The Poet of the Nation: Ali Bin Zaeid [Archives:2001/09/Culture]

February 26 2001

Mohamed Al-Hakimi,
Yemen Times
Proverbs and sayings of the poet Ali Bin Zaeid represent part of Yemeni culture. Yemenis have learned them and kept them in their minds and followed them in their life. Zaeid has become a symbol of the people’s daily practices and wisdom.
Zaeid’s poems and wisdom are repeated by farmers and peasants alike especially at agricultural times and when the need arises to face daily problems.
Zaeid’s greatest popularity appears in the middle-region of Yemen, Dhamar, Ibb and Taiz. However, most of his poems are memorized by the majority of peasants in various areas of Yemen.
Who is Ali Bin Zaeid? What is his full name? And in which period did he live? And where was his residential place? And how have his poems reached us?
Zaeid is on of the brightest Yemeni folk poets, who wrote about agriculture and harvest seasons.
He combined agricultural themes and people’s sayings and wisdom. His full name or specific residential details, or even the definite period during which he lived, are still unknown. His genealogy is also unknown.
According to some, he might have lived in Russaba village and among the Dhamar’s tribes. Most likely, he had been living in an agricultural, rural environment; for his work mostly focuses on agriculture, land, harvest, cooperation and labor. His works’ social philosophy pivots around the Yemeni peasantry and the relationship between land and man, as well as between men and their daily living conditions.
As far as his poetic faculty is concerned, Zaeid succeeded in reflecting daily public behavior – a theme which all enjoy reciting. His works include military, agricultural and social orientations.
But, is Zaeid a single person?
Probably there are tens like him from successive generations.
Is Zaeid, then, a historical character? Or he is no more than a legend?
The famous Yemeni poet, Abdulla Albaradoni contemplated this and said: “He might be real and imaginary at the same time. Real in name, imaginary in terms of his wisdom and pronouncements. For a single man can’t deliver sayings of different regional dialects and practices of all agricultural generations.” Thus, the poet Albaradoni sees the whole Yemeni nation, his practices, culture and inherited norms and traditions, in Zaeid!
Though Zaeid’s works are known to the majority of Yemenis, his works are not given due recognition by the Ministry of Culture; which makes current generations ignorant of such work. Thus, regarding the Ministry’s callous attitude towards Zaeid’s works, only individual efforts can kindle the hope for the preservation of our folk culture and literature.
It’s worth mentioning that the late poet Abdulla Albaradoni, in his book titled “The Arts of Folk-Literature in Yemen”, has presented good and useful information about the poet. And in his “Wisdom of Ali Bin Zaeid”, the Russian Orientalist Anatoli Agharchiv, had collected most of Zaeid’s poems and wisdom. Needless to say, unless such efforts existed, Zaeid’s works could have been lost.
Some of Zaeid’s sayings:
He, who does not reply,
Calls, but no one listens
And he who, at the need of the hour,
Is absent,
Goes, but no one, is back to bring.
The above lines indicate how an ignorant persons desires and needs leave him alone, unsupported by his society.
If, for you, there exists,
A harmful neighbor
Do nothing except love,
As there is God, to avenge you.
The above lines are meant to advise people to be patient about a non-friendly neighbor and leave the question of penalty to God.
While Zaeid seemed to believe that the idle and those who do not work in agriculture and harvest would not obtain fortune, he excludes traders and scholars from his view:
For seat occupying,
No fortune is there,
Except for shop-keepers,
And scholars
And on worries of man and his permanent longing for happiness, he says:
I wish a happy heart,
I own,
And, responsibility of,
Neither mine nor others,
I care.