The Poetry of Andalucia

Behind the charms of Andalucia, its landscapes and towns, its monuments, mesquites and water gardens lies - only dimly perceived - its Poetry, the soul of an exceptional symbiosis of three cultures, Arabic, Jewish and Christian.

Very few of us are able to read Arabic. A slightly larger number read Sephardic Hebrew. The ordinary reader has to depend on translations - and most of these are flat-footed and uninspiring. One reason is that formal Arabic poetry, from which derives all Andalusian and Mozarabic lyrics of the 9th to 14th century, uses highly stereo-typed images that are alien to our Western sensibilities: gazelles, the rosy cheeks amd pearly teeth of the beloved, and other metaphors which are repeated again and again. The Andalusian poets and especially the Sephardic ones are, as Raimond Scheindlin writes, in love with Beauty, some of them with God in the Sufic sense, very few with a real person, may it be a woman or a man.

In this situation the slim volume of "Andalusian Poetry" tranlated into English by Christopher Middleton and Leticia Garza-Falcón must be considered a felicitous miracle. Well-remembered Arabic poems suddenly spring into an unimagined, vibrant life by the choice of their words. This is not the place to critically analyse their renditions. Neither of them reads Arabic or Hebrew; they translated from already existing Spanish versions. Middleton describes this adventure in loving detail.

My collection of their poems is dedicated to these two people in gratitude for opening an unimagined treasure to the general reader.

Ibn 'Abd Rabbihi
Cordoba, 860-940

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd Rabbih was a Moslem writer and poet who descended from a freed slave of Hisham I, the second Spanish Umayyad emir. He enjoyed a great reputation for learning and eloquence. Little is known about his life. He was a friend of many Umayyad princes and was employed as an official panegyrist at the Umayyad court. (Wikipedia)

Poem from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Tile from the Cordoba Mesqita, RWFG

Ibn Hazm
Cordoba, 994-1063

Abu Muhammad Ali ibn Ahmad ibn Said ibn Hazm was an Andalusian-Arab philosopher, literateur, psychologist, historian, jurist and theologian born in Córdoba. He was a leading proponent of the Zahiri school of Islamic thought and produced a reported 400 works of which only 40 still survive, covering a range of topics such as Islamic jurisprudence, logic, history, ethics, comparative religion, and theology, as well as the "The Ring of the Dove" on the art of love.

His grandfather and father both held high positions in the court of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham II Ibn Hazm served as a minister in the Umayyad government, under the Caliphs of Córdoba, and was known to have worked under Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir, Hajib (Grand Vizier) to the last of the Ummayad caliphs, Hisham III.

After the death of grand vizier al-Muzaffar in 1008 the Caliphate of Cordoba became embroiled in a civil war that lasted until 1031 resulting in its collapse and the emergence of many smaller states called the Taifa's. Despite that his father died in prison in 1012, Ibn Hazm continued to support the Umayyads. Homeless, he wandered from Taifa to Taifa and was frequently imprisoned. He became an embittered apologist of the ideals of the Cordovan Caliphat. (Commentary modified from Wikipedia)

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo of a narrow passage in Cordova by José Mariscal, Panoramio

Solomon ibn Gabirol
1021 - 1055, born Malaga, died Valencia

Translated from the Hebrew by Raymond P. Scheindlin. Excerpted from Maria Rosa Menocal, “Visions of al-Andalus,” in Menocal et al., eds., The literature of al-Andalus (Cambridge, 2000)

Gabriol was a famous physician, philosopher, and poet. Like other Jewish writers he wrote his treatises in Mozarabic and his poetry in Hebrew

Photo: The Garden of the Recife, Alhambra, RWFG

Ibn Zaydun
Medina al-Zahara, 1003-1070


With passion from this place
I remember you.
Horizon clear, limpid

The face of earth, and wind,
Come twilight, desists,
A tenderness sweeps me

When I see the silver.
Coiling waterways
Like necklaces detached

From throats. Delicious those
Days we spent while fate
Slept. There was peace, I mean,

And us, thieves of pleasure.
Now only flowers
Withfrost bent stems I see;

At my eyes their vivid
Centers pull, they gaze
Back at me, seeing me

Without sleep, and a light
Flickers through their cups,
In sympathy, I think.

The sun-baked rose-buds in
Bushes, remember
How their color had lit

Our morning air; and still
Breaths of wind dispense
At break of day, as then,

Perfume they gather up
From waterlilies'
Half open drowsy eyes.

Such fresh memories
Of you these few things
Waken in my mind. For

Faraway as you are
In this passion's grip
I persist with a sigh

And pine to be at one
With you. Please God no
Calm or oblivion

Will occupy my heart,
Or close it. Listen
To the shiver of wings

At your side—it is my
Desire, and still, still
I am shaking with it [...]

