Posted by on Jul 22, 2016 in Library | Comments Off on CATEGORIES OF SYRIAN POETS

Translated : By Dr. Matti Moosa


Among the Syrian poets are found the genius, the gifted craftsman, and those who combine the qualities of each. You also find the mediocre poet and, finally, the scribbler of verse.
In the first category St. Ephraim stands as a highly talented and immortal poet who won the crown of poetical genius by his masterpieces. Into splendid poetry which poured out of his heart without artificiality or constraint, he translated the details of Christian doctrine and its mysteries. His successful artistic style, bearing his own stamp and seal, has never been imitated. Among the strong characteristics of his poetry are affluence, profundity, innovation, powerful style and the ability to handle adroitly the varieties of poetic creation.
Under the second heading come Jacob of Edessa, Bar Subto, Bar Qiqi, Bar Sabuni and Bar Andrew. Bar Andrew expertly formed his style and worded his verse with marked spontaneity. Most of his poetry could well be placed within the first category.
Those who combine the faculties of genius and giftedness are Isaac of Amid, Isaac of Edessa, Jacob of Saruj and Bar Hebraeus. Jacob of Saruj is distinguished for the creation and thorough examination of new concepts. Despite the length of his poems, which number in the hundreds, his poetry was still sound and intact. The reader is immediately struck by the unlimited abundance, and by the penetrating spark of poetry which suggest to him that he is undoubtedly facing a messenger inspired by a divine power. Bar Hebraeus overwhelms you with his elegant expression, lucid style, natural rhyme and his various enchanting, delicate, harmonious and artistic forms. He opens his poems with an exquisite introduction which leaves the reader no other choice than to follow him to the end. But when the reader has reached this end, he finds himself more anxious to discover what is beyond this point, and the next, and the one following. Bar Hebraeus’ impeccable poems especially his masterpieces reveal the power of his spirit and art, and the vastness of his knowledge and poetical ability. Indeed, very few other poets were able to achieve such harmony and simplicity in their poetry.
Famous for their illuminating introductions, clear expression, and exquisite style are Cyrillona, Asuna, Balai and Jacob of Edessa, particularly in his madrash on the Passion of Christ.
In the mediocre category come Anton of Takrit, Ezekiel of Melitene, Abu Nasr al-Bartulli, al-Hidli, Nuh the Lebanese and Simon of Tur Abdin. Their poetry is characterized by pleasant introduction, purity, smoothness and powerful style. The poetry of the latter two, however, is more fluent and natural, except for the few instances in which Nuh the Lebanese employed a forced rhyme. The later poets, as well as the scribblers of verse have produced both good and bad poetry. The composition of their poetry is a technical rather than artistic process. This is why they sometimes succeeded in presenting their art and sometimes failed. They were followed by another type of scribblers of verse, whose poetic compositions were marked by primitiveness, inferiority and monotony, and showed little excellence.

We may now classify these poets into four categories.1 The first includes St. Ephraim (d. 373), Asuna and Cyrillona (d. 400), Isaac of Amid, Rabula (d. 435), Isaac of Edessa and Simon the Potter (d. 514) and his group (the potters), Jacob of Saruj (d. 521), Jacob of Edessa (d. 708), George, bishop of the Arabs (d. 725), Bar Subto (d. 829), Bar Qiqi (d. 1016), Bar Sabuni (d. 1095), the Karkary (d. 1143), Bar Andrew (d. 1156), Bar Madani (d. 1263) and Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286).
The second includes Samuel the disciple of Mar Barsoum, David bar Paul (800),2 Anton of Takrit (840), Denha, Ezekiel of Melitene (905), Abu Nasr al-Bartulli (1290), Isaiah of Basibrina (d. 1425), Behnam of Hidl (d. 1454), Malke Saqu (1490), Nuh the Lebanese (d. 1509) and Maphrian Shimun (Simon) (d. 1740).
In the third category are Bar Wahbun (d. 1193), Michael the Great (d. 1199), Hananya al-Gharib (the stranger) (d. 1220), Jacob of Bartulli (in his versified grammar only) (d. 1241), Gabriel of Bartulli (d. 1300), Yeshu bar Khayrun (d. 1335), Saliba bar Khayrun (d. 1340), Bar Shay Allah (d. 1493), David of Hims (d. 1500), Masud of Zaz (d. 1512), Nimat Allah Nur al-Din (d. 1587) Yuhanna (John) of Khudayda (d. 1719), the Qutrubulli (d. 1783), John al-Bustani (d. 1825), Zaytun al-Nahli (d. 1855), Naum Faiq (d. 1930) and Jacob Saka (d. 1931).
The fourth class includes Bar Ghalib (d. 1177), Hasan Abu Zurqa and Yeshu of Basibrina (d. 1490), Isa al-Jazri (d. 1495), Abdo of Hah (d. 1504), the priest of Habsnas (d. 1505), Sergius of Hah (d. 1508), Joseph the Iberian (d. 1537), Bar Ghurayr (d. 1685), Hidayat Allah of Khudayda (d. 1693), Yuhanna of Basibrina (d. 1729), Bar Mirijan (d. 1804), Gurgis (George) of Azekh (d. 1847).
Some of these poets, like St. Ephraim and Jacob of Saruj, were so prolific that the poetry they composed during their lifetime would fill many volumes. Slightly less prolific poets, like Isaac, filled voluminous anthologies. Bar Hebraeus and Bar Paul, as well as the composer of pieces of poetry,3 were moderate. Cyrillona and those like him were much less productive. We have even found poets who wrote only one poem or even few lines of poetry.
The poets whose anthologies have been collected and preserved are: St. Ephraim, Isaac (of Amid), Jacob of Saruj, David bar Paul, Anton of Takrit, Bar Andrew, Bar Madani, Bar Hebraeus, Nuh the Lebanese, Simon of Tur Abdin and Jacob Saka. On the other hand, the poets whose poems we can neither describe nor criticize because they are unavailable are Wafa the Aramaean, Bar Daysan (d. 222), Shimun (Simon) bar Sabbae (d. 344), Aba, Absmayya (d. 400), Dada of Amid and Marutha of Miyafarqin (d. 420), the patriarch George I, (d. 790), Simon Bar Amraya (d. 815), Joseph of Melitene (d. 1055), Bar Shushan (d. 1072), and Bar Salibi (d. 1171).

Also, we have some anonymous poems, among which is an ode about Uriah the Hittite; these were in the five-, seven-, and twelve-syllable meters, and were composed before the eleventh century.4 We have also read a poem in the same style by later poets. Another magnificent poem in the heptasyllabic meter concerns the Feast of the Ears of Corn and the praise of the Virgin; it opens with “O Christ, the bread of heaven, who descendeth from the heights to earth.” It was probably composed by Bar Shushan. Another eloquent poem in praise of Jacob of Saruj is also attributed to Bar Shushan,6 as well as a twelve-syllable meter poem on St. Cyriacus the Martyr,7 two poems and a Sughith (song) about the two martyrs Bar Sabbae and Bar Bashmim,8 a poem on Shallita the hermit,9 and a splendid rhymed heptasyllabic Sughith, alphabetically arranged, usually recited at meals and during the drinking of wine.10 This latter begins with: “Thee I praise O Lord,”11 and twenty-two edifying, gnomic, alphabetically arranged poems the first of which contains one Olaph (A), the second one Beth (B), and so forth.12

– Mor Ignatius Aphram Barsoum