Sound and Sense in Classical Arabic Poetry. By Geert Jan VAN Gelder. Arabische Studien, vol. 10. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Pp. xv + 399. 78 [euro].
Sound is the pivotal dimension of poetry's artistic space; its significance in versification is not limited to the repertoire of potential tools and methods of the acoustic design of a poetic work. As in the case of fine art, where the ability to perceive and to distinguish colors is not simply conducive to the application of a palette of various paints, but substantially defines the nature of this art itself, the sound in poetry both generates phonic effects and is primarily a constitutive aspect of poeticism--as such, it is the essential element of poetry.
In its utterance, each word acquires its external, i.e., acoustic, sound. At the same time, as Wassily Kandinsky (Uber das Geistige in der Kunst, Munich (3) 1912, 28) observes, "the word is the inner sound. This sound originates partly (or mostly) from the object, which name the word denotes." Poetry combines inextricably the outer and the inner sound of the word, the latter being closely related to its sense. The poeticity, and thus the aesthetic appreciation of a literary work, depends largely on the harmony between the phonic effects of the outer sounds and the exposure of the inner sound of the words and the level to which this harmony elevates the emotional perception of the text.
In classical Arabic poetry, aural aspects are of paramount importance. Circulation of Arabic poetry was traditionally facilitated through recitation and singing, and this alone provided considerable weight to the qualities of its external sound. More importantly, however, these qualities correlate essentially with the artistic expression of the inner sound of the word, i.e., its poetic meaning. It is only by paying close attention to both sound and sense that classical Arabic poetry can be fully understood and appreciated.
The monograph by Geert Jan van Gelder under review represents an important contribution to the study of the essential, yet greatly overlooked, subject of the phonic aspects of classical Arabic poetry. It marks a pioneering attempt to comprehensively investigate the unity of sound and sense as a fundamental base of poetry using the material of the premodern Arabic literary tradition. Van Gelder is mainly concerned with the aesthetics of poetic sounds and limits himself to the level of sounds in works that were understood as poetry in the classical...