The Muwashshah: Song and Poetry

“The muwashshah is both the product and a microcosm of the cultural conditions peculiar to al-Andalus. Its linguistic complexity reflects the fluid and diverse linguistic situation of the peninsula’s population. The muwashshah embodies the flexible and changing relation between the written languages (classical Arabic, Hebrew), as well as between these languages and the oral forms (the Arabic spoken in Andalusia; Romance; and Mozarabic, the dialect formed from the mixing of Romance and Arabic). It reflects life in the court and on the streets; the sociocultural relations between various ethnic groups, and between the sexes; and even the tensions and rapprochement between secular and religious interests. . . . Thus, the muwashshah exemplifies a pluralistic cultural politics that allowed for difference and plurality, clashes and juxtapositions.”

– From an essay by Tova Rosen in The Literature of Al-Andalus

In Song of Toledo, at a particularly low point for Faisal, he and his father happen to stop by the house of a merchant who hires out singing girls to wealthy clients. To put it mildly, Faisal is a rules-oriented lad, but the songs –the muwashshahs – to which he is introduced make him see the world in a very different light.

Here’s an excerpt of a muwashshah of al-Andalus, translated in Andalusian Lyrical Poetry and Old Spanish Love Songs by Linda Fish Compton:

I’m ready to give my father as a ransom for a precious one who is attached to my soul.

I loved a new moon, incomparable in its beauty. The eyes and long
lovely neck of the gazelle are modeled after it.
He swaggered in his beauty, which desires no increase, a full moon shining in perfect proportion. Elegance adorned him and his figure was slender.

He is a full moon that triumphs with sheer magic. The down on his cheek is curved over jasmine. A lily was placed beside a well-guarded rose whenever he came into view, trailing his beautiful train behind. He appeared to me as a creature worthy of excessive passion.

My eyes live just to attend him. If only my soul had feathers, I would fly to him.

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