al ma’arri, the great poet of 11th century Syria.

A favourite character from my huge ‘Continuum’ walking page, al ma’arri (973-1057):

From Brittanica:

al-Maʿarrī, (born December 973, near Aleppo, Syria—died May 1057), great Arab poet, known for his virtuosity and for the originality and pessimism of his vision.

…  A childhood disease left him virtually blind. He studied at the Syrian cities of Aleppo, Antioch, and Tripoli and soon began his literary career, supported by a small private income. His early poems were collected in Saqṭ al-zand (“The Tinder Spark”), which gained great popularity; it includes a series of poems on armour.

… In Baghdad he had been well received at first in prestigious literary salons; but when he refused to sell his panegyrics, he was unable to find a dependable patron. He renounced material wealth and retired to a secluded dwelling, living there on a restrictive diet. Al-Maʿarrī enjoyed respect and authority locally, and many students came to study with him. He also maintained an active correspondence.

… Although an advocate of social justice and action, al-Maʿarrī suggested that children should not be begotten, in order to spare future generations the pains of life. His writings are also marked by an obsession with philology.

A 1920s translation of his great poem ‘The Luzumiyat’ (posted on my personal blog, idleworm). Some sample verses – though you won’t regret reading the entire poem:

The Sultan, too, relinquishing his throne
Must wayfare through the darkening dust alone
Where neither crown nor kingdom be, and he,
Part of the Secret, here and there is blown.

To clay the mighty Sultan must return
And, chancing, help a praying slave to burn
His midnight oil before the face of Him,
Who of the Sultan makes an incense urn.

Turned to a cup, who once the sword of state
Held o’er the head of slave and potentate,
Is now held in the tippler’s trembling hand,
Or smashed upon the tavern-floor of Fate.

For this I say, Be watchful of the Cage
Of chance; it opes alike to fool and sage;
Spy on the moment, for to-morrow’ll be,
Like yesterday, an obliterated page.

Isn’t this beautiful?

“For this I say, Be watchful of the Cage
Of chance; it opes alike to fool and sage;
Spy on the moment, for to-morrow’ll be,
Like yesterday, an obliterated page.”

Sure is more impressive than grunting “YOLO”.

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