The Most Poetical of Poetry


Like many of his contemporaries, Rizq Allah Hassun (1825−80) set out to transcribe the classics into a refreshed Arabic idiom. In Ashʻar al-shiʻr (The most poetical of poetry), he chooses to recast selected Old Testament texts in an accessible poetic form. The book of Job is prominently featured in the collection because, as the author says in his foreword, it ranks with Homer and Shakespeare as a monument of world literature. Hassun’s translation of the story of Job into Arabic poetry is not intended as a Bible reading for the devout, but rather as a demonstration of the richness and adaptability of the Arabic language. Hassun based his poems on the Arabic translation of Cornelius Van Dyck (1818−95), which Hassun termed “the best Arabic translation of the Bible I’ve seen,” and on the English Bible of 1811, with notes by John Styles. The work also contains poetic renditions from the books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations. Rizq Allah Hassun took an active part in the cultural and political life of his times. He founded one of the first Arabic newspapers and took part in the anti-Ottoman opposition in the Levant and in the imperial capital, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), for which he was forced to go into exile in Russia and England. Ash’ar al-shi’r conforms to the pattern of Hassun’s other publications in its emphasis on literary style as a quality to be cultivated for its own sake, rather than as a vehicle for proselytizing or personal piety. There is no colophon giving publication details, but occasional notes mention that he completed drafts in 1869 while residing in England. The book was printed in 1870 at the American Press in Beirut.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

American Press, Beirut


Title in Original Language

أشعر الشعر

Type of Item

Physical Description

136 pages ; 22 centimeters


  1. “Ḥassūn, Rizq Allah (1825−80)” in Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey, editors, Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature (London: Routledge, 1998).

Last updated: January 16, 2015