The Muwashshah in Yemenite Jewish Women's Poetry

by Dina Dahbani-Miraglia [City University of New York]


SUMMARY: The Andalusian muwashshah is an extraordinary strophic poetic genre. It embodies as well as reflects the languages and beliefs of the peoples who were living together in Islamic Spain between the 11th and 14th centuries. Blending Romance and Mozarabic linguistic elements, the muwashshah incorporates cultural features from all classes in the Andalusian world. A written form, and therefore the purvue of educated men, yet there exist some muwashshah written in the female voice. These muwashshah are invariably romantic and even sexually graphic. Intended for secular entertainment, the muwashshah's structural variations were capitalized on by Sephardic Jewish poets, such as Yehuda haLevi and Shomo ben Yehuda Gabirol (Gvirol) who created a body of religious poetry in Hebrew, a few of which found their way into the Yemenite Diwan attributed to Yemen's poet laureate, Shalom ash-Shabazi.


In Yemen Jewish women were denied access to literacy. Their poetry was almost entirely oral. Nevertheless elements of the muwashshah's complex forms were adopted, but rarely in its fullest forms.  The first half of this paper will identify a selection of Yemenite Jewish women's poem songs that have incorporated aspects of the muwashshah. The second half will contain a muwashshah created by the author.


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