Between Love, Jealousy and Poetry: Wallada and Ibn Zaydun’s Heartbreaking Story

“You have stirred the lion of wrath when he was dozing, awakened him when he lay still with eyes closed.”

Imagine it happening to you. You are the symbol of beauty and confidence. Your father is the one and only Caliph. And yet, someone cheats on you.

Wallada Bint al Mustakfi was an Andalusian princess and poet who was known for her beauty. Using her blonde hair and sky-blue eyes she had already conquered the hearts of many men. However, she only cared for a single man. She was smitten for the wazir Ibn Zaydun, who was also a poet. For him too it was love at first sight. As love connected their two souls, the entire world of language shrunk into a collection of love letters.

A romantic relationship grew between them, but in order to protect themselves from slandering women, Wallada requested their relationship to be kept secret: Wait to visit me when darkness falls, since I believe that night keeps the secret best. What I feel for you is such that, similarly affected, the moon would not shine, the night not spread, and the stars not travel.

To which Ibn Zaydun replied: If, after you, my night grows long, then how much do I now complain of this night’s shortness with you!

Yet Destiny had other plans with the lovers’ story. Say, what more does love bring than fierce jealousy? Flirting with Wallada’s servant was a bad decision for Ibn Zaydun. Wallada did not take that lightly and she started writing a heartbreaking story:

If you were just toward the love we share, you would not have fallen for the slave girl, and preferred her. You left aside a branch laden with beauty, and inclined to the branch which holds no fruit. You know well that I am the full moon of heaven, yet, to my distress, you’ve become smitten with Jupiter (‘a dark planet’).

Wallada did not leave it at a harsh letter. She decided to give him a taste of the thorny agony of jealousy. In her turn, she flirted with Ibn ‘Abdus, another young wazir. Ibn Zaydun did not appreciate that, on the contrary. To his archenemy he wrote a letter filled with dark, vengeful speak: “You have stirred the lion of wrath when he was dozing, awakened him when he lay still with eyes closed.” And to Wallada he wrote a letter which would even fill the eyes of the readers with tears: “Peace be upon you! The peace of farewell, the farewell of a love that died before its time.”

For those who do not like love stories with a bad ending: he didn’t forget about her. He still tried very hard to win her back. He was even thrown in prison. But only one thought remained in his head: to win back Wallada. It was the time at which Ibn Zaydun wrote his impressive fifty verse Nunniya poem that made him famous. In the poem he describes her beauty, which kept haunting him and how his love for her would never cease to exist:

“You have departed and we have departed but our ribs have never been restored to health because of yearning for you; nor have our tear ducts ever been dried up.”

However, deep inside he knew that he would never get a reaction. And he was right. She never responded.

Written by Mayada Srouji

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Mayada Srouji is a 23-year-old student Gender and Diversity at the UGent and has a bachelor in Arabic and Islamic Sciences, with a minor in political and social sciences. She is interested in women rights, philosophy, literature and history.