Court Culture

A 10th-century Poem

The Hamdanid emir Sayf al-Dawla was the patron of one of the most famous medieval poets writing in Arabic: Mutanabbi. This poem celebrates Sayf al-Dawla’s capture of the town of Hadath from Byzantium. Listen to it recited here.

Resolutions are measured against those who make them; generosity in accordance with the giver.

Littleness is magnified by small men, while grandeur is deprecated by the great.

Sayf al-Dawla imposes upon the army his will, yet seasoned armies cannot achieve it.

He asks from men all that he has in himself, though even lions would not claim to match that.

Does Hadath know of its red color? Or which of the two pourers was a cloud?

White-streaked clouds had watered Hadath before his arrival; when he approached, it was inundated with skulls.

The enemy came at you, hauling their weapons as if they traveled on legless horses.

When their ranks caught the light, their swords remained unseen, since their shirts and turbans were also made from steel.

You stayed where you were, when doing so meant certain death: as if perdition itself slept while you stood in its eyelid.

Wounded and fleeing, heroes passed you by, while your face remained bright and your lips, smiling.

You surpassed the bounds of courage and understanding, until people claimed that you knew the unseen.

To you belongs the praise for these pearls I pronounce: you are the giver, I the arranger.

Oh, Sword never sheathed, whom none can doubt and from whom there is no refuge,

Blessed are warfare, glory and eminence; blessed are your subjects and all of Islam, for you are safe!