artwork of Heart with wings (Wellcome Images)

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 Syria (932-976 AD). He was a cousin of Sultan Saif Al-Dawla Al-Hamadani of Aleppo in Syria. He was captures by the Roman and kept in prison 7 years in Constantinople for the purpose of prisoner exchange with a Roman prince, prisoner in Aleppo. During his years in the Roman jail Abo Faras wrote some of his best poems.  One such a poem when he was inspired by a pigeon singing near his cell. He wrote:


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.

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