Qatr al-Nadā Looking for an Identity: An Inquiry into the Inspiration for Qatr al-Nadā's Figure in Modern Arabic Poetry

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The interest in popular literature in the Arab world grew simultaneously with the development of the free verse movement at the end of the first half of the twentieth century. Both trends were reflections of the Arabs' desire to break free of royal rule and its systems at all the levels: social, political, literary etc. Most of the pioneers of free verse in the Arab world assumed that true freedom meant a total revolution in language, general style, structure and the sources of poetry. They believed that literature had to change its targets and be focused on issues of the people. This change in literary view has contributed to the rise of folk studies, and to the remarkable influence of folk literature on modern Arabic poetry. Most modern poets were inspired by popular texts and made use of popular stories, folksongs, etc. and alluded to popular figures and heroes in their poems. In this way they served the modernity they believed in and at the same time kept their poems close to the masses. However, the local character of popular literature and its tight connection to a specific place and nation may limit its mobility. Poets from different nations may find it hard, for example, to turn a popular hero of one nation into a hero of another, especially when the poet aims to present a special national issue. Indeed this act may have an adverse effect on the process of reception and make the text seem less interesting and less convincing. This is so in the case of the poem 'Qatr al-Nadā' by al-Qāsim, which uses the Egyptian national figure of Qatr al-Nadā and tries to turn it into a Palestinian national figure. The study shows that al-Qāsim was inspired by Dunqul but that the techniques used in the latter are superior and the employment of Qatr al-Nadā's figure was artistically more convincing and more successful. The dramatic style used by Dunqul made the poems seem like a real folk story and the employment of the 'chorus' technique served this point and made the text more comprehensible for the readers. The dramatic events that accompanied the 1967 defeat were reflected dramatically in Dunqul's text and made the text more affective. Al-Qāsim's poem, on the other hand, was merely a superficial description of the figure and the environment surrounding it, turning his poem into a lyric one, with much repetition and less action. Even the chorus was powerless and served merely to repeat the same Egyptian folksong in a static manner. The reader feels that the figure does not fit the special issue that the poem came to discuss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-230
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Semitic Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Religious studies
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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