Pure love we once exchanged,
It was an unfenced
Field and we ran there, free

Like horses. But alone
I now can lay claim
To have kept faith. You left,

Left this place. In sorrow
To be here again,
l am loving you.

Abu al-Waleed Ahmad Ibn Zaydún al-Makhzumi was an Arab poet of Cordoba and Seville. He grew up during the decline of the Umayyad caliphate and was involved in the political life of his age.

His romantic and literary life was dominated by his relationship with the poetess Wallada bint al-Mustakfi, the daughter of the Ummayad Caliph Muhammad III of Cordoba. For political reasons Princess Wallada eventually terminated their relationship.

He sought refuge with Abbad II of Seville and Abbad's son al-Mu'tamid. He was able to return home for a period after al-Mu'tamid conquered Cordoba. Much of his life was spent in exile and the themes of lost youth and nostalgia for his city are present in many of his poems.

Poem and commentary from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo of the ruins of al-Zahara: by marathoniano, Panoramio

Princess Wallada
Cordoba, 1010 - 1091


Wait for me whenever darkness falls,
For night I see contains a secret best.
If the heavens felt this love I feel for you,
The sun would not shine, nor the moon rise,
Nor would the stars launch out upon their journey.

Must separation mean we have no way to meet ?
Ay! Lovers all moan about their troubles.
For me it is a winter not a try sting time,
Crouching over the hot coals of desire.
If we're apart, nothing can be otherwise.
How soon just the very thing I feared
Was what my destiny delivered. Night after night
And separation going on and on and on,
Nor does my being patient free me from
The shackles of my longing. Please God
There may be winter rains pelting copiously down
To irrigate the earth where you now dwell.

Had you any respect for the love between us,
You would not choose that slave of mine to love.
From a branch flowering in beauty you turn
To a branch that bears no fruit.
You know lam the moon at full,
But worse luck for me
It's Jupiter you have fallen for.

They'll call you the Hexagon, an epithet
Properly yours even after you drop dead:
Pederast, pimp, adulterer,
Gigolo, cuckold, cheat.

Princess Wallada bint al-Mustakfi was the daughter of Muhammad III of Córdoba, one of the last Umayyad Cordoban caliphs, who came to power in 1024 after assassinating the previous caliph Abderraman V, he was assassinated himself two years later in Uclés.

She spent her early childhood during the high period of the Caliphate of Córdoba, under the rule of Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir. Her adolescent years came during the tumultuous period following the eventual succession of Aamir's son Sanchuelo, who in his attempts to seize power from Hisham II, plunged the caliphate into civil war.

As Muhammad III had no male heir, Wallada inherited his properties, and used them to open a palace and literary hall in Córdoba. There she offered instruction in poetry and the arts of love to women of all classes, from those of noble birth to slaves purchased by Wallada herself. Some of the great poets and intellectuals of the time were enamored with her.

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

The unususal photo of the Cordova Mesquita is from Archives of Affad Shaikh's Islam Blog

Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik ibn Guzman
Cordoba, c. 1086-1160


How could I not be sad, living apart
From her, if Umm al 'Hakam kept my heart ?

Faithful to her, it never quits her side.
Each day I'm gone is longer than a month.
I've lost my occupation, lost my moon.
The moment I forsook her, sorrows came.

A seething lonesomeness deep down inside.
Queen of the world, to her I should return.
Years and months pass by and they are gone.
My love for Umm al^Hakam does not pass.

Among her neighbors, rightly she may boast:
Her skin the tint of pomegranate flowers,
Her eyes so large, their concentrated dark
Spellbinds anyone, or leaves its scars.

Her kiss, 0 what a sweetness in its taste.
That little mouth, subtle and fine her lips:
Forget, I tell myself, no pact they sealed:
Remember times we lived as one, at peace.

Be true and constant (as your lover is).
Stay home; and please, if you go out, go veiled.
Anyone who speaks well of me, believe.
Don't credit any gossip from the crones.

My messenger will come, receive him well.
If you can stoop to write a letter, then
I will break off a bone to be my pen,
And write with it, in blood, a fit reply.


Girl, you cut me up inside:
To you my torment I confide.

Longing to blend our sighs
Night after night I've spent
And could not close my eyes:
That you for me are meant
God's writ does recognize—
Leastways my large intent.

Yes you're my lucky star:
On days I see you pass,
Your features luminous,
If you are glad, my soul,
Seeing my flower afar
I'm filled with happiness.

Beauty, your slave is it ?
Or captive? Out you go
And over flowers tread.
Your little bed you quit,
A light that fills your room
Spreads through your barrio.

Dawn of your look! My eyes
Answer that early light;
My myrtle tree, my wine—
If nothing suits you quite,
If nothing satisfies,
What misery is mine.

