Poems from the Desert
The following is the best-selling author Paulo Coelho's foreword to the book 'Poems from the Desert' - a collection of 27 poems composed by UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the Nabati style.
José Ortega y Gasset once wrote: ''I am myself and my circumstance.'' I knew the moment I laid my hands on the collection of poems by His Highness that I was in front of a testimony from a political, public figure, but also in front of a human being - with all his passions and yearnings. It was this knowledge that enabled me to accept such an invitation - since I knew that I would deal with the inner questionings of a man, not only a ruler. A man who shares the same questions as many of us living today, dwelling in a world of interrogation marks as for the future.
What drives a person to set down his hand on a piece of paper and write? I know this question may seem vain, especially since being a writer myself I never managed to answer it. Yet, I've always been intrigued by it and when I decided to write this forward for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum this question surfaced again in my mind.
All the energy of thinking is eventually shown in the nib of a pen. Of course, here we can substitute nib by ballpoint, computer keyboard, or pencil, and I don't know the instrument His Highness uses, but I can visualize him using a pen, as it goes better with the romanticism and intensity of his poems.
The Pen writes words, and words eventually condense an idea. Paper is just a support for this idea. But the pen is an extension of the writer's hand and desire. They serve to sign decrees, make us dream, send news, trace words of love. So the intentions that guide the pen are very important. The hand is where all the muscles of the body, all the intentions of the person writing, all the effort to share what he feels, are concentrated. It is not just a part of his arm but also the physical manifestation of his thought. A writer or a poet must hold his pen with the same respect that a violinist has for his instrument.
There I was, first surprised to know that His Highness actually had written a collection of poems and afterwards curious to see the words that would flow from his vision. I received the poems and eagerly started to read them - knowing that between my hands laid his soul and his heart.
Certain poems of this collection faithfully reflect His Highness' position of power: the very first poem A Mother's Complaint dwells on the responsibilities of a ruler, attentive to the strife of his people and concerned by those who lack support.
As a man is himself and his circumstance, the poems dedicated to His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan transpire his deep reverence towards this admirable ruler. It becomes clear that in His Highness' eyes the true measure of accomplishment is based on the pillars of justice, tolerance and vision. The United Arab Emirates is the living legacy of such efforts and creativity.
There is an interesting story in The Thousand and One Nights: Caliph Haroun Al Rashid decided to build a palace in order to demonstrate the greatness of his kingdom. He gathered together the greatest works of art, designed gardens, and personally selected the marbles and carpets.
Beside the grounds that had been chosen, was a dwelling. Al Rashid asked his minister to convince the owner - an older weaver - to sell it so that it might be demolished.
The minister tried in vain; the old man said he did not wish to part with it.
Upon hearing of the old man's decision, the Court Council suggested he be simply thrown out.
''No'', responded Al Rashid. ''He will become part of my legacy to my people. When they come to the place, they will say: he was a man who worked in order to show the beauty of our culture.''
''And when they see the dwelling, they will say: he was just, for he respected the work of other men.''
His Highness' poems, whilst revealing the present ruler, also guide the readers to unchartered places.
What an act of courage - I said to myself while turning the pages of this book - to present his soul bare to the world. Poetry is a mirror that reveals, without concessions, the very essence of a human being. And here I am reading the words of a man that has to play in the political arena, of a man that - by the necessities of his position - has always to be temperate and to reconcile.
But how can a man temper and reconcile the passions that burn inside? Luckily His Highness didn't try to stop the ferocious roar of his emotions. On the contrary, in many of his love poems, he presents his doubts and eagerness to fully live passions. He understands that love is a strength that can either lift or destroy us. It can take us from heaven to hell in a matter of seconds.
His verses on love are tinged by the imageries of the hunter. Lions, gazelles and oryx roam free in the dense spaces of passion. The fire of unrequited love burns in the sleepless evenings. It is evident that His Highness turns to the blank page in order to find refuge in words.
But don't let yourself be fooled by this ''refuge'' - His Highness knows that our souls are vessels made to sail in the vast oceans of life. The refuge we seek is the one that can only be found when one takes risks. It is this very movement that equally guides me when I set myself on writing a book. I never know where this adventure will lead me and it always takes a lot of courage to let oneself be guided by this mysterious force.
There's a motto in Alchemy: ''concentrate and dissolve.'' As you may know, alchemist would, through laboratory studies, try to distil the mercury from the sulphur and then refine the mercury until it converted into gold. This quest would lead them to the Philosopher Stone (which was the solid component) and the Long Life Elixir. The process of distilling is based on this very simple motto: concentrate - meaning extracting the essence - and dissolve - meaning mixing the essence with something else.
Many disregarded that as routine. But the alchemists were training their patience and thus transforming their perception of the world.
I think you can apply this same motto to love: in order to preserve love's freedom, one has to be able at the same time to dive into its essence and to share it with others.
His Highness in his love poems does exactly that: he lives, loves and shares it with his readers.
Blake wrote two collections of poems: one on Innocence and the other on Experience. Yet, even if these two moments of a man's life may seem at odds, they are not completely antagonistic.
Innocence untainted by experience too often leads to inconsequence. On the other hand, experience, disdainful of innocence, only leads a man to bitterness and seclusion.
Unity between these two moments can be reached: when a man is able to keep his soul open while knowing the ways of the world.
His Highness reveals his passions but tempers them with justice and tolerance. These two qualities make for the legacy of any man on this earth.
Reading His Highness' poems, I try to imagine the inner conflict between being a poet and a ruler. But when I give a second thought to it, I understand that there is no conflict at all: when a ruler has the soul of a poet, he understands better the needs of his people. When the poet has the soul of a ruler, he exercises the most needed discipline to dig deep into his soul, to allow all the exuberance of God to be manifested. When you pass by a writer who has just finished a text, you will feel that he has an empty expression on his face and that he seems distracted.
But he - only he - knows that he has risked a lot, managed to develop his instinct, maintained his elegance and concentrated during the whole process, and can now afford to feel the presence of the universe and see that his action was just and deserved. His closest friends know that his thought has changed dimensions. Now it is in touch with the lions, gazelles, the desert, the Bedouins, the ancestors, the dreamers, the mountains, and the forgotten lessons of the past.
Writing is an act of courage. But it's worth taking the risk, and His Highness' poems help us to understand better the soul of a man and the heritage of the nation.