Paperback: Andalus, Ed. TJ Gorton
Reviewed by Boyd Tonkin
Friday, 28 December 2007
Erotic, tipsy and ribald; or lyrical, mystical and otherworldy: this selection of “songs of love and wine” from Moorish Spain samples the many moods deployed by Arabic poets of the medieval Golden Age in cities such as Seville, Cordoba and Granada. Introduced by editor-translator TJ Gorton, the result is a miniature jewel-box of an anthology, from the lovelorn raptures of Ibn Zaidun and lbn Zamrak’s dreamy scenes of the Alhambra to the frank and down-to-earth women’s poetry.
Andalus: Moorish Songs of Love and Wine
by Jules Stewart
by Ted Gorton
Eland Publishing, pb, pp80, 5.99 [pounds sterling]
One wonders what fate would await the author of the following verses at the hands of the Taliban: ‘Just as the night came trailing its dusky train/I poured her wine, perfumed with fennel and with musk,/And clasped her to me as the soldier girds his sword;/Her long hair fell on my shoulders like its harness.’
Afghanistan’s former rulers might have been surprised to learn that this ode to sensuality comes from the pen of Ibn Baqi, a 12th-century Moorish poet of Cordoba whose forebears swarmed over the Iberian Peninsula with a ferocity that would have taken away the breath of any bigoted Taliban cleric.
Ibn Baqi is one of 40 Moorish poets, including (gasp) seven women, whose work has been collected by the distinguished Arabic scholar Ted Gorton in this delightful little volume. As Gorton points out, the earliest poetry in his anthology was written before anyone in post-Roman Europe thought of writing in his or her own language, and well before Beowulf or ‘the equally rustic epic poems of the Franks’.
In a world engulfed in a conflict of cultural values, it’s good to reflect that during their near 800-year sojourn in Spain, the Muslims illuminated the darkness of the West with enduring contributions to astronomy, mathematics, philosophical thought and, as this anthology bears out, sublime poetry.