Articles and Translations

The Dīwān of Ibn ‘Arabi


This present study of the Dīwān of Ibn ‘Arabi is based only on the edition printed at Boulaq in 1855, from a text established by Muhammad b. Isma’il Shihab al-Din. In the General Index of his Histoire et Classification de L’Oeuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabi, Osman Yahia was careful to underline (I, p. 191) that the copies, thirty or more in Turkey, of the text of the Dīwān dating from the end of 634/1237, were all incomplete. ‘Indeed, according to a point made by the copyist in the ms Esad Ef. 2694, Ibn ‘Arabi would have composed this total of six volumes in successive parts. A critical edition of this work would thus necessitate consulting all the copies.’ More than 25 years have elapsed since Osman Yahia wrote these lines, and, to our knowledge, the critical edition he was awaiting has still not seen the light of day, and there is less and less chance that it can appear because of the growing difficulties met by researchers, especially concerning manuscripts found in Turkey. It would be thus imprudent on our part to draw conclusions from a single printed text of the Dīwān, and any hypothesis formulated in an attempt to reply to the problems considered can only be tentative.

The 475 large format pages of the Boulaq edition correspond to a selection of more than 800 pieces of verse (852 to be exact if we count and number the sometimes arbitrarily separated and isolated verses). A dīwān being by definition a collection of poems which have been sanctioned by the writer, one would expect to find in the Shaykh al-Akbar’s the pieces of verse that can be read in his major works, such as the Futūhāt. So one is surprised, when a detailed inventory is made, to find that less than a tenth of his known output is to be found in the Dīwān. One can then understand all the interest there is in reading it. It is thus that Claude Addas, in her remarkable book on the life of Ibn ‘Arabi, was able to make the best possible use of the biographical details furnished by the Dīwān, which she couldn’t have found elsewhere. Let us cite, amongst others, the list of female members of his family or of his close friends, to whom Ibn ‘Arabi transmitted the khirqa (poems on pp. 54-60), and the numerous attestations of his status as Seal and Muhammedian Heir. While on this subject, let me add to the Dīwān references given by Addas and Chodkiewicz by referring to the following poems: p. 48 (rhyme in si), p. 360 (rhyme in hamza), pp. 322-3 (rhyme in ni) and in particular verse number 12. Let me also mention amongst the number of new and important poems those which deal with the Divine Names: pp.105-6 (32 verses) and the 114 poems which the Qur’anic sūrahs inspired in him.

We should also mention that several poems in the Futūhāt which precede or accompany an exposition they serve to illustrate, are replaced in the Dīwān by very different verses. So as not to quote overmuch, let us limit ourselves to inviting the reader to compare the poems on fasting (sawm: F., I, 601-2 and D., 315-16); on stringent sincerity (sidq: F., II, 22 and D., 240); on the zodiacal mansions (burūj: F., III, 37-8 and D., 183). But the most instructive example is furnished by the 37 pieces of verse dedicated to the letters (hurūf), representing a total of 444 verses, of which two poems are on the initial letters of the Sūrah (awā’il al-suwār; pp. 131-2 (20 verses) and pp. 135-6 (33 verses)), one poem on al-hurūf al-marqūma (pp. 317-19 (44 verses)) and especially the poems relating to the 29 letters (including the lam-alif), each one beginning with the letter commented on and taking it as a rhyme. Each poem, except this particular one, is composed of 10 verses, a lot more than the corresponding poems in the Futūhāt or in al-Mabādi’ al-Ghāyāt (compare D., 218-32 with F., I, 65-75). It is unfortunate that a recent study on the science of the letters should have completely passed over the pieces in the Dīwān relating to it.

How, then, are we to know exactly what in the Dīwān is new or different, and which are the poems that reproduce the ones which can be read in Ibn ‘Arabi’s principal works? It was essential to draw up an inventory once the poems had been identified. The only possible procedure was firstly to work out a classification according to the rhymes of each verse and then to compare them to those in the relevant works of Ibn ‘Arabi. These, then, arc the main findings of our research:

1 The Turjumān al-Ashwāq (turjumān is more linguistically correct than tarjumān), a poetical and lyrical work par excellence made up of 60 odes in a classical style, is totally missing from the Dīwān. On the other hand, 34 of its poems can be found in the Muhādarat al-Abrār, which Ibn ‘Arabi himself described as light verse. One might be tempted to deduce from this that the criteria for selection were not the same, and that the choice exercised by the Shaykh al-Akbar with regard to these poems was not, in the case of the Dīwān, based upon adab or literary and aesthetic value. However, this may be a hasty conclusion.

