The Pride Of Mihyar Al Daylami

The poet Mihyar Al Daylami (?–1037) came from that region of Persia which bordered the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.  He wrote in Arabic, and his works were so copious that his biographer says they filled four volumes.  He was originally a Zoroastrian, but converted to Islam around the year 1003 under the influence of one of his professors.

He was renowned for the sonorous beauty, and melancholy tone, of his verses.  Some examples of his poetry will give a good account of his startling imagery and quiet sensitivity.  In the passage below, Al Maydani speaks on the topic of satisfaction.  The poet wishes to convey the point that one must always assume a dignified bearing when dealing with the trials of the world.  These are some of the finest verses, I think, on the subjects of pride and defiance that have ever been written, and I was fortunate to have located them buried in the recesses of Ibn Khallikan’s pages:

You blame the miser who is sparing of his wealth;

Why not be more parsimonious than he by sparing your self-respect?

Disgrace not your hand by asking; life itself is of too little value to be asked for.

I wrap myself up in the skirts of my contentedness, and pass

The night thus covered and enveloped.

Notwithstanding my poverty, I appear before my enemies in such attire as denotes

A man of wealth and thus make them think that I am rich.

When a man passes his nights in sighing, and all his hopes prove vain,

Let him count only on himself.

[Trans. by M. de Slane, Biog. Dict. III.520]

How true this is, and how applicable to our lives!  Another verse on the same subject–the idea that one must take a defiant pose against the iniquities of the world–is this one:

When your foes see you, their souls fly from them with affright.

One would think their souls were aware of your presence sooner than their eyes.

When you meet a hostile squadron and wish to disperse it, you have only

To declare aloud your name and surname.

Another of his great lines is this one:

The travelers who have just set out, and from whom you are now separated,

Have left behind them hearts which shall ever refuse to admit

Of consolation for their loss.

These lines of love-poetry are taken from one of his most popular qasidas, and are about the feelings of loss and longing that a man experiences in periods of absence from his beloved.  We should note that the old poets used the endearing term “gazelle” (غزال)to refer to a young woman.  And how like a young woman, the classical poets knew, can a gazelle seem to be!

My heart, though far from her, sees her with the eye of desire and is happy;

But who will enable my eyes to see her in reality? How pure, good God!

And yet how troubled is our mutual love!  How far is she from me every

Morning and yet how near!  When my eyes are saddened by her absence,

I am consoled by images and likenesses seen in my dreams and which

Augment the love I bear her. I embrace each pliant branch, as if it was her waist,

And I sip from the mouth of the wine-cup, as if it was her lips.  I cannot forget the day

In which that charming gazelle appeared to me;

She was standing on a sand-hill and looked dismayed,

Like a doe which had lost its fawn in the desert, and was alarmed

To the heart’s core through dread of being bereaved for ever.

In that state, its eyes acquire more beauty and the inflections of its

Neck more grace. The resemblance was so great that my sight, O Umm Malik,

Doubted not of your being that gazelle. If you were not like her in the

Cheeks and in the forehead, you resembled her in the graceful turn of your neck

Nay more!  Its eyes were yours.

O women!  You who condemn the fondness shown for the abode of a person

Dearly beloved, for a spot which is so difficult to reach by the random

Efforts even of our wishes, leave the lover to his attachment for

The land of Najd, the sole occupation of his heart.

Can any poetry of comparable beauty and imagery be found today?  I think not.


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