This lively volume collects poems by Hmedan al-Shwe'ir, who lived in Najd in the Arabian Peninsula shortly before the hegemony of the Wahhabi movement in the early 18th century.
A master of satire known for his ribald humor, self-deprecation, and invective verse (hija), Hmedan was acerbic in his criticisms of society and its morals, voiced in in a poetic idiom that is widely referred to as "Nabati,” here a mix of Najdi vernacular and archaic vocabulary and images dating back to the origins of Arabic poetry. In Arabian Satire, Hmedan is mostly concerned with worldly matters, and addresses these in different guises: as the patriarch at the helm of the family boat and its unruly crew; as a picaresque anti-hero who revels in taking potshots at the established order, its hypocrisy, and its moral failings; as a peasant who labors over his palm trees, often to no avail and with no guarantee of success; and as a poet recording in verse how he thinks things ought to be.
The poems in Arabian Satire reveal a plucky, headstrong, yet intensely socially committed figure—representative of the traditional Najdi ethos—who infuses his verse with proverbs, maxims, and words of wisdom expressed plainly and conversationally. Hmedan is accordingly quoted by historians of the Gulf region and in anthologies of popular sayings. This is the first full translation of this remarkable poet.
Marcel Kurpershoek is a senior research fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is a
specialist in the oral traditions and poetry of Arabia and has written the five-volume Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia (1994-2005), as well as several books on Middle Eastern historical and cultural topics.
Formerly a diplomat for the Netherlands, he served as ambassador to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Poland, and as special envoy to Syria until 2015.
Hmedan al-Shwe'ir was an early 18th-century poet from the region of Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, in what is now modern-day Saudi Arabia.