2 The Futūhāt’s 560 chapters contain 1,428 poetical pieces, totalling 7,102 verses. Naturally we have not included quotes from other authors, nor the poems chosen by the editor of the 1911 printing in Cairo, which are mentioned at the end of the last volume. Let me underline that 122 one-line verses (mafārid or yatāmā, literally orphans) can equally be considered as poetic pieces. To those who may be surprised by this, let us remember that this conforms to the spirit of classical Arab poetry, in which a verse has to express a complete theme (ma’nā ), so that a series of verses is only a succession of themes, each being capable of standing on its own. We might add that these are the ‘monostiques’ which are the most often quoted in Ibn ‘Arabi’s work. What, then, has the Dīwān drawn from this ocean of poetry? The answer is surprising and deceptive: from the Futūhāt only 8 pieces have been taken, representing in total only 77 verses and one hemistich!

  • The poem of 31 verses on pp. 61-2, corresponding to the one in F., I, 329-30 (only 28 verses) on the tahāra;
  • The poem of 18 verses on pp. 63-4, corresponding to F., I, 386 (17 verses) on the asār al-salāt;
  • The poem of 17 verses on p. 339, corresponding to F., I, 267-8, composed to the glory of the Ansar;
  • The poem of 6 verses (rhymed in hamza) on p. 21 is also found in the Mawāqi’ al-Nujūm p. 170 and repeated in 3 different places in the Futūhāt (II, 627, missing the third verse; III, 19 and IV, 557);
  • The poem of 3 verses on p. 50, in which the Shaykh states that he participates in the two seals (walāya and nubuwwa), is found in F., III, 84;
  • One isolated verse on passion (hawā) on p. 48 is in the Fusūs al-Hikam, (p. 194) and repeated in two places in the Futūhāt (IV, 206 and 382);
  • One other isolated verse on the plurals of small numbers (between 3 and 10) on p. 469 is quoted (Ibn ‘Arabi says it is not his) twice in the Futūhāt (I, 301 and IV, 38);
  • Finally, on p. 157 the first hemistich of the poem inspired by the Sūrah al-Rahmān is identical to the one found at the beginning of the opening poem of chapter 377 (F., III, 483).

3 The Rasā’il (Hyderabad, 2 vols, 1948) furnishes a more abundant harvest than the Futūhāt. Fourteen pieces are reproduced in the Dīwān, distributed in the following manner:

  • Eleven from the Kitāb al-Isrā’ (totalling 107 verses), found one after the other at the beginning of the Dīwān, pp. 2-7, in an order which corresponds to that in the text of the Rasā’il (I, pp. 12, 14, 15-16, 21-2. 24, 27-8, 33, 36-7, 42-4, 50-1, 68);
  • One piece of 10 verses, pp. 10-11, which is found in both the Kitāb Ayyām al-Sha’n (R., I, p. 5, last 3 verses missing) and the Mawāqi’ al-Nujūm, p. 21;
  • Finally, 2 isolated verses, p. 49 of the Dīwān, found in the Tajalliyāt (R., II, p. 50).

We must point out a curious variant to the verse found at the bottom of p. 4 of the Dīwān, which could be translated as follows: ‘By the invocation of God sins increase, and the interior vision and the hearts are then veiled.’ The text of the Rasā’il (I, 33, 3rd verse) and the Kitāb al-Isrā’ edited by Souad al-Hakim (p. 104, 1st verse) give another variant apparently more acceptable: ‘By the invocation of God sins are forgiven, and the interior vision and the hearts shine with joy.’

