The bird, especially the wild pigeon, occupies a special status in Arab love poetry. Ancient Arab poets attributed great emotions to the wild pigeon. In their love poems, the pigeon figured prominently, such that they would complain to the pigeon how much they miss their loved one, asking the bird to carry love messages to the beloved. To the Arab poets the songs of the pigeon were sad songs, interpreting its singing as cries for its loved one.
Abo Faras Al-Hamadani was an Arab prince, a brave worrier and a poet who lived in
I said to a crying pigeon near by
O’ my neighbor
Do you know the feelings of this guy
But you have not experienced such separation
With its misery and frustration.
Days are not fair,
Come, let us share
This sadness we both bare.
My eye has more right to cry
Than your eye,
But my tears in this town,
Are too proud to come down.
The Arab poet considered his own heart like a pigeon, hiding in his chest. There are verses describing how the poets’ heart rate increased when he thought of his loved one. The fast heart rate was usually described as “a pigeon flying and fluttering its wings” in his chest.
The first Arab love poet I came cross who made such a description was Arwah ibn Hozam (died 650 AD) in his poem for his beloved Afra. He said that his racing heart due to his intense love, felt like a pigeon’s wings hanged over his liver. He meant that the bird’s wings were caught over his liver and the bird was trying to free its wings by flapping them very fast. The poet mentioned the liver not because he did not know his anatomy, but because the Arabs at that time considered both the heart and the liver as centers for love and emotions.
The legendry Arab love poet known as Al Majnoon, the lover of Lila (see Heart Views, 2003;4(3):127-133) said when he heard a man calling Lila (another woman): “As if he released a bird flying in my chest when he called the name Lila.” Al majnoon also said the night Lila was taken away from his town: “My heart feels like a bird trying to fly while its wings are caught in a net.”
Why did the Arab poets choose the pigeon as metaphor for love and its loss?
The pigeon’s size is similar to the size of the heart, so they thought it could be housed in the chest. The wild dove or pigeon’s song, unlike that of the domesticated pigeon, had a sad effect that inspired the poets. The pigeon is considered a peaceful bird from the dawn of history. The Arabs before Islam, then the Muslims as well as the Christians and Jews, believe that Noah depended on the pigeon he sent from his ark to bring him the good news. It returned with an olive tree twig indicating that the flood was retreating. Therefore, the pigeon and the olive twig are considered the symbols for peace.`
+ Published in Heart Views,2007; 8 (2):68-69.