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Nabati Poetry - The Poetry of the Desert

Bedouin from Art.comNabati (نبطي) poetry, also known as Bedouin poetry, is a type of Arabic poetry native to the Arabian Peninsula. It dates back to the 16th century and forms a part of the culture and oral history of the Arabs of the Arabian Gulf and Peninsula. Nabati poetry, in contrast to Classical Arabic poetry, is written in the everyday dialect of the Peninsula and reflects daily life of everyday people. It has a simple, direct and spontaneous style.

While there are a number of theories as to where the term Nabati came from, the one that seems most likely to me, is that it comes from that Arabic word نبط which refers to word derivation and also water bubbling up (as in deriving water from the ground via a spring.) Nabati poetry is in the common dialect derived from classical Arabic. The subject matter of Nabati poetry is also derived from classical Arabic poetry. Classical Arabic poetry usually addresses one of the following subjects chivlary, eulogy, satire, communal pride , wisdom, social commentary, descriptive poetry (usually describing nature), proverbs, narrative poetry, riddles, and epics. Pastiches, where a poet attempts to write in the style and vocabularly of another, admired, poet in admiration and as a show of technical ability in the form, is also common in classical Arabic poetry. Most of these forms also show up in Nabati poetry. Beginning poets usually start with a poem on chilvalry, which is also the most common type of Nabati poem. Narrative Nabati poetry is an important source of information on the history of the Arabian Peninsula. Satire and epic poetry is less common in Nabati poetry than in classical Arabic poetry, but it does occur. Epic Nabati poetry has become more common in contemporary times.

Sheik Mohammed, the vice president of the U.A.E. and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, is a prolific Nabati poet. His website is probably the best English language source of information on Nabati poetry. It also includes English translations of some of his poems and recordings of the Sheik reciting them (although I had trouble getting the audio to work for me.) In the Arabic version of his site (the navigation is in the same order as the English site), you can find video of the Sheik reciting his poetry in the original Arabic. My Arabic is not anywhere good enough to understand it, but I plan to go back to these videos as my Arabic improves because he speaks slowly and clearly.

Sheik Mohammed's Poetry Pages in English are available here. His videos, in Arabic, are available from this link.

For further information, you may be interested in the book Nabati Poetry: The Oral Poetry Of Arabia by Saad Abdullah Sowayan. It is out of print but copies are available through Alibris
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