By Samia Al Duraidi Al Hasani, Tunisia
In this study, we examine the poetry of Bashar ibn Burd, one of the most prominent poets, and the contribution he made to poetry by creating poems for common people rather than just the elite.
This idea has drawn the attention of certain critics, and Najib Mohammad al-Bhabayti addressed it in his well-known book, ‘History of Arabic poetry until the end of the third century Hijri’. Al-Bhabayti mentions that Muslim ibn al-Walid, Abu Nuwas and Bashar ibn Burd - the masters of innovation in Abbasid poetry - became pioneers of an important movement when they transformed poetry into a popular discourse that was accepted and enjoyed by the public. These poets took poetry out of the councils, forums and courts, and spread it among the people.
Al-Bhabayti wrote that Bashar created something, but that it was not a genuine innovation in the form of a new type of poetry. It was a new means of expression that made poetry more popular… We have seen this before with Al Walid (he means Al Walid bin Yazid) and his popular school of poetry. Bashar realised that his poetry was as popular as Al Walid’s.
After analysing the popularity of Bashar ibn Burd’s poetry, we arrived at three important findings:
- This popularity is mainly a result of expanding the size of the audience. The poetic discourse was no longer directed at intellectuals familiar with literature, or at the rulers, linguists, critics and philosophers and their councils. Bashar and another generation of poets created poetry for the general public, who memorised and recited it. We now understand why his satirical poems were feared, because his version of satire spread quickly among the people.
- Bashar’s popularity affected the words, structures and images he used in his poems. This is evident in the predominance of his love poems and in his use of popular obscenities. Bashar’s poems did not have respectable themes, elegant styles or complex metaphors; they were characterised by the simplicity of their style, meaning and language. The poems were sometimes naïve with light metres and fast rhythms and a strong reliance on the ‘Rajaz’ metre.
- The popularity of Bashar's poetry did not affect his position among poets. He outshone the other poets of his time, especially the innovators. Both critics and narrators agree that Bashar is the leader of the avant-garde poets of his time. He adopted a style that adhered to the traditional origins of Arabic poetry, and that offered a new approach to Abbasid poetry. This modern poetry shocked other poets and critics. The satire reflects his inner conflict about the old and new poetic traditions.
Bashar removed poetry from its lofty status and made it accessible to the public. Poetry was no longer limited to the courts, councils or literary elite.