A Blind Poet’s Search of a ville perdue: al-Ḥuṣrī (d. 1095) ’s Crippling Nostalgia for Qayrawan

Fall 2019 Grant Recipient

Nizar F. Hermes (Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures)

It might seem odd that the poet who once penned the most imitated Arabic poem of all times is largely unstudied, if recognizable at all, in the western academy. Indeed, like most of the Maghribi poets I am working on in my forthcoming monograph Of Lost Cities and the Poetic Imagination: The Premodern and Precolonial Maghrib, 9th to 19th Centuries AD (McGill University Press), western scholars haven’t been generous with the Maghrib’s most intensely tragic blind poet. In this context, one can only remember the lack of a single study in English, or as matter of fact any European language, devoted to al-urī’s outstanding poetry or his tragic life, both Ma‘arrriyaneseque in several aspects. The 1057 Hilāli invasion and sacking of Qayrawan forced three of its greatest poets of all times to flee, live, and ultimately die in exile; Ibn Rashīq (d.1071?), Ibn Sharaf (d.1067), and ‘Ali al-urī al-arīr (the Blind). If Sicily was the initial destination of Ibn Rashīq and Ibn Sharaf, ‘Alī al-urī opted for Morocco. But like his two older compatriots, al-Ḥuṣrī spent a long period of his life-long exile in al-Andalus. More importantly, al-urī left his beloved home city of Qayrawan not knowing that he would never return to, except of course for his nostalgically charged poetic journeys via which he used to fly back to his nest, as romantically painted and captured in a plethora of verses from his Qayrawaniyyāt (poems on Qayrawan.)