Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Arabian Poetry, by W. A. Clouston, [1881], at


As Major Prideaux’ brochure is designed chiefly for scholars, the Notes appended to his translation treat only of the original text and variants: the Editor of the present volume ventures to offer explanatory notes on a few of the verses given above, which may not be, otherwise, very intelligible or interesting to some readers.


v. 11. "Hûd, the man who feared God." The prophet who, according to the received story of the Muslims, was sent to warn the tribe of ’Ad of the punishment in store for them if they did not abandon their idolatry, and return to the worship of the true God. The people of ’Ad rejected the prophet's message, and were utterly destroyed because of their unbelief. (Kur’ān, sur. vii.) According to some authors, a few of the ’Adites, being at Mecca praying for rain, escaped the fate of their brethren; and these survivors gave rise to a tribe called "the latter ’Ad"—mentioned in v. 20. The Arabs employ the phrase, "as old as King ’Ad" to signify the great antiquity of anything.

"Kahtân, of the seed of the prophet and of holiness." Joktan the son of Eher, whom the Arabs call Kahtân, had thirteen sons, one of whom, Sheba, or Saba, was the ancestor of the Sabæans, or Himyarites.

v. 12. Ya’rub, the son of Kahtân, succeeded his father in the kingdom of Yemen, giving name, if we may credit the Arab historians, both to their country and language.

p. 352

v. 14. Abd Shems, "the Servant of the Sun," surnamed Sabà, the son of Yashab, the Arab historians tell us, was successful in his expeditions against his enemies, carried off great spoils, and took many of them prisoners. He is said to have built the city of Sabà, or Mârib, as likewise the stupendous mound or building which formed the vast reservoir above that city. By means of this reservoir, which received all the water that came down from the mountains, the Kings of Yemen did not only supply the inhabitants of Sabà and their lands with water, but likewise kept the territories they had subdued in greater awe; since by cutting them off from a communication with it they could at any time greatly distress them.—Ancient Universal History, vol. xviii. p. 419. The water [in this reservoir] rose to the height of almost twenty fathoms, and was kept in on every side by a work so solid, that many had their houses built upon it. But at length God, being highly displeased at their pride and insolence, and resolving to humble and disperse them, sent a mighty flood, which broke down the mound by night, while the inhabitants were asleep, and carried away the whole city, with the neighbouring towns and people. This inundation is styled in the Koran, "the inundation of al-Arem," and occasioned so terrible a destruction that from thence it became a proverbial saying, to express a total dispersion, that "they were gone and scattered like Sabà." No less than eight tribes were forced to abandon their dwellings on this occasion, some of which gave rise to the kingdoms of Hira and Ghassan.—Ibid., p. 428.

v. 55. Himyar, the son of Abd Shems, or Sabà, according to Oriental authors, was so called from the red clothes he wore. This seems a plain indication that Himyar was only a surname. He expelled the Thamūd from Yemen, who took refuge in Hejaz. From this prince the tribe or kingdom of Himyar deduced its name. Some assert that Himyar, not Kahtân, was the first king of Yemen that wore a diadem.—An. Univ. Hist., vol. xviii. p. 419.

v. 22. "Thamûd came to destruction through a she-camel."

p. 353

[paragraph continues] As the prophet Hûd (see note on verse 11) had been sent to warn the tribe of ’Ad of their wickedness, so the prophet Sâlih was sent with a similar message to the people of Thamûd. (Kur’ān, sur. vii.) "The Thamûdites," says Sale, "insisting on a miracle, proposed to Sâlih that he should go with them to their festival, and that they should call on their gods, and he on his, promising to follow that deity which should answer. But after they had called on their idols a long time to no purpose, Jonda Ebn Amru, their prince, pointed to a rock standing by itself, and bade Sâlih cause a she-camel big with young to come forth from it, solemnly engaging that, if he did, he would believe, and his people promised the same. Whereupon Sâlih asked it of God, and presently the rock, after several throes as if in labour, was delivered of a she-camel answering the description of Jonda, which immediately brought forth a young one, ready weaned, and, as some say, as big as herself. Jonda, seeing this miracle, believed on the prophet, and some few with him; but the greater part of the Thamûdites remained, notwithstanding, incredulous."—"Those who were elated with pride said: 'Verily we believe not in that wherein ye believe.' And they slew the camel, and insolently transgressed the command of their Lord, and said: O Sâlih, cause that to come upon us with which thou hast threatened us, if thou art one of those who have been sent by God.' Whereupon a terrible noise from heaven assailed them; and in the morning they were found in their dwellings prostrate on their faces, dead." (Kur’ān, sur. vii.)—The tribe of Thamūd dwelt first in the country of the Adites, but their numbers increasing, they removed to the territory of Hejr [Petra] for the sake of the mountains, where they cut themselves habitations in the rocks, to be seen at this day.—Sale. This dreadful punishment of the Thamûdites would appear to have passed into a proverb. For example: Sheddâd, lamenting the supposed loss of his heroic son ’Antar, calls down a hearty curse upon the cause of his misery in these words: "May God destroy Malik, son of Carad, and make him suffer what the tribe of Thamûd endured!" (Romance of Antar, p. 237 of the