A lover living still,
Fortune exalts him most;
If death became his fate—
One look from you could kill—
Has not the ghost of a
Chance to retaliate.

"Hold up," is what they say,
"Patience, endure, be strong."
This patience, is it, pray,
Circular ? Is it long ?
Its color green, I ask,
Or yellow as aloe husk ?

Hard labor is this love,
Distressing its ordeal.
Now I am skin and bone,
My wardrobe down-at-heel,
Share with me, if you can,
One third of what I feel.

If lam counting right,
Three gifts of God secure
No woman, quite, like you:
A being that is white,
A being that is pure,
A being constant too.


Disparagers of love, now hear my song;
Though you be of a mind to do love wrong,
Believe me, moonlight is the stuff whereof
My lady's limbs are made. I offer proof.
Something I saw, full moon in her, alive,
Cool in her balanced body, took me captive;
Her beauty, young, her anklets, with a thrill
They pierced my heart, to cause my every ill.
A lover is a man amazed. Desire
Can drive him mad the moment he's on fire;
Heartsick, when he has had the thing he wants;
Worse, if he's deceived by what enchants.
A lover knows he's not the only one.
His lady's garden gate, she keeps it open:
A challenge—passion hurts him even more.
Whom will she choose ? Whom will she ignore ?
I'm of a kind a woman's body charms
So to the quick, it's Eden in her arms:
Absolute beauty being all we seek,
We can be melted by a touch of magic.
As for the moon, so for the sun : from both
She draws her power; moon pearls grace her mouth,
Solar fire crimsons her lips, and yet
She's not ambiguous when her heart is set:
Burning in my reflections, day by day,
In every act of mine she has her say;
Even when, if ever, she's at peace,
You'll never find her supine in the least.
Such is my proven moon, my lady love.
Yet of myself she did once disapprove:
Pointing to the marks my teeth had made
Across her breast, then eyeing me, she said:
"Easy does it, not too quick,
I like it slow, and nothing new.
Custom knows a thing or two,
It's to custom we should stick:
Festina lente, that's the trick—
Come at me slow, I'll come with you."

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

For a biographical sketch see Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia, by E. Michael Gerli, Samuel G. Armistead Published by Taylor & Francis, 2003

Photo of Cordova from the river by José Mariscal, Panoramio

Seville, 1040-1095


When you come to Silves, Abu Bakr, my friend,
Greet with my burning love the spirits who dwell
In that place, and ask if any remember me.
Say this young man still sighs for the white palace,
The Alcazar of Lattices, where men like lions,
Warriors live, as in a wild beast's den,
And in soft boudoirs women who are beautiful.
Sheltered under the wing of darkness,
How many nights I spent with girls there.
Slender at the waist, hips round and abundant,
Tawny hair or golden, deeper than a sword blade
Or black lance their charms would run me through.
How many nights, too, in the river's loop I spent
With a graceful slave girl for my companion;
The curve of her bracelet imitated the river.
She poured out for me the wine of her eyes;
Or again the wine of her nook she poured for me;
Another time it was the wine of her lips she poured.
When her white fingers played among lute strings,
I felt a thrill as when a sword hits and clips
Clean through the sinews of a foe in combat.
When with a languid look she'd shake off her robe,
Like a ray of light surrendering her body was.
The very air around her shivered with desire.
It was a rose opening out of a rosebud.


The heart beats on - and will not stop;
passion is large - and does not hide:
fears come down - like drops of rain;
the body is scorched - and turns yellow:
if this is it - when she is with me,
how would it be - if we 're apart ?

By her indifference - I am broken:
dark-eyed gazelle - among her leafage,
stars that burn - on her horizon,
depth of night - shining moon,
rock, then jonquil - in her garden,
bushes too - that spread perfume,
all know me downcast, - wasted as a man,
and are concerned - by my appearance,
how it mirrors - my state of mind;
they ask if I - may not be well,
flaming desire - might burn me out.

Woman, you do - your lover wrong
that he should look - as you 've been told.
You say : "What hurts ? - What's going on ?
What do you want - but cannot wait for ?
You're less than just - to doubt my love,
everyone knows it, - here or distant".

God! I am sick, - sick with the love
that makes, beside you, - others puny.
My body frets. - Give thought to this:
I want to see you - and I cannot.
Injustice calls - to God for pardon:
ask him to pardon - your injustice.


