Arabian Romantic: Poems on Bedouin Life and Love
By ‘Abdallāh ibn Sbayyil. Trans. Marcel Kurpershoek.
NYU Press, 2020.
Reviewed by Robert W. Lebling on January 4, 2022
Ibn Sbayyil is a key figure in the tradition of Nabati poetry, rooted in classical Arabian culture shared by both Bedouin and the settled tribes of Central Najd, in the heart of today’s Saudi Arabia. A settler himself with close links to Bedouins, Ibn Sbayyil composed poetry at the turn of the 20th century that captured the flavor and emotions of Arabia’s nomadic population. His vibrant writings, capturing his own longing for Bedouin life, are still recited in Saudi Arabia today. As headman of the small Najdi town of Nifi, he encountered and befriended Bedouin tribesmen who spent part of each year in his village and departed with their camels and sheep with the arrival of rains, in search of greener lands. Skillfully translated, these poems are steeped in desert nostalgia. The work includes Ibn Sbayyil’s poetic responses to competing poets of his day as well as a rich selection of explanatory notes by the translator.