Introduction

In 2018, I taught my Women in Literature course (ENGL 3300) with a strictly twelfth-century focus. It was a formative century in the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, and I wanted to look at the role women like Christina of Markyate, Heloise, and Hildegard of Bingen played. I also wanted to combat preconceptions about the "white Middle Ages," so I decided to teach writers and leaders beyond these European ones: Anna Komnene, Melisende of Jerusalem, and the female poets of al-Andalus. 

The process of compiling translations of Arabic and Hebrew poetry written by Andalusian women proved to be a substantial research task, and several people on Twitter expressed an interest in my reading list. So I'm providing below the list of women poets I taught (with brief bios, as I uncovered them), the poems I found in translation, and the source of the translation, with a bibliography for both the translations and the texts I found most useful for preparing to teach. Let me especially point you to Hammond, Beyond Elegy, the only monograph expressly on classical Arabic women's poetry; it provides some serious close reading that unpacks the nuances of the Arabic wordplay that are lost on the rest of us. Anyone seeking to diversify their women's lit syllabus should also check out the Early Women Writers website, which will point you to many other medieval women writers from around the globe: http://earlywomenwriters.com/. I'm also making use of the bibliography on women in medieval Iberia, published in the Medieval Feminist Forum subsidia series: https://ir.uiowa.edu/mff/subsidia/. Finally, I'm eagerly awaiting the release of a translation of the Arabic epic Dhat al-Himma, complete with badass female protagonist, to be published by Medieval Feminist Forum late in 2018 (I hope). 

This list is by no means exhaustive; I am a novice when it comes to Arabic poetry, and I welcome additions to my list of Andalusian women poets in translation. As always, I'm happy to share further teaching materials with other professors - feel free to drop me an email.

The Poets

‘Aisha bint Ahmad al-Qurtubiyya (10th c.)

Sorry, no bio.

Poem: “I am a lioness.” Source: Women Poets of the World, ed. Bankier and Lashgari, 97.

 

Wife of Dunash Ben Labrat (10th c.)

As the headnotes to the poem itself and the footnotes make clear, even though we don’t know this poet’s name, she’s important for being the only Hebrew-language woman poet of the Middle Ages. She composed this lament upon her husband’s exile.

Poem: “Will her love remember?” Source: Dream of the Poem, ed Cole, 27.

 

Hafsa bint al-Hajj al-Rukuniyya (d. 586/1190-91)

Granadan poet and one of the most prolific Andalusian women poets. Engaged in a love affair with poet Abu Ja’far Ibn Sai’d, c. 1154. The Almohad prince and patron, Abu Sai’d ‘Uthman, apparently fought with Abu Ja’far for Hafsa’s love, resulting (via political rather than poetic conflict) in Abu Ja’far’s imprisonment and execution in 1163. Eventually (perhaps linked to Abu Ja’far’s fall from grace), Hafsa changed careers and became a tutor to the daughters of the caliph. She died in this position, in Marrakech, in 1190/91.

Poems:

“Shall I come there.” Source: Women Poets of the World, ed. Bankier and Lashgari, 99.

“The Shield.” Source: Moorish Poetry, trans. Arberry, 94.

“Exchange” with Abu Ja’far. Source: Moorish Poetry, trans. Arberry, 94-95.

"Those lips I praise." Source: Hammond, Arabic Poetry, 158-59.

 

Hamda bint Ziyād (12th c.)

I know nothing more of her, other than that she came from a village in Guadix.

Poem: “Tears reveal my secrets.” Source for frame-story and poem: Hammond, Beyond Elegy, 24-25. (This is the only same-sex desire poem I have discovered in translation.)

 

Maryam bint Abi Ya’qub al-Ansari (early 11th c.)

No bio.

Poem: “What can you expect.” Source: Women Poets of the World, ed. Bankier and Lashgari, 99

 

Nazhūn bint al-Qilā’ī (12th c.)

Little is known of her biography, although she was probably from Granada. She’s often held to have been a jāriya (enslaved court entertainer), based on stories like the one that frames “Tell the vile one a word.” She appears to have had quite a reputation, getting into verse exchanges with other famous poets.

Poems:

“Tell the vile one a word,” with its frame-story. Source: Hammond, Beyond Elegy, 139-142.

“As cherished as my father” (a muwashshahāt, a distinctively Andalusian love poem form). Source: Hammond, Beyond Elegy, 157-160.

“The Blind Man.” Source: Moorish Poetry, trans. Arberry, 92.

“Riposte.” Source: Moorish Poetry, trans. Arberry, 93.

 

Qasmūna bint Ismā’il Ibn Bagdālah (12th c.)

Qasmūna was a Jewish woman who was well taught by her father, Ismā’il Ibn Bagdālah, and seems to have collaborated with him on verse-capping challenges. The three poems collected here are the extent of her known output.

Poems:

“I have a friend.” Source: Nichols, “Arabic Verses,” 156.

“O garden.” Source: Nichols, “Arabic Verses,” 156.

"Seeing herself beautiful and nubile" (same poem as "O Garden"). Source: Hamond, Arabic Poems, 130-31. Also translated in the notes to the Wife of Dunash.

“O deer.” Source: Nichols, “Arabic Verses,” 157. Also translated in the notes to the Wife of Dunash.

 

Wallāda bint al-Mustakfī (d. 484/1091)

Daughter of one of the last caliphs of Córdoba, she was a major literary figure in Córdoba and hosted a literary circle or salon. She was also the sometime lover of the poet Ibn Zaydun, to whom she addressed both love poems and (after they broke up) invective. She was also romantically involved with another woman poet, Muhja al-Qurtubiyya, who was said to be Wallāda’s student.

Poems:

“To Ibn Zaidun.” Source: Women Poets of the World, ed. Bankier and Lashgari, 98.

“You’ve been branded.” Source: Hammond, Beyond Elegy, 25.

"Must separation mean we have no way to meet?" Source: Hammond, Arabic Poems, 128-29.

 

Bibliography

Abu-Haidar, J.A. Hispano-Arabic Literature and the Early Provencal Lyrics. Richmond: Curzon, 2001.

Allen, Roger. An Introduction to Arabic Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Arberry, A.J., trans. Moorish Poetry: A Translation of The Pennants, an Anthology compiled in 1243 by the Andalusian Ibn Sa’id. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953.

Bankier, Joanna, and Deirdre Lashgari, eds. Women Poets of the World. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Cachia, Pierre. Arabic Literature: An Overview. New York: Routledge Curzon, 2002.

Cole, Peter, ed. and trans. The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Hammond, Marlé, ed. Arabic Poems: A Bilingual Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Hammond, Marlé. Beyond Elegy: Classical Arabic Women’s Poetry in Context. Oxford: British Academy, 2010.

Lowin, Shari L. Arabic and Hebrew Love Poems in al-Andalus. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Ed. Josef W. Meri. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Nichols, James Manfield. “The Arabic Verses of Qasmūna bint Ismā’il Ibn Bagdālah.” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 13 (1981): 155-58.