Abu Nuwas was a great Arabic poet whose poetry encapsulated the society of his time. It has now been twelve centuries since Abu Nuwas composed words as he trod the streets of Baghdad. For most of that period, major parts of his work were censored by state and mosque. It's only recently that the suppressed material has been allowed to see the light of day, and this new translation of the known khamriyyat faithfully reflects the original. Abu Nuwas's khamriyyat exhorts his listener to seek out pleasures. He pays homage to aged wine and to the tavern as a recourse for carnal pleasures, where the client is entertained by an engaging wine-server (saqi) who welcomes him with a kiss and urges him to drink. A whole body of symbolism revolves round the wine. At its heart is the feminine imagery; the wine (khamr, feminine) is the daughter of the vine, a bride brought out of its boudoir (vat) to be mated with water (ma', masculine) to whom it submits at the mixing. That symbolism is a convenient vehicle for invoking a hetero/homo-erotic theme. Abu Nuwas does not seek his pleasures discreetly, asserting that a pleasure is not complete unless enjoyed openly. He is equally unreserved in his religious and social subversions. To an Arabist, the khamriyyat is a rich feast of lofty verse, witty allusions and dazzling imagery. Those qualities are reproduced here in a lucid and elegant translation that will delight the specialist as well as the general reader.
F. Matthew Caswell is the author of Menashi's Boy, The Slave Girls of Baghdad, Voices of the Arab Streets and Medieval Islamic Music: Three Master Musicians. He was born in Baghdad in 1931 and moved to England as a student in 1950. He is a London Graduate (BA English, MA Classical Arabic) and the recipient of an Oxford doctorate. He has also had a long career as a barrister.