The most mighty lords and sovereigns
The crowned heads of bygone time
Those who had more incense than they had smoke

Burning only the former when they bivouacked on the road
Those who alleviated their kin with largesse
Those who decapitated tyrants
Those who from the cradle coveted glory
Those who contended in battle after battle
Take their size and they have no measure
Compare them and they alone were like emperors

Place hope in them and see your hope accomplished
Live close to them and be their most
Fortunate neighbor
Shannabus weeps for them
With tears crashing like waves
And the lofty palace with balconies
Glittering in arboreal green
Weeps for Shannabus
No sun laughs there unless you fancy
Gold water washing its facades
The singers whose lutes sound in yards

In those yards while birds chirp.
0 palace in splendor how did the blows of Destiny
Undo you ?
You house no nations though tough barons
Fought their way through your tall walls
What lions were leaping up to guard the gates
With lance and sword defending you

How many men of handsome appearance in combat
Had their white features covered with cloaks of black pitch
How many brave men sank in the turmoil
Facing their foe in fire's heat
When the glory of'Ammar's tribe was waxing
Making the lifespan of his foes a whole lot littler ?

This satire ridicules the vainglory of Ibn Ammar (who was nine years older than Al-Mu'tamid and might well, earlier on, have been his lover). Shannabus was a village on the outskirts of Seville, and Ibn Ammar came from humble origins. Over the years Al-Mu'tamid exchanged several satires with him, before eventually killing him, in a fit of rage, with a battle-axe.

Poems and commentary from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo of an Islamic fountain in the Garden of Oranges of the Cathedral of Seville, RWFG

On the subject of homosexualty in Al-Andalus see "Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia", by E. Michael Gerli, Samuel G. Armistead

Jehuda ben Halevi
1085 - 1140, born Toledo, lived in Granada


Peace be with him
whose joys belong now
Somewhere else,
whose comforters
Have left him

Like an oven, hot
my heart, for Joseph
Is not here. And at
Yehuda's death
I know
my own destruction.
The other
brother's grief
Grows into mine.
His bitter sorrow
Clings to my soul.
My heart's walls
Like his, are broken.

I would give my soul
to bring Senor Moise
Some relief.
I too will not cease
Calamities of
The hard vision
descended on us all,
No end of them,
light as an eagle
Once, now consuming,
so heavily, me,
Your friend.

One calamity
inflicts on us
Despair now. In
visionary sleep
I will see him
still. Others
And brothers
I will be mindful of,
But him I'll see
here no more.
I lift up my eyes,
in heaven find him,
An angel of God,
before me, revealed.

Ay! The good man
has been shut
Into the dust.
We put the lights out.
Pleasure ceases,
as if the next thing
Stopped. As if
a great rain, without
stopped. I want
To see his lights.
They shine no more.

in my memory
The song
of the brother bereaved:
He sings
the song of a girl, her
Heart throbs
wild, the moment
Has come, but
her lover has not:

"He should have come,
it's Easter. He has not.
First a hope is broken,
then a heart."

Poem from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.


Fair-crested, cosmic joy, city of the great King,
My soul yearns for you from the edge of the West.
My yearning love is stirred when I remember the East of yore,
Your Glory exiled, your Shrine ruined.
Would that I were borne to you on eagle's wings
So I could drench your dust with my tears until they blend.
I seek you even though your King is away, and in place of
Your balm of Gilead are venomous snakes and scorpions.
Shall I not cherish and kiss your stones,
The taste of your clods sweeter to my mouth than honey?

Translated from the Hebrew by Ross Brann and excerpted in idem, “Judah Halevi,” in Menocal et al., eds., The literature of al-Andalus.


My heart is in the East but I am at the edge of the West.
How can I savor what I eat, how find it sweet?
How can I fulfill my vows and obligations while
Zion is in Christendom's fetter and I am in the shackle of Islam?
It would be easy for me to leave behind all the opulence of Spain;
It would be glorious for me to see the dust of the ruined Shrine!


This wind of yours, O West, is all
perfume -- it has the scent of spikenard
and apple in its wings. Wind, you come
from the storehouse of spice-merchants,
and not from the common storehouse
of winds. You lift up the swallow's
wings, you set me free, you are like the
purest perfume, fresh from a bunch of
myrrh. Everyone here longs for you; by
your good graces, they ride over the sea
upon a mere plank. Oh, do not abandon
the ship, when the day draws to its end
or when it begins. Smooth out the
ocean, break a path through the sea
until you reach the holy mountains, and
there subside. Rebuke the east wind
that whips up the sea and turns it into
a boiling cauldron.
But how can the wind help, for it is a
prisoner of the Rock -- sometimes held
back and sometimes let loose? Only
God can grant my deepest wish: for He
is the maker of high mountains and
the creator of winds!

Translated from the Hebrew by T. Carmi, in The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse (New York, 1981): 350-51.


