Wallada Bint al-Mustakfi

A romantic rendition of, supposedly, Wallada bint al-Mustakfi

A romantic rendition of, supposedly, Wallada bint al-Mustakfi

Yesterday I posted a review of  Ibn al-Sa’i’s Consorts of the Caliphs, which mentions one of the great women poets of the 10C: Wallada Bint al-Mustakfi (Córdoba, 994–1091). She has been a favorite of mine for a long time, both for her art & for her stance as a woman in Muslim culture. Habib Tengour & I published some of her work in volume 4 of the Poems for the Millennium series, The University of California Book of North African Literature and thought it would be useful & pleasurable to re-post those poems here on Nomadics. The translations from Arabic are by Abdullah al-Udhari.

Wallada Bint Mustakfi was the daughter of Muhammad III of Córdoba, one of the last Umayyad Córdoban caliphs, who came to power in 1024 after assassinating the previous caliph & who was assassinated himself two years later. Her early childhood coincides with the high period of the Córdoban Caliphate, while her adolescence came during the tumultuous period following the eventual succession of Sanchuelo, who in his attempts to seize power from Hisham II plunged the caliphate into civil war. As Muhammad III had no male heir, al-Mustakfi inherited his properties, which she used to open a palace and literary hall in Córdoba (i.e. an al-Andalus site for poetry readings). She was described as an ideal beauty of the time: blond, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed, as well as intelligent, cultured, and proud. She was also somewhat controversial, walking out in public without a hijab. The first verse of the first poem below was written on the right-hand side of the front of her robe, and the second verse on the left-hand side.

By Allah, I’m made for higher goals and I walk with grace and style.

I blow kisses to anyone but reserve my cheeks for my man.

The love of her life was the poet Ibn Zaydun, whose preference seems to have been, however, for polymorphously perverse philandering.

Come and see me at nightfall, the night will keep our secret.
When I’m with you I wish the sun and moon never turn up and the stars 
stay put.

If you were faithful to our love you wouldn’t have lost your head over my maid.
You dropped a branch in full bloom for a lifeless twig. You know I am the moon yet you fell for a tiddly star.


Ibn Zaidun, in spite of his qualities, is unkind to me for no reason.
He looks at me menacingly as if I’d come to unman his boyfriend Ali.


Ibn Zaidun, though a man of quality, loves the unbent rods in men’s trousers.
If he saw a joystick dangling from a palm tree he’d fly after it like a craving 


Is there a way we can meet and share our love once more?
In the winter I used to wait on hot coals for your visits.
Now I feel worse since you’ve gone and confirmed my fears.
The night rolls on, but absence stays and patience won’t free me from longing’s grip.
I hope Allah waters the new land that’s become our home.

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9 Responses

  1. Poo Carson says:

    Lovely and just sad enough.

  2. Poo Carson says:

    Lovely and a touch sad.

  3. Poo Carson says:

    What does “moderation” mean?

  4. Sally Roseh says:

    i believe you may have the wrong picture of Wallada. I visited the Sefardad house in Córdoba Spain. The picture you have is for Lubna. Hope this is helpful.

  5. Tom Murphy says:

    I love Wallada bint’s poetry from volume 4 of the Poems for the Millennium series. I even taught a section on Andalusian poetry while teaching in Valladolid, Spain this past semester. The student’s love her poetry and for one prompt I had everyone write there own Robes poem. I’ve continued to teach her last fall and used the same prompt which is quite empowering. Thank you.

    • May says:

      Hi! I know this is a bottle in the sea since your comment was written 6years ago but I’m really stuggling to find book references in which I could fine some of Wallada bint’s poems. Please, if you have any recommandations for me, contact me at : maellekad@gmail.com I would be forever grateful… I’m really interested in her story and would die to read her work

      • Pierre Joris says:

        Not sure how I can help at this point. There is some more on her in the “Poems for the Millennium” anthology (vol.4) Best maybe to try & get in touch with her translator, Abdullah al-Udhari, possibly via his publisher Ali Saqi books (London). Have you checked his books, in which their may be as much as we have about/of her poems?

  6. Tom Murphy says:

    I meant to say, I taught in Spain in the Summer. Our study abroad program sent seven professors and thirty-nine students for the second summer session then we toured around.

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