23 January 2010

Multilingual verse may be divine

In “‘I am the Nightingale of the Merciful’: Rumi’s Use of the Qur’an and Hadith” (2003), Nargis Virani argues that:

"Rumi inserted innumerable references to the Qur’an throughout his poetry either by direct quotation or by allusion. This general trend is maintained in Rumi’s mulamma’at. However, in accordance with the strictly technical definition of mulamma’ offered by literary critics of the medieval Muslim world, poems incorporating Arabic for the sole purpose of quoting the Qur’an are not considered mulamma’at. In this section, I discuss Rumi’s use of the Qur’an and Prophetic sayings, Hadith, and analyze his manner of inserting these quotations, both metrically and thematically, in Arabic, Persian and the mulamma’at verses. I argue that the complete fusion, which occurs metrically and thematically in these poems, mirrors the fusion between the Divine word and the poet’s.”

We learn two things from this brief paragraph. First, not all multilingual verse should be considered multilingual in our sense. The words in another language may only be quoted, in which case they do not really bring into the poem another culture. Second, when there is truly a fusion (rather than mere borrowing or quoting) among the words in both languages, that fusion may be considered divine. (The word "divine" need not refer to God, although believers would prefer it to; the word may simply refer to the Muse. When we say a work is "divine," we rarely mean that it has something to do with the Divine.)

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