Comely gazelle
pity my heart
forever it dwells in you;
Give this a thought:
your distance now
is my misfortune.
Truly my eyes have
trouble enough, still
dazed by your splendor;
Fanged snakes
hatched from your cheeks
sprang at me, stung.
Breasts of hers
hold me in thrall:
from her heart of stone
Two apples grown
hard to the core, or stood
like lances akimbo,
Herfresfar off
ablaze in me, drink
my blood through her mouth.
Small though she be,
gazelle, her eyes
frank as you please
Breaking religion's
back. God's laws, me—
I am beyond help.
Have you looked
info a lions heart ? Well,
her eyelid has
Such puissance
at kill, her piercing arrow glance hits bone.
One day, with wine,
with love, like a drunk
I cried out for joy:
There she stood,
actual, in the shape
of certain messages.
Three times I heard,
or twice, from her delegates;
peace on the table,
Her terms utterly
swept me away, her favor
gave me fresh spirit.
One day in a garden
my hands in air brushed
over her breasts'.
Coaxing, plunging me
into dismay then, "No," she said:
"Amigo, do not touch, this tender bodikin,
still it is such
a fragile thing."

Poem from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Andalusian miniature of an Arab and a Jew playing the lute, RWFG

Ibn Sara
Born in Santarém, Portugal

Poem facsimile from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Ibn az-Zaqqaq
Valencia, c. 1095-1133


Her beauty, luminous and singular,
The carefree splendor of it made my day.
She gave me wine to drink: it was her mouth
Intoxicated me. The crystal held
Ambrosia, her lips their pearls;
Glistening liquid.
Her rosy cheeks gave off an airy glow,
I kissed and kissed them, till, the frenzy over,
She was a slender branch the breeze has bent;
I gave my shoulder to her for a pillow,
My arms around her held the surge of dawn.

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: The Alhambra at dawn, from

Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Sa'id
Granada, d. 1163


The procuress, said to be a bad lot
and she's proud of it
More close than night a man on the road
she'll hug a secret
Tiptoes into anyone's home,
how far inside, nobody knows
Polite, with a nod for everyone
and a kind word along with it
Back and forth she scuttles,
no bother to folks next door
Never a second to fold her cloak,
it outflaps any battle flag
Can tell a crime from a crafty trick
so long as she finds it useful to
No idea where the mosque is
but knows the taverns inside out
Forever smiling, very devout,
jokes and tales up every sleeve
Arithmetic at her fingertips,
abracadabras, horoscopes
Never a cent for shoes of her own
but well-off where most are not
Her palaver so smooth
she'd matchmake water and fire in a wink.


Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Luminous house in the Albaicin, RWFG

Abu'l Qasim As'ad ibn Billita
Toledo, 11th century


Up he stands
To declare the darkness done for
The bird trimmed with a poppy
Who rolls his lustrous eyes for us

With song he calls to prayer
And he complies with his call
Beating his great plumes
Flexing his shoulder knuckles

The Emperor of Persia
Perhaps wove his crown
Personally Mary the Copt
Hung pendant rings from his ears

He snatched from the peacock
His most attractive cloak
And still not comforted took
His strut from a duck

Poem from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo Andalusian miniature of a fiddler and a dancer ready to kill the rooster of desire.

Abu'l Hasan 'AII ibn Hisn
Seville, 11th century


The surprise of my life:
On a bough between
Isle and river a dove

Cooing, his collar
Pistache green, lapis his breast,
Neck shimmering and maroon

His back and wingtips.
Pupils of ruby, over them eyelids
Of pearl flitted, trimmed with gold,

Black the point
Of his beak, like
The tip of a reed

Dipped in ink. On the arak bough,
His throne, throat now hid
In the fold of a wing, he rested.

But he saw me weep.
Scared by a sob
On the bough he stood,

Spread wings, beat them,
Took as he flew my heart away.
Where ? I know not.


Light will pass
Through wine
A red
On fingers
Forked at the stem
Of the glass they bring

To antelope horns
A juniper pins down
I liken them

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Courtyard in Seville, from Panoramio.

Hafsa Bint Al-Hajj Ar-Rakuniyya
Granada 1135-1191, died Marrakesh


0 noble son of the Caliph,
of the most excellent imam,
a festival to celebrate yourself
brings what you desire.
She whom you love comes to visit you,
combining ceremony with satisfaction,
and to recapture
pleasures lost and past.

Perhaps this poem and the next were written after 1162, for to Abu Ja'far she writes:


You come first, but enemies,
unjust men who know more and more,
continually say that you do not.
He who has power over other men of his time-
seekers of glory who stop at nothing—
can he be ignored ?


When nineteen (1154) Hafsa, a slave girl, had begun a celebrated love affair with the poet Abu Ja'far Ahmad ibn Malik ibn Saí'd. Two years later she fell in love with the young governor of Granada, a dark-skinned, very young man. Hafsa is justifying her interest in the governor, whose full name was Abu Sa'id 'Utman ibn Abd al-Mu'min. But Abu Ja'far, though a gallant himself, must have been jealous.

