Wise Sayings Of The Poet Al-Tihami

The Arabic poet Abu al-Hasan Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Tihami (? – 1025) is said to have taken the name Tihami in one of two possible ways that may hint at his family’s origins, according to our trusted chronicler Ibn Khallikan.  Tihami was used both as an informal name for the city of Mecca, and as a name for the mountains between the Hijaz and Yemen.  But it is not clear which of these geographic references apply to our poet.

We do know that most of his life was lived in Syria.  That he was an artist of consummate skill is attested to by the Andalusian poet and historian Al-Bassam (1058-1147) whose massive work ذاكرة في المحاسن اهل الجزيرة (“Record of the Merits of the People of Iberia”) compiled information about the great Arabic Andalusian poets.  Al-Bassam offers the following evocative comment, rich in imagery, about Al-Tihami’s verses:

He was renowned for his abilities and possessed a cutting tongue.  Between him and all the varied modes of expression the path was free; his poetry indicated as clearly the talents which had fallen to his lot, as the coolness of the zephyr denotes the presence of the morning; and it disclosed his exalted station in science as plainly as the tear-drop reveals the secret of love.[1]

There are many elegant verses in Al-Tihami’s repertoire; too many, in fact, to list here.  I will repeat some of the best which Ibn Khallikan records as coming from his qasidas (poems), along with a brief comment as needed.

When the lips of the flowers on the hills and those of our mortal beauties were smiling, I asked my friend which were the fairest to the sight: “I know not,” said he; “all of them are anthemis blossoms.”

[The anthemis flower is white, and often compared in old Arabic poetry with a woman’s teeth.]

One of his longer poems was composed after the death of his son.  Stricken by grief, he wrote a long poem to express his anger and contempt for the world.  Some extracts taken from it are these:

I pity those who envy me, because hatred burns within their bosoms. They see God’s kindness towards me, and thus their eyes are in paradise, whilst their hearts are in hell…

 

[The world] is composed of turbid elements, yet you hope to find it free from dregs and sediment!  He who requires of time what is contrary to its nature, is as the man who seeks in water for a firebrand.  He who expects what is impossible, builds his hopes on the brink of a tottering sand-bank.

Regarding the chasing of women, he said this:

How often have I warned you against the land of Hijaz, for its gazelles [girls] are accustomed to make its lions [men] their prey.  You wished to pursue the hinds of Hijaz; but, unfavored by fate, it was you who became their prey.

Here are some of his saying on human relations and general wisdom:

In the company of noble-minded men there is always room for another.  Friendship, it is true, renders difficulties easy.  A house may be too small for eight persons, yet friendship will make it hold a ninth.

 

If Time, who is the father of mortals, treats you ill, then do not reproach his children when they do the same.

These last two maxims are words to live by, without doubt.  But Al-Tihami himself came to an unfortunate end.  Because of his fame he was asked to intervene in political matters.  Although this sort of thing is always a perilous proposition for artists or idealists, he agreed to do so.  He was asked to carry some documents as a secret messenger between two quarreling political factions.  When he arrived in Egypt to complete his mission, he was discovered, confined to jail, and later executed for conspiracy.

 

 

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[1]  Ibn Khallikan, Biog. Dict. II.335.  All translations here are by M. De Slane, with some minor alterations.

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