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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poetry Corner: Jarchas

In a beautiful corner of the world -- Moorish Andalucía -- in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, poetry was central to civilized existence. Fidelity to established forms and linguistic abstraction were prized above all else. 

But these subtle writers in Arabic also enjoyed observing life around them, and that meant sometimes overhearing the songs of the mozarabes, Christians who spoke a now-extinct mixture of Arabic and the local romance language. The poets liked to punctuate their long, stately poems with short, and sometimes mysterious, snippets in the voice of a mozarabe, often a beautiful young woman. These snippets, called jarchas, are the only poetry we have from this linguistic group. Scholars have transliterated the jarchas from the Arabic script in which they're found in order to approximate these lost rhythms and sounds.

Jarcha from moaxaja number 8 of Jehuda ha-Levi (1070-1141):
Non me mordas ya habibi, la
No quero daniyoso
Al-gilala rajisa: basta
A toto me rifyuso

Do not bite me, my friend, no. I don’t want someone who hurts me. The bodice is fragile, stop. I refuse everything.

Linguistically, this jarcha is a special treasure that plays out its social milieu. While the grammar and most of the words are in romance, and recognizably related to modern Spanish, the terms for refined, luxury concepts (lover, bodice, fragile) have been derived from the Arabic. 

While it's tempting to see it as a quasi-feminist plea to be treated with respect, we have to take into account the venue in which this jarcha would have been heard: in a predominately male court. The snippet itself is likely written by the poet of the main text, also male. So, the most likely interpretation is a comic relief / lurid one, although we will never know for sure. 

The text, translation, and a lovely version with instruments of the time are presented in the album El Crisol del Tiempo. 

Also note the changes to the site: you now have access to a list of my publications, with links to excerpts and full texts, on a separate page, linked on the left of the screen. The enjoyably watchable videos are listed on their own page. Enjoy the reorganization! More great content coming soon!