Arabian Satire

Arabian Satire

Poetry from 18th-Century Najd

208 Pages

December 2017

ISBN: 9781479878062

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Ḥmēdān al-Shwēʿir was an early eighteenth-century poet from the region of Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Marcel Kurpershoek is a senior research fellow at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is a specialist in the oral traditions and poetry of Arabia and has written the five-volume Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia, as well as several books on Middle Eastern historical and cultural topics. Formerly a diplomat for the Netherlands, he served as ambassador to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Poland, and as special envoy to Syria until 2015.

This lively volume collects poems by Hmedan al-Shwe'ir, who lived in Najd in the Arabian Peninsula shortly before the hegemony of the Wahhabi movement in the early eighteenth century.

A master of satire known for his ribald humor, self-deprecation, and invective verse (hija'), Hmedan was acerbic in his criticisms of society and its morals, voiced in in a poetic idiom that is widely referred to as “Nabati,” here a mix of Najdi vernacular and archaic vocabulary and images dating back to the origins of Arabic poetry. In Arabian Satire, Hmedan is mostly concerned with worldly matters, and addresses these in different guises: as the patriarch at the helm of the family boat and its unruly crew; as a picaresque anti-hero who revels in taking potshots at the established order, its hypocrisy, and its moral failings; as a peasant who labors over his palm trees, often to no avail and with no guarantee of success; and as a poet recording in verse how he thinks things ought to be.

The poems in Arabian Satire reveal a plucky, headstrong, yet intensely socially committed figure—representative of the traditional Najdi ethos—who infuses his verse with proverbs, maxims, and words of wisdom expressed plainly and conversationally. Hmedan is accordingly quoted by historians of the Gulf region and in anthologies of popular sayings. This is the first full translation of this remarkable poet.

A bilingual Arabic-English edition.


  • "Colorful contrasts abound. . . . Quite entertaining."

    The Complete Review

  • "[Ḥmēdān's] gift for the memorable turn of phrase has ensured that his poetry has never been forgotten… A handsomely produced volume of ‘melodic verses that swell and roll / like roaring waves on a pitch-black sea.’"

    IASA Bulletin