To make matters worse, he was 'Utman's secretary, his privy councillor. The two poems epitomize a dangerous scene: the Almohade governor, 'Utman, still young, his position fragile; Abu Ja'far resenting him for reasons political and personal; Hafsa trying to protect Abu Ja'far, while cultivating 'Utman for whatever allures (charm, power, liberality) she might have divined in him.

In 1162 there is a crisis: the Almohade power in Granada is overthrown for a few months by rebel forces led by Ibn Mardanis. The crisis over and Almohade authority restored, Abu Ja'far's father, who had opposed the Alrnohades (and whose brother had been governor of Granada under the previous Almoravide regime) is duly thrown into prison. During the coup, Abu Ja'far himself would have gone over to the rebels.

To none of the following poems (first Abu Ja'far's, then poems 7 through 16) can we assign exact dates within the political scene suggested by Hafsa's poems 3 and 4. (omitted, see reference below). All together, however, they indicate a convergence of interests that are by no means ghostly. Passion and politics are set on a collision course.

Abu Ja'far writes to Hafsa about a night in the park called Hawr Mu'ammal:


May God watch over a night spent without anyone watching,
A night which hid us in the Hawr Mu'ammal.
From Nayd an aroma was wafted over,
Shivering with the scent of carnations.
A turtle dove was cooing in the trees.
Myrtle branches stooped over the stream.
And the garden was as if delighted
By what was present: embraces, kisses, caresses.

Hafsa replies with a counterpoem:


By your life! The garden was not glad because we met.
Rather it showed us rancor and envy.
The river did not clap its hands to have us close,
And the dove sang of its aches and pains.
You're not thinking straight for once:
Everywhere those people are up to no good.
I think the sky showed us its stars
Only to spy on us.

The order in which poems 8 through 15 were written is not known, but 16 and 17 can be assumed to be the last two. Hafsa's phrasing remains conventional enough. Her own voice, however, her pulse, the urgency of her feelings, become increasingly poignant as the political situation worsens.

She would also have known in advance the dangers besetting Abu Ja'far's entire family: his brother, Abd al Rahman, actually joined Ibn Mahdanis after the revolt had been put down, but was captured, imprisoned for a time, then executed.


Those lips I praise because I know
What I am saying, what I mean.
I do them justice, tell no lies.
From them I've drunk and what I drank
Tasted better than any wine.


Come and see my verses
Be thrilled by their pearls
Which will adorn your ears
It is the way a garden
Cannot go to you
But sends you its perfume


I am sending my message:
It opens the cups of the flowers
And makes the doves speak in the trees
As it goes to a distant friend who dwells
In my very body
Although my eyes have no sight of him.
Do not think that absence makes me forget you.
God, that will never happen.


If he were not a star,
Eyes that enjoyed his glow,
Would shadow shroud them so,
Now he is far ?
i Salud '.from one who's sad,
Yet may it still address
Virtues and powers above,
Which as they onward move
Took from me all I had
Of fortune, happiness.


In the still of the night
Ask the cloud with its beating heart
If it has spent the night with my love, remembering me:
Ay, it has given my heart
Its heat and, heavens above,
Given the lids of my eyes this rain
That pours down my cheeks.


Shall I come to you or will it be my place ?
My heart always gives in to your desire.
You will Ie safe from the sun's heat,
And you will not be thirsty
When you make me welcome:
My lips are water sweet and fresh,
And the branches of my braids give deep shade.
Answer me now: you'll be doing her no favor, Yamil,
If you do what your Butayna is waiting for.

[The names allude to the classic Arabic 'udri ("Platonic") poet Yamil and his beloved—exemplars of spiritual love.]


The throat of a gazelle has come to visit you
Under the black of its hair the moon appears
Its eyes took shape when Babylon was enchanted
Its saliva surpasses wine
Its cheeks put roses to shame
Its teeth have eclipsed pearls


0 you who used to be the most sensitive of men
Before fate lifted you up to let you fall
In love with a black woman
Who is altogether like the night, which hides beauty
And with darkness obscures the radiance of a face,
Nor in that night can any blond thing be seen,
Tell me, you being so well acquainted
With connoisseurs of extrinsic beauty,
By God, would anyone ever fall in love with a garden
Where no roses are, nor blossoms of the orange tree ?


I will keep you jealously
where no spies can see you
And from yourself, your time
and from the place you live
And though till the crack of doom
I hide you in my eyes
Still it will not be enough for me.


They threaten me because I wear mourning
For a lover of mine they put to death.
God have mercy on anyone who is liberal with tears
Weeping for a man slaughtered by his rivals,
And may the clouds of the afternoon,
With such generosity as was his,
Water the earth wherever she may go.

