Poetry in the Arab world can be called the mirror of history. In verse are recorded the stories of people in the voices of their time.
Poets have been revered in Arabia since the time of the Prophet, their words passed down with pride by members of the tribe as something precious. These words could be traded among tribes in the same way as food or other material goods.
In an age before books and other printed material, poetry recorded the essence of Bedouin society, the feelings, triumphs, even love stories. A poem could also be a story, or a message, even a riddle.
Only a select few could fully comprehend the richness of verse, the dialects and layers of meaning that were concealed in the stanza.
"If there was a war, and somebody fled and did not fight with his tribe, he would be humiliated and written about in poetry, (something) that would last forever," says Faraj bin Hmoodah, one of the late President Sheikh Zayed's most trusted advisers at a time when poetry was central to life in the Ruler's majlis.
"Also, if someone had visitors and was generous they would be praised and memorised through poetry. That would travel between tribes.
"And if someone was hurtful and insincere to his neighbours or was a liar, it was huge shame and no one would converse with him."
Building the Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi led to a golden age of nabati poetry, a form of verse with particularly complex rhyming patterns and language, which is native to the Arabian Peninsula.
Once built, the palace became a place for tribal leaders to discuss matters from politics to grievances, much as the royal courts of Europe.
Many of the Rulers of Abu Dhabi were accomplished poets and orators, whose words could beguile an audience.
In this sense, if Qasr Al Hosn could be seen as the body, then the sheikhs were the soul and lifeblood of the building, keeping it alive and well nourished.
Another of Sheikh Zayed's advisers, Abdullah Al Masood, says: "It was poems that we shared, memorised and were mesmerised by.
"Whether they were good or harsh times, after Asr prayer under the palms or at night around the fire.
"As young men, and our elders, poems are part of us."
Mr bin Hmoodah likes to refer to a saying of Sheikh Zayed: "The history of Arabia is recorded in our poetry. It disciplines the actions of the people and encourages the people to adhere to their responsibilities.'
Here are some examples of poetry from Abu Dhabi
The poet Ali Bin Musabeh Al Kendi Al Marrar talks on behalf of his people, the people of Abu Dhabi, the lands of Al Falahi and the tribes of Bani Yas, explaining how they protect not only their lands, but also their neighbours.
“Money is just an element, it’s not the core of existence whether it came or went,what is important is that land that you live in.
For our land and against enemies, we will enter the well
of death in thrust, and will cool it down by victory
Our land is protected by its elders, who are the wise ones
with life experience, the young men with their courage
and strength, if the bird of death came flying in its skies.
We are the supporters of justice
Lives we sacrifice for land and loved ones
Wealth doesn’t move us; only reputation
Death doesn’t scare us; only weakness
Against all enemies, our homeland we protect.”
Another Poet known only as “Al Rawahi” wrote these lines about the people of Abu Dhabi
“Tribes, whose Children on the backs of horses ride
From heroes blood, comes the milk that subsides
To the calls of war they determinedly abide.”
The poet Ali Bu Na’as Al Rumaith was born in 1860 somewhere, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This poem is addressed to Rabdan, the celebrated mount of Sheikh Zayed the Great that was gift from the Sharif of Mecca. Ramdan’s breeding line continues in horses still ridden by the Al Nahyan family.
“How resplendent the horse
wearing the reins
More graceful than a beautiful gazelle
Descendant of Kahila and Rabdan
Reminiscent of Al Ouda
and its noble blood.”
A renowned poet, Ahmed Al Kendi was born in 1940 and here recallsSheikh Zayed bin Khalifa The First
“It is lead by a Sheikh known of his deeds, the famous Bin Khalifa who raised the land and the people,
The sheikh who leads them is known for his good deeds
The famous bin Khalifa, patron of the land and the people
He shielded the homeland and secured its borders
Enemies dare not step into its fire
Even venomous snakes fled from it dismayed.”
A prisoner held at Qasr Al Hosn wrote this poem to Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1928 to 1966, asking for mercy and forgiveness for his crime.
“Oh Shiekh Shakhbout grasp my saying
Of Words, on my shaken condition
A treacherous night left me overturning
Unable to turn What God has written
Under the shade away from the sun
I return my request to your seeing
Where no just inquiry has ever fallen.”
Following the death of Zayed the Great in 1909 (1327 in the Islamic calender), his children were said to have presented Rabdan as a gift to Sheikh Rashed bin Ahmed Bin Abdullah Al Mulla, the ruler of Um Al Quween. Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum sent the Sheikh’s sons a poem reprimanding them for giving away their father’s horse and inheritance.
“To bestow the horse,
is a flawed grant
“Fate took Zayed, now it wishes Rabdan
Royal steed of a Shiekh revered
We ride unbeaten, till desolation is undone”
One of the sons responded:
“Ease your sorrows, for he lives on
He who is succeeded by a son
Those who conceal poison within the honey
As luminous denotations, themselves they show
Beneath where dark deeds stay solely
Permit us, with ‘Rabdan’ to go.”