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Boasting of one’s poetic talents was hardly an uncommon feature in Arabic poetry. Poets sang praises for their craft and exalted themselves over their rivals. They sometimes moved beyond braggadocio, however, explaining the particular attributes that made their poetry of unmatched quality. Al-Nāshiʾ al-Akbar (d. 293/906) was one such poet who declared his poetry to be an inimitable product defined by standards that he outlined in his didactic poems. He also penned at least one book on the criticism of poetry which only survives now as excerpts in a number of fourth/eleventh century works of adab. Fine poetry, according to al-Nāshiʾ, is the harmonious articulation of sounds and meanings presented in an accessible way to its audience but is impossible to reproduce. In this respect, I propose that, in expounding the standards of excellent poetry, al-Nāshiʾ alluded to theories of inimitability (iʿjāz) based on composition (naẓm) and divine prevention (ṣarfah). He was a Muʿtazilite theologian who was both celebrated and vilified by his contemporaries, and later scholars. His theological writings have been examined; however, his literary persona is still little-known. In contrast to most considerations of him, this study examines al-Nāshiʾ as a poet and critic foremost.

In: Journal of Arabic Literature