4 The Muhādarat al-Abrār (Cairo, 2 vols, 1906): this introductory work contains 100 pieces of verse, and one would expect to find them well-represented in the Dīwān. Here again it is a surprise to find that this is not the case. Only 4 of them are reproduced, representing only 27 verses in all:

  • One of 11 verses, M., I, pp. 222-3, and D., p. 51, on Abu Qubays (al-Jabal al-Amīn), the sacred hill to the east of Mecca;
  • One of 7 verses, M., I, p. 223, and D., pp. 51-2, on the Black Stone and the ‘oriental corner’ (al-rukn al-yamānī ) of the Ka’ba;
  • One of 6 verses, M., I, pp. 209-10, and D., p. 52, on man doing tawāf badly;
  • Finally, 3 verses, M., II, p. 194 and D., p. 47, on the theme of the hero.

5 The Mawāqi’ al-Nujūm (Cairo edition, 1965): amongst all the works we have investigated, the Mawāqi’ al-Nujūm is the only one in which the poems have been reproduced almost completely. Fifty of the 53 pieces of the Mawāqi’ are found at the beginning of the Dīwān (pp. 7-26), except for the distich on p. 74 of the Mawāqi’ which is held back until p. 46 of the Dīwān, perhaps because it also figures in the Tadbīrāt al-Ilahiyyah (p. 177, Nyberg edition). These poems represent a total of 377 verses. It is worth noting that the Dīwān (p. 31) has, in the middle of the other poems, an extra piece of 5 verses (rhymed in kāf), which is not found in the edition of the Mawāqi’. As for the missing poems, these are: 5 verses (Maw., p. 119), 3 verses (p. 127) and the distich at the bottom of p. 172. The absence of these 2 verses is rather surprising, since they are precisely the ones which figure in the first lines of the Futūhāt, and in which the first hemistich states: ‘Ar-rabbu haqqun wa-l ‘abdu haqqun.’ They are found again in F., I, 552, in the Kitāb al-Jalāla (R., 1, 12) and in the Tanazzul al-Amlāk (p. 42).

To conclude this inventory, let us add that none of the 72 poems of the Tanazzulāt al-Mawsiliyya (Tanazzul al-amlāk), totalling 489 verses, have been reproduced in the Dīwān. Neither have the few pieces in the Rūh al-Quds.

It is perhaps of some use to give a numerical summing-up. Our researches have only succeeded in identifying 73 pieces of verse, including repetitions, which represent a total of 584 verses of the 9,200 contained in the Dīwān, and correspond to 42 pages of the 475 of the printed text. It is very few, but it is highly unlikely that any more accurate identification could be made by researching into manuscripts of Ibn ‘Arabi’s works other than those which we have studied, and which would have been thought to furnish the greatest number of pieces of verse. Are the unidentified poems to be found in the lost works such as the great Tafsīr? Where do the 29 muwashshahāt come from, for example, poems which are arranged in stanzas, so beloved of the Andalusians?

What order is followed in the Dīwān? Is there an order? It is not in alphabetical order of rhyme, as is the case in certain collections of poems. Neither is it classified according to theme. Is it arranged according to date of composition? One might be tempted to think so and to fix on a chronological order, since the first 11 poems (pp. 2-7) come from the Kitāb al-Isrā’, which was composed in Fez in 594 and the following 50 poems come from the Mawāqi’ al-Nujūm, which was written in Almeria in 595. Yes, but after that? On p. 47 there is a poem of 3 verses that is to be found in the Muhādarat al-Abrār, but is the compilation date of this work known? All that can be said is that it comes after the Turjumān al-Ashwāq, which was written in Mecca in 611, since it quotes 34 poems from it. Furthermore, on p. 49 we find two verses of the Tajalliyāt, which was composed in Aleppo in 606 or a little earlier. As for dated poems, there are only two (pp. 277-8 and 280), written in 631 according to Ibn ‘Arabi’s own testimony. They are late in terms of the compilation of the Dīwān, which we may remember was written in 634, and we would expect them to have been placed towards the end of the work. The hypothesis of a chronological order, while appealing, appears fragile.

In conclusion and also as an illustration, let us quote two verses (D., 306, verses 28 and 32), in which Ibn ‘Arabi reminds us to avoid methodology, dogmatism and intellectualism:

The unifier and associator, the denier (of the Divine Attributes), the proclaimer of similarity and the proclaimer of transcendence, each of them exhibits doctrinal excess…
Then I knew that the Truth resides in faith and not in reason.

Translated from the French by Alan Boorman.

This paper was first Volume XV of the Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society, 1994.