Arabic Poetry Inspirations for a Character Build: Al Sha'ir

  • So the D&D Sha'ir is a wizard subclass, when in actuality the historical pre-Islamic poets considered themselves nothing of the sort.  Okay, so they boasted extensively about dealings with the djinn.  Some of them even claimed to have visited alternate realities with them.  But they didn't have any other magical skills - the djinn were supposed to be muses who inspired them with their poetry.  

    Not only that, but people often assume that the Arab world has always been super socially conservative.  In truth, the medieval Arab world was a pretty swinging place.  Abu Nuwas, the bad boy of Arabic poetry, wrote almost all of his poems about wine, with a secondary theme of sexual love with both women and men.  If ever there were a bards to out-bard all tempter bards, Abu Nuwas was the one.  

    I started out thinking about doing a Redguard bard-thief, but I was having trouble coming up with a backstory for him.  And then I realized - man, let's make a real sha'ir!  So now it's in the works, with major skills in speech, pickpocket, sneak and illusion, and minor skills in conjuration and alchemy.  I'm thinking he'll have a single djinni companion - a flame atronach, who can also take the form of a flaming familiar.  Early game, this will be done through a staff, until he can train up and cost reduce enough Conjuration to get Conjure Atronach and Flame Thrall.  *But*…the atronach is his qariin, something like a morally neutral guardian angel; it is his inspiration and companion, both his blessing and his curse.  He has no wish to kill unless he is mortally threatened - he just wants to steal from the rich, get drunk and party with the pretty ladies.  So the atronach is mostly around to defend from undead and daedric summons if they can't otherwise be avoided, and to inspire juicy delicious verse.

    Some selections from the book Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn by Amira El-Zein, which describe the relationship between Arab poets and their djinn:

    Abu Zaid al Qurashi tells the following story:

    A man came to the poet al-Farazdaq (d. 728) and recited a verse to him and asked his opinion. The poet answered by saying, “Poetry has two jinn.  One of them is called Hawbar and the other is called Hawjal.  If Hawbar is your inspirer, then your poetry is good, but if your inspirer is Hawjal, then your poetry is bad.  Both were your inspirers in this verse.  Hawbar inspired the first part of it, and Hawjal inspired the second part of it, and he damaged it!”

    Umayyad love poet Kuthayyir ‘Azzah (d. 723) was once asked, “When did you start reciting poetry?”  He replied, “I did not start reciting poetry until it was recited to me.”  Then he was asked, “And how was that?”  He replied, “One day, I was in a place called Ghamim, near Madinah.  It was noon.  A man on horseback came toward me until he was next to me.  I looked at him.  He was bizarre, a man made out of brass; he seemed to be dragging himself along.  He said to me, ‘Recite some poetry!’  Then he recited poetry to me.  I said: ‘Who are you?’ He said, ‘I am your double from the jinn!’  That is how I started reciting poetry.”

    The following intriguing story is narrated about the poet al-‘Ashah (d.625), whose jinni was called Mish’al.  It is told that al-‘Ash’ah was once on a journey to Hadhramout, in Yemen, when all of a sudden he lost his way.  He came upon a tent, and went inside.  The poet responded, “I am al-‘Ash’ah.”  As this, his host started declaiming poetry to him.  The poet was bewildered, for his host was reciting his own poetry back to him, in which he describes a girl named Sumayyah.  Utterly baffled, the poet asked him, “Do you know who is Sumayyah?”  The host called for Sumayyah, who came out before them.  Al-‘Ashah began to shiver and shudder.  Finally, his host told him he was Mish’al, his jinni inspirer.

    Here's some Abu Nuwas poetry for a little bit of sha'ir flavor:

    Don’t Cry for Laila

    Don’t cry for Laila and don’t rejoice over Hind

    Instead, drink to the rose from a rosy red wine.

    A glass which, when tipped down the drinker’s throat

    Leaves its redness in both the eye and the cheek

    For the wine is a ruby and the goblet a pearl

    From the hand of a slim-figured maiden

    She pours out one draught for you from her eye and from her hand

    Yet another, ‘til you cannot escape growing doubly drunk.

    My companions have but one opiate while I have two

    By such a thing I alone have been favored.


    The Wretch Paused

     The wretch paused to question an abandoned campsite

    While I paused to inquire about the neighborhood tavern

    May God never dry the tears of those who cry over stones

    Nor ease the love-pangs of those who yearn for tent-pegs

    They said, ‘You mentioned the neighborhood where the Asads hail from…”

    Shame on you!  Tell me, who are the Asads anyway?

    And who are the Tamim and the Qays and all their ilk?

    In God’s eyes the Bedouin are nothing!

    Forget all of that!  Get on with yourself and drink a fine vintage instead:

    Golden-hued, it mingles water and froth

    As it pours from the hand of a slim-waisted beauty,

    Who resembles a willow branch flaunting its graceful bearing.

    When the barkeeper saw that I’d been smitten,

    He greeted me, making sure that I am lavish in my giving,

    Then he brought me a cup brimming with the choicest of wines,

    Letting none other grasp it, straight from his hand to mine.

    Give and be generous with all that your hand possesses,

    Don’t hoard a thing today fearing poverty tomorrow.

    What a difference between those who buy wine and enjoy it

    Versus those who weep over the traces of old campsites!

    Oh you who rebuke me, your signal has reached me,

    Though my pardon encompasses it, do not repeat it.

    Were it meant as advice, then I’d accept your reproach.

    But your chiding is based upon envy instead.


  • Veloth the Prophet
    Veloth the Prophet   ·  September 25, 2014
    This is pretty cool. I always loved middle eastern mythology and I always add it in to my Redguard builds.
  • Drifa Skir
    Drifa Skir   ·  December 31, 2013
    it's actually part of what i do for a living - i'm an arabic translator. but i got into it because i love poetry, storytelling, and the supernatural. Thanks for the good word!
  • Okan-Zeeus
    Okan-Zeeus   ·  December 31, 2013
    This is a very cool idea. I love the historical and cultural inspirations! It sounds like you've really done your research on this.