Wildlife plays an important role in the Arabian culture, reflecting on classic poetry through the richness of the language. The Arabic vocabulary used for animals depends on wether it defines a female or male, a new-born, a young or an adult, etc. For instance, there are tens of different words for ‘Arabian oryx’!

Wildlife species, which interact more with human activities, such as the wolf, are more often cited in the poetry. In the opposite way, species disappear from poetry after their extinction from the wild; so did the red-necked ostrich.

Biodiversity is therefore a precious reservoir for poets' inspiration. Hyaena, fox, doves, ravens, eagles and other birds, as well as several plant species are commonly found in their works. Poets also frequently use the gazelle as an allegory to express their romantic feelings…

Ancient Arab poetry is classified by periods relatively to islamic history: the pre-islamic (or “Jahili”) poetry until 622 A.D., the early Islam poetry from 622 to 661 A.D., the Umayyad poetry from 661 to 750 A.D. and the Abbassid poetry from 750 to 1258 A.D.

The following samples are significant extracts, which even non-Arabic speakers can listen to, just for their musical beauty (translations are given whenever available). All poems are recited by Ahmed Boug. Special thanks to Abdullah Idris for letting us reproduce his three oil paintings here above and to Omar Subayr for his watercolors illustrating some of the following poems (other illustrations © PSFWRC Audiovisual Dpt.).

[ NB: You must have QuickTime installed to play the following extracts ]


Al-Farazdaq, Umayyad poet dead in 728 a.c.

wolf - 1’20

Dhul Al-Rumma, early islam poet

ostrich - 3’56

Al-Hotay’a, Jahili & early islam poet

onager - 2’23

Malik ibn Al-Rayyb, Umayyad poet dead in 680 a.c.

White Saxaul, Christ’sThorn Jujube trees, gazelle - 2’22

Al-Fahal, Jahili poet

ostrich - 2’06

Obayd bin Ayod Al-Anbary, Umayyad poet

gazelle - 1’55

Al-Shanfara, Jahili poet dead in 525 a.c.

various animals - 2’58

Arabian Ode in “L” (Lamiyyat al-‘Arab)

O sons of my mother, raise up the breasts of your riding camels, for I am more inclined to other tribe than you.


I have in place of  you other kin: the wolf, unwearying runner, the darting sand leopard, the bristle-necked hyena.

These are my clan. They don’t reveal a secret given in trust, and they don’t abandon a man for his crime.


Majnoon Leyla, Ummayad poet

gazelle - 30”

Al-Ohymer Al-Sadi, Abbasid poet

wolf - 30”