p. 354

present volume.) And Hafiz, the Persian poet, in one of his odes, advises his friend to "drink wine and dismiss the story of ’Ad and Thamûd."—Zuhayr (Mo‘allaqah, v. 32) compares the deformed offspring of War to "the dun camel of ’Ad," not of Thamûd, as the legend runs in the Kur’ān.

vv. 45-49. Queen Bilkîs, according to the genealogical tables compiled by Major Prideaux, and appended to his translation of this poem, was the daughter of El-Hadhâd ibn Sharahbîl; and she is placed twenty-second in Pocock's list of the sovereigns of El-Yemen. The Arabs identify this princess with the famous "Queen of Sheba," or Saba, who went to see King Solomon in all his glory.

King Solomon, as Eastern legends inform us, among his wonderful accomplishments, was versed in the language of birds. One day a hoopoe (called by the Arabs "al-Hudhud") brought him an account of the city of Sabà, and of the great Queen Bilkîs, who, with all her subjects, worshipped the sun. Shocked at such wickedness, Solomon wrote a letter to the Queen, commanding her to relinquish her errors and embrace the true religion; and having perfumed the letter with musk and sealed it with his signet, he despatched the hoopoe to deliver it to Queen Bilkîs. The feathered messenger, having arrived at her palace, and finding the doors all shut, as El-Beidâwi opines, flew in at a window and dropped the letter on the Queen's lap; but Jelālu-’d-Dīn says that she was surrounded by her army when the lapwing threw it into her bosom. All agree, however, that the letter was duly delivered, and that Queen Bilkîs, taking with her, as the Poet of Himyar states, "thousands upon thousands of the armed men of her people," immediately set forth to visit King Solomon, and ascertain the truth of the reports which were spread abroad regarding his wisdom and piety. The result was her profession of Islâm—for according to the Muhammadan theology, Solomon and the other venerated Biblical personages were all good Muslims: Muhammad professed, not to introduce a new religion, but to restore the original and only true faith.

p. 355

They say that Solomon afterwards married Queen Bilkîs of Sabà. This forms the subject of a curious legend related by commentators on the Kur’ān. A version of this story is given by Mrs. Godfrey Clerk, in her entertaining little book of Oriental tales and anecdotes, entitled, ’Ilâm-en-Nîs. In a prefatory note to her translation of the legend, Mrs. Clerk remarks that the reign of Queen Bilkîs very nearly coincided with the commencement of the Christian era. According to M. Caussin de Perceval, this princess killed her husband by means of poison.

vv. 138, 139. A benediction on the Prophet often concludes a Kasideh of an ethical or devotional character (see verses 159-161 of Mr. Redhouse's translation of El-Būsīrī's Poem of the Mantle, page 341 of the present volume). The poetical exclamations of pilgrims when they first behold El-Madīna are expressed in a similar strain: "O Allah! bless the last of prophets, the seal of prophecy, with blessings in number as the stars of heaven, and the waves of the sea, and the sands of the waste! bless him, O Lord of Might and Majesty, as long as the corn-field and the date-grove continue to feed mankind!"—"Live for ever, O most excellent of prophets! live in the shadow of happiness during the hours of night and the times of day, whilst the bird of the tamarisk [the dove] moaneth like the childless mother; whilst the west wind bloweth gently over the hills of Nejd, and, the lightning flasheth bright in the firmament of El-Hejaz!" (Burton's Pilgrimage to El-Medina and Meccah, vol. ii. pp. 25, 26). In the Romance of Antar the same form of benediction frequently occurs; for example: "Live for ever, Prince of the horsemen! long as the dove pours its plaintive note, live for ever!"—"May peace dwell with thee as long as the western and the northern breeze shall blow!"


*** An error in one of the preceding notes, discovered after the sheet was printed, may be corrected here. (v. 11.) Shebà, or Sabà, the ancestor of the Sabæans, was not one of the sons of Kahtân—although it is said he had a son of the same name—but a

p. 356

great grandson; being [’Abd-Shems, surnamed] Sabà, the son of Yashjub, the son of Ya’rub, the son of Kahtân.

Next: The Poet ’Omar