The Pragmatics of Color in Antara’s Poetry

Mousa A. Btoosh


Perhaps rarely is there any piece of Pre-Islamic Arabic literature where color features more strongly and less naturally than in Antara’s poetry. Therefore, the intended message of color in Antara’s poetry is adequately understood inasmuch as the pragmatic implicatures of color are worked out. Evidence in literature explicitly attributes Antara’s extraordinary concern with color to the dramatic impact of his dark complexion, which is, in turn, closely reflected in his careful choice of the lexical elements and black poetic images and metaphors throughout his poetic works. However, none of the previous attempts, devoted to analyzing his poetry, has pointed to the possibility of the involvement of pragmatics, pretext or abstract context in the interpretation of color. That is, color has been always interpreted literally in all the previous studies devoted to exploring Antara’s poetry. This article argues that much of the message of color in Antara’s works goes beyond the natural or literal meaning, and thus, much of the color story has not been revealed yet.  To this end, an attempt is made here to reveal the color subtext via a psycho-pragmatic construct. Results reveal that Antara skillfully and purposely uses color in an attempt to: (i) alleviate the negative connotations clung to blackness via associating it with all that of precious values, immortality, elegance, eternity and strength and (ii) belittle the prevailing social values associated with whiteness by using it in contexts where blackness outweighs whiteness. 

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