Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type

M.A. Essay

First Advisor

yasser elhariry

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Kassler-Taub


This essay identifies an early modern aesthetic that mobilizes the mundane to make a point about the world or the grandiose. Through a close reading of the poetry in the travelogues of the 17th-century Ottoman Damascene scholar ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1143/1731), this essay identifies, theorizes, and historicizes early modern Arabic circumstantial verse—what the 19th-century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé calls vers de circonstance. By drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the “chronotope,” this essay shows how the poetry in Nābulusī’s travelogues fits within, and sometimes advances, their linear narrative. If poetry is expected to transcend the chronotope in which it is recited or composed, Nābulusī’s poems fail to do so. Special attention is paid to Nābulusī’s Sufism, or mysticism, since it complicates the notion of circumstantiality; Sufism’s teachings call for transcending the material world, the mundane. Finally, via the 18th-century German poet Goethe, who engaged Persian Sufi poetry, this essay suggests that we may consider Nābulusī’s circumstantial poems as parables. This essay is a literary history of circumstantial poetry in pre- modern Arabic literature that is simultaneously diachronic and synchronic: it pays particular attention to genre of circumstantial poetry as it developed in both within the Arabic tradition and in the early modern period—particularly in France and Germany—whether the poets discussed were aware of their contemporaries across the world or not.