Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jarchas and Facebook


A horse shoe arch that I made look like a penis
through a complete lack of
drawing skills

My very first class in the Survey of Spanish Literature course went very well.  As usual, there were a couple of touch-and-go moments that mostly worked themselves out. For one, I decided to draw a picture of a horse shoe arch on the board, even though I have had ample opportunities to realize that my drawing skills are such as to transform even the most innocuous objects into obscene pictures. So instead of a horse shoe arch I drew something that looked like a penis. And a really unattractive one, at that. Thankfully, my students' innate tactfulness prevented them from making any comments about it.

Then, I tried explaining to the students why jarchas* are fascinating, and it took a while. I must be out of practice because of the winter break:

Me: Just imagine that a thousand years ago a woman of your age was walking the streets of Al-Andalus, singing about how she missed her boyfriend, how she couldn't sleep at night because of all she was feeling. Isn't that amazing?

Students stare blankly.

Me: I mean, just think about it. Jarchas are messages from women who lived a 1000 years ago. Imagine that!

Students stare blankly.

A jarcha
Me: Jarchas are the very first record of Spanish we have!

Students stare blankly.
Me (getting desperate): Jarchas are. . . they are.  . . like a Facebook update!

Students (excited): Oh, that is so fascinating!! Can we read some more?

*A jarcha is the very first example of a literary text in Spanish (which is more of a proto-Spanish, heavily influenced by Arabic.) It is also the first recorded lyric poetry in any Romance language. Jarchas appeared within longer poems written by courtly Muslim and Jewish poets of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) in X-XI centuries. Many scholars believe that jarchas were short popular songs sung by Christian women in Al-Andalus. Thus, the very first literary voices in Hispanic literature are female.

Here is a very beautiful jarcha with an English translation:

Tanto amare, tanto amare, / habib, tanto amare:

¡Enfermaeron welyos nidios / e dolen tan male!


(So much loving, so much loving, / my lover, so much loving
has made bright eyes grow dim / and suffer so much!)

And one more:

Filyuelo alyeno,

 bebiteš a [duer]meš a mio šeno.

Fair son of stranger
thou hast drunk with me and hast lain on my breast.

And just one more because they are so priceless:

Mamma, ¡ayy habibe! / So al-gummella saqrella,

el-quwello albo / e bokella hamrella.


O mother, what a lover! / Below his yellow curls,
his white neck / and his little red mouth!


Sorry, I can't seem to stop teaching today.

9 comments:

maitreyi1978 said...

Wow! That Spanish sounds very strange to me, a semi-fluent daughter of native speakers. The word habib sounds Arabic, and it means lover? How old is this poem? I love your blog!

Clarissa said...

It's from over 1000 years ago and it does have many words in Arabic, as well as many words in the process of transformation from Latin into Spanish.


Thank you for the compliment. :-)

eric said...

I was wondering if the above jarcha (the one you have scanned) is Jewish in origin, with the line "ya rabbi si se me" (though Ladino may not have developed yet). It is interesting to note just how cosmopolitan Spain was during this period, while a good portion of it was still under Moorish influence.

Clarissa said...

You are absolutely right! Many of the jarchas were written by Jewish poets. Jews often held very prominent positions in Muslim courts of Al-Andalus. This is why Muslim Spain is referred to as "the culture of tolerance."

Ed Johnson said...

Yeah, it's a shame level of tolerance was shattered once the Catholics reconquered Spain.

Will your class be reading any Spanish literature in your class?

I took AP Spanish Literature in high school and it was a very fun class even though I don't like writing essays.

David Wacks said...

Just a point of clarification: "ya rabbi" here means "Oh God!" in Arabic (rabb + -i personal possessive suffix). Though its true as Clarissa mentions, most of the Romance jarchas are found in Hebrew manuscripts.

Shamma said...

Loved this!
Haven't had the chance to teach Muwashshahat or Harajas yet....

Pamela Patton said...

The Facebook comparison is brilliant. And they won't forget it!

Clarissa said...

Thank you for the comments, guys!

Is there a reason why there is such a sudden revival of interest towards this post today?