Photo: narrow lane near the Islamic Baths, Albaicin, Granada, RWFG

Text and poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Ibn at-Talla'
full name:
Abu-l-Walid Hisam ibn Muhammad al-Qais ibn at-Talla as-Silbi
Granada and Silves, Portugal
12th century


Of earth and water, daughter
Yielding her abundance
Only if you wait
Finger-licking at her castle gate
Pale she seems, her haven
Hard of access, a Greek
Virgin, who lingers
Behind a curtain of lances

Talla', a friend of Al-Mu'tamid, was a Mahdi, a religious/political refugee from Granada during the uprising against the Berber rule in 1162. He was beheaded in Silves after the revolt failed. (see Hafsa Ar-Rakuniyya in Granada)

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Sunset over the Mediterranean near Silves where many refugees fled to. by GBerg88, Panoramio

Ronda, 11th. -12th century


Night was falling;
Without forewarning, close
They passed me by
And lit my fire,
And how

It is not strange at all
That my desire
Was so excited.
When he sees water
A person thirsting
Thirsts the more

Ar-Radi was a woman poet.


Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Turn in the narrow lanes of Ronda, by Victoria Babadzhanova, Panoramio

Qasmuna bint Isma'il al-Yahudi
Granada, l2th century


(Desde el sur que hay en tus ojos de mestiza)
poseído por siglos de ternura,
de nombres y miradas,
arrastrado por un vendaval de tierra húmeda.
Tan prendado de ti
que no puedo dejar de mirarte
y besarte
y rozarme con tu cuerpo.
Cimbreado como una caña de mimbre,
con una columna de Vida desbordante
atravesándome desde el pecho a la espalda,
escribo para ellos,
los que nunca han sido despertados
por gritos que hayan arrancado cortinas
y desgarrado las gargantas más fuertes
en una lengua tan antigua y profunda
como la luz de la mañana.
Sorprendido porque me has abierto cerrojos
de arcas tan pequeñas
que ni yo mismo podía saber que existían.
Sintiendo como con la suavidad de tu cuello
me cubres el cuerpo de aceite,
como la blancura de tu piel
me penetra entre caricias de alhucema e incienso.
Convirtiéndome con tus besos recién nacidos
en el primer pecado del mundo,
en el primer loco suicida,
en la primera manzana mordida por Eva.
Con tus manos de halcón agarrándose a mi alma,
escribo para ellos,
los que nunca han conocido la verdad
de una mujer de fuego y poder como tú,
los que nunca han sabido descubrir la hondura
de las palabras pequeñas de una niña
-como tú-
susurradas al oído.
Porque me siento libre como el Azor
que se lanza desde el monte a peinar la vega.
Porque puedo ir de un lugar a otro
con mis alas de hombre jugando a escondidas
en la palma de mis manos.
Porque me encuentro en tus espejos más profundos,
escribo para ellos:
quiero que saboreen cómo eres,
que aprendan a resucitar juntos
cada rincón de su cuerpo.
Pongo por testigo
-para que nadie se lleve a engaño-
a este aire añejo que nos da la Vida
y nos ha cargado los hombros de historia,
al río del que beben tu gente y la mía,
al aroma del romero y la naranja amarga,
de que tenerte,
le provoca a mi alma de hombre una piedad nueva,
un deseo de entrega absoluta,
una necesidad de arrodillarse y cantar una letanía
-que sin parar repitan todos-
por oración:
mujer con el sur en tus ojos de mestiza,
volvamos a hacer el amor con las palabras.
Mujer con sabor a tierra en las manos,
volvamos a soñar el amor con las palabras.
Mujer con un nombre secreto
que habla de tesoros escondidos,
que descifra el misterio de tu belleza antigua,
volvamos a decir el amor con las palabras.
Mujer de raíz profunda y salvaje,
niña hermosa de sangre de acebuche, volvamos a fundir el amor con las palabras.
Mujer de olores dulces y primitivos a aserrín de encina,
a ajonjolí,
a casa de abuela y pueblo,
volvamos a jugar el amor con las palabras.
Mujer luz de paraíso
que derramas Vida en cada entrega,
volvamos a abrir el amor con las palabras...

This is an example of the Spanish version of Qasmuna.


I see an orchard
Where the time has come
For harvesting,
But I do not see
A gardener reaching out a hand
Toward its fruits.
Youth goes, vanishing; I wait alone
For somebody I do not wish to name


Ay, antelope, always grazing
In this garden, how like you I am,
Dark-eyed and solitary;
You and me, alone, without a friend,
Let us endure the life
Our fates decree,
With patience.

Qasmuna, one of the few Jewish female poets had only a brief meteoric streak across the Andalusian literary scene and then vanished again.

