Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew Poems

Front Cover
Bernard Lewis
Princeton University Press, 2001 - Poetry - 222 pages
2 Reviews

Music of a Distant Drum marks a literary milestone. It collects 129 poems from the four leading literary traditions of the Middle East, all masterfully translated into English by Bernard Lewis, many for the first time. These poems come from diverse languages and traditions--Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew--and span more than a thousand years. Together they provide a fascinating and unusual window into Middle Eastern history. Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, reveals verses of startling beauty, ranging from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love.

Bernard Lewis, one of the world's greatest authorities on the region's culture and history, offers a work of startling beauty that leaves no doubt as to why such poets were courted by kings in their day. Like those in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poems here--as ensured by Lewis's mastery of all the source languages and his impeccable style and taste--come fully alive in English. They are surprising and sensuous, disarmingly witty and frank. They provide a fascinating and unusual glimpse into Middle Eastern history. Above all, they are a pleasure to read.They range from panegyric and satire to religious poetry and lyrics about wine, women, and love. Lewis begins with an introduction on the place of poets and poetry in Middle Eastern history and concludes with biographical notes on all the poets.

This treasure trove of verse is aptly summed up by a quote from the ninth-century Arab author Ibn Qutayba: "Poetry is the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom, the muster roll of their history, the repository of their great days, the rampart protecting their heritage, the trench defending their glories, the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument."

In one hand the Qur'vn, in the other a wineglass,

Sometimes keeping the rules, sometimes breaking them.

Here we are in this world, unripe and raw,

Not outright heathens, not quite Muslims.

--Mujir (12th century)


What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Michael.Rimmer - LibraryThing

There is much in here that is wonderful, and much that I simply don't understand. Whether the latter is due to a lack of cultural and religious understanding, or a more general poetetic (is that a word?) dullness on my part, I'm not sure. Read full review

Music of a distant drum: classical arabic, persian, turkish, and hebrew poems

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Edited and translated by Lewis, a well-known scholar of Arabic culture, this collection of 132 "classical" Middle Eastern poems dating from the seventh to the 18th centuries reveals the extensive ... Read full review

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (2001)

Born in London, Bernard Lewis grew up in England. In 1974 he immigrated to the United States and eight years later became a U.S. citizen. A distinguished scholar of Middle Eastern history and a prolific writer, his education includes a diplome des etudes semitiques from the University of Paris and a Ph.D. from the University of London, where he taught for 25 years before coming to Princeton in 1974. Most recently he has served as professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies and the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton. As a visiting professor, he lectured at a number of notable universities in Europe and the United States.

Bibliographic information