Irony, Archeology, and the Rule of Rhyme: Two Readings of the Ṭasmu Luzūmiyya of Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī

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Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych



Two contrasting approaches to the genesis of the Luzūmiyya rhymed in Ṭasmu serve as entry points into Abū l-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī’s (d. 449/1058) double-rhymed diwan, Luzūm mā lā yalzam. The first takes the seventh/thirteenth-century litterateur Ibn al-Qifṭī’s account of the Umayyad caliph al-Walīd’s Mosque of Damascus excavations, which was read before al-Maʿarrī, as the inspiration for the poem. This reading elicits the metaphorical connection, through the ubi sunt topos of the Arabic nasīb, between the extinct Arab tribe Ṭasm and the long-lost civilization unearthed in Damascus, and, further, the high irony with which the poem predicts the ineluctable annihilation of Islam itself. The second reading interprets the poem as the product of the extreme double-rhyme strictures al-Maʿarrī has imposed on himself—here the rhyme in -smu. The use of Ṭasm/ṭasm (erasure, obliteration) inexorably drives the poem from the lore of tribal extermination to the lexical and motival world of the nasīb.

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