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GUEST,.gargoyle Origins: I Saw Three Ships 7 HULL (19) RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships 7 HULL 23 Dec 20

Malcolm Douglas derides Bruce Cockburn's suggestion that the ships refer to camels. "Bruce Cockburn's camels were silly enough; unless we are careful, the next thing we know, those "ships" will be flying saucers. "
( ... 11 Jan 05 - 12:20 AM)

I have heard since youth that in this song the ships referred to the camels of the "three" wise men.
I believe I heard this from a preacher's pulpit.

To support this view I refer to Arab poetry, some predating Islam, that call the camel, the "ship of the desert."

"Arab poets have often called the camel the ‘ship of the desert.” Long ago, Saydah Dhu alRumma said that his she-camel was a safiinat al-barr or land ship. His poem stated “a land-ship whose reins beneath my cheek are passed.” (Dhu lRumma, Diwan, edited by Charlile Henry Hayes Macartney, Cambridge, 1919, page 638)"

"The camel is the 'ship of the desert,' and the sighting far off of another rider engenders tensions similar to those experienced by seafaring travelers in the days of ships of sail, viz, is the unknown stranger friend or foe?"

"˜The ship of the desert, the donkey of the sea". The camel in early Mesopotamia revisited.Birkat Shalom. Studies in the Bible, ancient Near Eastern literature, and postbiblical Judaism 
(Horowitz 1959,

" ...the desert and the sea “are part of the basic poetic repertoire in Early Arabic”. For the desert poets, the camel journey (takhallu), one of the three sections of the ode, was to illustrate metaphorical re-enactment: the desert/sea symbolising vastness—endless time while the camel/ship’s movement is depicting symmetry and coordination. Consider the imagery of the camel driver pleasantly mounted for a long journey and the dromedary’s swaying pace, compared with the mariner on the ship sailing with a favourable wind as she rocks forward, backward and sideways in the ocean. "
(Classic Ships of Islam, Chapter Ten)

The ship-camel comparison, metaphorically or literally, is a classical theme. One shares the poet’s experience poetically and emotionally. There are several examples, but a general portrayal of such an iden-ti cation is lively in the poem of Zuhayr b. Ab Sulm (d. after 627 CE);.
(Classic Ships of Islam, Chapter Ten, pp 277-278, series Handbook of Oriental Studies - section One - The Near and Middle East
E-Book ISBN: 9789047423829Publisher: BrillOnline Publication Date: 01 Jan 2008).

"Tarafa is the only one of the Seven Poets who compares camels to ships. In his opening verses, the camels that bore away his beloved are likened to "ships sailing from Aduli"; and in verse 28, he says that the neck of his own camel "resembles the stern of a ship floating high on the billowy Tigris." Nearly one third of the poem is taken up with what Sir W. Jones terms "a long and no very pleasing description" of the poet's camel; yet we must suppose this minute detail of the points of an animal so indispensable to desert life in Arabia to have been very highly appreciated by the poet's countrymen; and the reader is recompensed for his patience by the fine simile with which it concludes: "She floats proudly along with her flowing tail, as the dancing-girl floats at the banquet of her lord, and spreads the long white skirts of her trailing robe"—a simile which suggests a pleasing image to the reader's mind."
(Arabian Poetry: Introduction,


Thank you Malcolm - you were one of the greats and - can still stir passion.

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