English Poems from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: Entry to the inner courtyard of our guesthouse, RWFG

Ibn Abi Ruh
Algeciras, 12th century


Next time you're passing Honey River stop
And ask about the night I spent there once
Till break of day confounding the police
And drinking wine from mouth to mouth it flowed
And cutting roses (as we say)

As branches interlace across a stream
So we embraced and drank fresh cups of wine
Our intertwining limbs ask too of them
And what it meant the cool word aquilon
Upon that flowery river bank

Where neither fire burned nor brazier stood
Yet what aromas all the flowers dispensed
Of aloe and ask about the candle flames
Aflicker in the river like the tips of swords
For so we loved without

Pause through the honey night until the cold
Necklaces we wore drove us at last apart
And all
I knew of melancholy or would ever know
Called in the last dawn song of a nightingale

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: GE reveals that the RIO DE LA MIEL actually exists, it is not a metaphor! Photo from Panoramio.

Ibn Safar al-Marini
Almeria, a refugee from Cordova , 12th century


A squall came over the river
Tearing its tunic
And the river burst its banks
To catch and thrump the culprit
But laughing doves poked fun
At its thick froth overcoat
And back to be veiled in its bed again,
Abashed, the river shrank

Poems from "Andalusian Poems" by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: the Salinas of Almeria (not the flooded Qualdalquivir in Cordova), The church had been a mosque before the 15th cent. by Gruetze80, Panoramio

Ibn Zamrak
Granada, 1333 - 1393


I am a garden graced by every beauty :
See my splendor, then you will know my being.
For Mohammad, my king, and in his name
The hottest things, past or to come, I equal:
Of me, a work sublime, Fortune desires
That I outshine all other monuments.
What pleasure I provide for eyes to see!
In me, any noble man will take fresh heart:
Like an amulet the Pleiades protect him,
The magic of the breeze is his defender.
A shining dome, peerless, here displays
Evident splendors and more secret ones.
Gemini extends to it a touching hand,
Moon comes to parley, stars clustering there
Turn no longer in the sky's blue wheel:
In the two courts, submissively, they linger
To be of service to their lord, like slaves.
It is no marvel that the stars should err,
Moving across their marks and boundaries,
And are disposed to serve my sovereign lord,
Since all who serve him glory in his glory.
The palace portico, so beautiful
It bids to rival heaven's very vault;
Clothed in a woven raiment fine as this
You can forget the busy looms of Yemen.
See what arches mount upon its roof
And spring from columns burnished by the light
Like the celestial spheres that turn and turn
Above the luminous column of the dawn.
Altogether the columns are so beautiful
That every tongue is telling their renown;
Black the shadow-'darkened cornice cuts
Across the fair light thrown by snowy marble;
Such opalescent shimmers swarm about,
You'd say, for all their size, they are of pearl.
Never have we seen a palace rise so high,
With such a clarity, such expanse of outline;
Never did a garden brim like this with flowers,
Fruits more sweet to taste or more perfumed.
It pays the fee required of beauty's critic
Twice and in two varieties of coin:
For if, at dawn, an early breeze will toss
Into his hands drachmas of light galore,
Later, in the thick of tree and shrub,
With coins of gold the sun will lavish him.
What sired these kindred things ? A victory:
Still none can match the lineage of the king.

The poem is an inscription in the Alhambra.

Poem from "Andalusian Poems" translated by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garza-Falcón; D.R. Godine, Pubisher, Boston, 1993.

Photo: the Lion Fountain in the Alhambra, RWFG

Timeline of al-Andalus

600-756 Christian Visigoths
756-929 Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba
756-788 Abd al-Rahman I conquers Southern Spain and establishes himself as Emir of Cordoba
788-796 Hisham I
929-1016 Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba
976-1008 Hisham II
1008-1010 Berber Revolt
1010-1012 Hisham II restored
1016-1023 Hammudid Dynasty
1023-1031 Umayyad return to power
1023-1026 Muhammad III
1026-1031 Hisham III
1039-1085 Taifas
1085-1145 Almoravids (Berber)
1147-1238 Almohads
1238-1492 Emirate of Granada
778-1492 Christian “Reconquista” of Spain

Sources for the Collection

The majority of the poems were copied from
"Andalusian Poems" translated from the Spanish by Christopher Middleton & Leticia Garzia-Falcón;

This post does not pretend to be a critical literary essay on Andalusian poetry, a subject beyond my expertise. I consulted the following literature and recommend it for further reading:

"The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492", Translated, Edited & Introduced by Peter Cole

"The Literature of Al-Andalus", by Maria Rosa Menocal, Raymond P. Scheindlin, Michael Anthony Sells

"Sunset in the Gardens of al-Andalus", by M. Ikraam Abdu-Noor

"Medieval Iberia: An Encyclopedia", by E. Michael Gerli, Samuel G. Armistead, Published by Taylor & Francis, 2003

"Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: and their Impact on Islamic Thought", by Sarah Stroumsa

"The Other Within: The Marranos: Split Identity and Emerging Modernity", by Yirmiyahu Yovel