Ibn Zaydoon was a 4th century Andalusian poet. He was what they call rajul 3aSaamee - someone who started life off on a low footing (poor and of low status) but worked their way up in society until he became one of the wuzaraa’ (ministers) and was respected by even the Amir.
Because of this and his ability to compose poetry very well, he was envied by many. The Amir at that time, al-Mustakfee had a daughter named Wallaada who was the attention of all the poets, but she was beginning to show some inclination towards Ibn Zaydoon. His close companions out of jealously turned to plotting against him and lied saying to al-Mustakfee that Ibn Zaydoon was planning to marry Wallaada and take Imarah (i.e. became the Amir).
As a result, al-Mustakfee imprisoned Ibn Zaydoon and below is a breakdown of a poem that he wrote whilst in prison, to his close friend Abu Hafs:
There is no doubt in my mind
That time wounds and yet cures
Perhaps it is despair that
Towards hope, a person it lures
Ibn Zaydoon is saying here that sometimes, despair itself pushes a person towards hope just as fear drives a cornered animal to attack & survive
And indeed obliviousness may save you
And cautiousness destroys you
Looking too much into details and trying to read in to what’s not there may at times be a cause for our destruction whilst innocent obliviousness sometimes saves us from trouble.
The perils are arrows
But Fate is the bow
No matter how much we try to avoid harm, perils and trouble, at the end of the day they are only arrows fired from the bow of Qadr. “…What has passed you by, was not going to befall you and what has befallen you was not going to pass you by…” [al-Tirmidhi]. In this line of the poem and the ones following, Ibn Zaydoon reflects on his imprisoned state and the ultimate fate he met - he may have held high positions, but it’s an established law that people are raised and lowered, and the Dunya is nothing but a garment of enjoyment that we wear.
And surely, that is time
If it exalts one set of people, it only lowers another
We clothe ourselves with the Dunya
But only an enjoyment! That is its garments
I am in a state of confusion
The matter is clear and but yet so murky
Here, he reflects upon what happened - he’s confused because his friends were the cause of his imprisonment, people he trusted proved to be treacherous. Yet the matter is also clear because of their jealousy and confession.
What then do you think of such a group
Who turned back on their promise and then betrayed
Wolves, roaming and scavenging by my flesh
Ripping with their teeth and biting
He describes them as wolves, eating his flesh - alluding to the backbiting and slander that they took part in. He then says ? - amazing usage of language! ‘Intihaash’ means to bite with the molar teeth whilst ‘intihaas’ means to rip and bite with the front teeth and canines - a picture is formed of wild beasts really digging into their prey (Ibn Zaydoon)
They all seem to ask of me
And wolves only seek to patrol
The treacherous poets constantly ask about Ibn Zaydoon, whether he’ll be out soon or whether they’ve gotten rid of him for good. Ibn Zaydoon likens them to a pack of wolves and he uses the word i’tisaas - wolves that go out at night, patrolling the area, seeking news of further prey.
If time proves harsh
Then water in stone will only gush forth
Pressure and hardship are what cause water to suddenly gush from stones, just like the pressures and hardships of life mould a person and cause him/her to flourish.
If I continue to be a mere prisoner
Then the rain does remain imprisoned
He further consoles his friend (and himself) by saying that imprisonment is virtuous and sometimes only the best are imprisoned (when it’s done wrongly), just like the rain (ghayth) is with-held. Ibn Zaydoon uses the word ‘ghayth’ which is the rain that comes after a very long period, mostly after a drought and harsh seasons.
Contemplate then, how sleep seems to weaken
And cover over the very eye of glory
Indirectly, Ibn Zaydoon calls himself ‘muqla al-majd’ i.e. core of honour and glory, and ’sleep’ in this context is the imprisonment. Hence, the Amir and those responsible for his imprisonment only bring humiliation upon themselves by covering over (imprisoning) the glory of their land (i.e. Ibn Zaydoon)
Don’t let your trust become a mere flower
Indeed my trust in you is as a myrtle
Very few people proved loyal to Ibn Zaydoon, one of them is Abu Hafs to whom this letter was addressed. He reminds him of the trust of friendship and tells him to strengthen it and make it like a myrtle which is a flower known to last long unlike other flowers.
Take advantage of the clear nights
Indeed life is only a short instant
By clear nights, Ibn Zaydoon alludes to happiness and clarity of affairs, when people don’t betray and when matters are clear without confusion.
Perhaps time will soon permit
For imprisonment has drawn long…
For the Arabic: http://www.odabasham.net/show.php?sid=701