreement with her beautiful stranger. Absolute disagreement.
So she reached for the ice cold water, intending to demonstrate her disapproval of his heresy in the most physical non-mystical way she could think.
In her passion to tell him that love was terrific, mystical and sometimes silly, she miscalculated and showered them both with water.
Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021
Return to Love (Short Story Series) INDEX
This is a reworked extract of pieces from Three Wishes, a story about the amazing geographer, poet, warrior and enchanter Ibn Sa’id and the poetry of the Al Andalusia which he thought to be the real poetry of love.
This story calls on the (western) poetry of Ibn Sa’id al-Maghribi (1213–1286) and the (eastern) poetry of Omar Khayyam (1048– 1131). I have had regard to the translations of Edwin FitzGerald of Khayyam (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam) although I am fond of A.Z. Foreman’s much more recent efforts and Cola Franzen’s translations of Ibn Sa’id al-Maghribi (from The Extraordinary Book on the Adornments of the West).
The full exchange between Ḥafṣa bint al-Ḥājj ar-Rakūniyya and Abu Jaafar (translated by AJ Arberry) recorded by Ibn Sa’id can be found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafsa_Bint_alHajj_al-Rukuniyya.
Image: Roya as a modern woman, the artist Indya from Canberra