Topic: Sentimental, Specified Referent
Length: Multiline Monothematic
Šemrēt (pl. šemrūt, “a little praise poem,” šemrek: “I sang a song in praise of a young girl”) is a specific genre of lyric poetry in which the poet expresses his or her parental affection for a young girl and advises her to demand the most from her suitors when she comes of marriageable age. This genre of poem is meant for public circulation, and by naming the subject, šemrēt poems bear a relationship to a specific, external reality. For this reason, šemrēt poems bear a conceptual similarity to occasional poems despite their explicit sentimentality. For this reason, some of the šemrēt poems in this collection may bear political significance: the anxiety aroused by foreigners who impinge on the the wealth and resources of al-Mahra (as is the case for the poem “Hays and the Saudi Prince“).
However, the most common purpose of a šemrēt poem is to flatter and publicly avow the virtues of one’s child. Because the object of the poem—a young girl—is not yet marriageable, there is no social opprobrium attached to describing her by name. Once composed and performed, the poem becomes the property of the young girl and she will remember it with pride. In general, a parent or a relative will compose a šemrēt for their own daughter or niece, although a more skilled poet, such as Ḥājj Dākōn, can be commissioned to do so. The affection expressed in a šemrēt poem is strictly familial and a šemrēt poem never includes hurtful sentiments. The parental love expressed in a šemrēt poem is at odds with the physical desire expressed in amorous (Ar. ghazal) poetry. The latter subject is more widely spread in al-Mahra, leaving šemrēt poems to occupy the more marked niche within the domain of Mahri lyric poetry. The lyric nature of šemrēt poems and their public performance at festivities (often accompanied by the young girls’ tanwīś dance) means that the šemrēt genre may overlap with the dāndān laylī poetic genre.