Saturday, 8 February 2014

Lebanon - Khalil Hawi

This was probably the last poem written by Khalil Hawi (1919-1982).*


كنا جداراً يلتقي جدار
ما اُوجع الحوار
ما اُوجع القطيعه
تغصُّ بالفجيعه
ما اُوجع الحوار

We were walls facing walls
It was painful to talk
It was painful to feel the distance
Choked by the tragedy
It was painful to talk

(Trans. Abdullah al-Udhari)

Read about Khalil Hawi here
More of his poetry here and here

*So says Ammiel Alcalay in 'After Jews and Arabs: Remaking Levantine Culture'.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Keys - Fatma Kandil

Recently I came across the 2001 anthology 'The Poetry of Arab Women', edited by Nathalie Handal. I was a little surprised to realise that it had not once crossed my mind that hitherto, all the Arabic poetry I'd read had been written by men, and also that I had not once reflected on this fact.

So, here is the first of hopefully several poems by Arab women to be posted here.

According to the anthology,
"Egyptian women writers have always played an active role in the growth and evolution of the literary scene, and they continue to do so; and poetry written by Egyptian women poets continues to flourish."
Fatma Kandil was born in Cairo in 1958. A well-known new generation poet and short story writer, she also edits a journal of literary criticism, Fosoul (فصول).


المفاتيح التي لا تفتح الأبواب
هي المفاتيح التي تغلق الأبواب
والمفاتيح المشنوقة في السلاسل
لا تملك إلا دراما الرنين
لكن المفتاح الذي يموت في جيبي
يذكرني بأنه قد آن الوقت لكي أكون إمرأة عاقلة ، تسكن بيتا
بلا مفاتيح . . . . بلا أبواب

The keys that open doors
are the keys that close them,
and the keys strangled in chains
have nothing but the drama of tinkling.
But the key that dies in my pocket
reminds me it is time
that i became a reasonable woman
who lives in a house
without keys, without doors.

Translation by Khaled Mattawa

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ayat al-Qurmezi

Ayat al-Qurmezi is a 20 year-old Bahraini student recently jailed for a year for reciting poems critical of Bahrain's rulers. Read more about it here or watch her at work below:

Friday, 10 June 2011

On Wishes - Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish is one of the most well-known Arab poets. He was born in 1941 in Palestine, in the village of Birwa, which was destroyed in 1948. His family then settled in Galilee. He received little formal education. His first volume of poetry, 'Birds without Wings', was published in 1960. In 1971 Darwish left the country and moved first to Cairo, becoming a contributor to the newspaper Al-Ahram.The political question of the Palestinian homeland forms the subject-matter of most of Darwish's poetry. As Denys Johnson-Davies explains in the introduction to 'The Music of Human Flesh', a compilation of translated Darwish poems, 'the key to an understanding of his poetry is that it consists largely of an extended and desperate love affair with his lost homeland. However unsatisfactory and painful the love affair, however hopeless of consummation, he has no choice but to continue with it.'

Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a seller of bread in Algiers
     That I might sing with a rebel.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a herdsman in the Yemen
     That I might sing to the shudderings of time.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I were a cafe waiter in Havana
     That I might sing the victories of sorrowing women.
Don’t say to me:
     Would I worked as a young laborer in Aswan
     That I might sing to the rocks.

My friend,
The Nile will not flow into the Volga,
Nor the Congo or the Jordan into the Euphrates.
Each river has its source, its course, its life.
My friend, our land is not barren.
Each land has its time for being born,
Each dawn a date with a rebel.

 عن الأمنيات

لا تقل لي:
ليتني بائع خبر في الجزائر
لأغني مع ثائر!
لا تقل لي:
ليتني راعي مواشٍ في اليمن
لأغني لانتفاضات الزمن
لا تقل لي:
ليتني عامل مقهى في هافانا
لأغني لانتصارات الحزانى!
لا تقل لي:
ليتني أعمل في أسوان حمّالاً صغير
لأغني للصخور
يا صديقي! لن يصب النيل في الفولغا
ولا الكونغو، ولا الأردن، في نهر الفرات!
كل نهر، وله نبع... ومجرى... وحياة!
يا صديقي!... أرضنا ليست بعاقر
كل أرض، ولها ميلادها
كل فجر، وله موعد ثائر!

Translation by Denys Johnson-Davies

The poem was set to music in the 1980s by a Palestinian group, Sabreen.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

My Angry Cat - Nizar Qabbani (1961)

You're repeating yourself
for the twentieth time.
Is there another man in my life?
Yes. Yes. What did you think?
Even graveyards have visitors.
There are, my dear sir,
a lot of men out there,
and no garden is ever devoid of birds.
You're just an experience I had,
and here I am,
tired and bored from this experience,
out from under your spell.
I'm cured of all
my weakness and gullibility.
Niceties do, after all, always end.
You love me!
There you go again,
dredging up all that ancient history.
And since when did you ever show
the slightest interest in me
outside the contour of my hips?
Where does this sudden gush of love come from?
I was never anything more
than a forsaken chair
among your expensive furniture,
a garden you chose to raze
without shame or repentance.
Why are you staring at my breasts
as if you owned them?
And why do you weep as if you
stood before a lost kingdom?
Your glorious kingdom, dear sir,
has just crumbled.
There. I've settled my score
in an instant.
You tell me now
who's losing the game.
I opened myself to you
like the Garden of Eden,
gave you all the sweet fruit
and green grass you desired.
Today I offer you
neither heaven nor hell.
This is what you get
for acting the ungrateful.
You faithless. If you'd only treated me
like a human being - just once -
this other man wouldn't exist.

 قطــــــتي الغضبى

للمرة العشرين ..... كررتها
"هل في حياتي رجل اخر ؟؟"
نعم ..نعم .. فهل تصورتني
مقبرة ليس لها زائر

مااكثر الرجال ..ياسيدي
لاروضة إلا لها طائر

تجربة كانت .. وها أنني
نجوت من سحرك ياساحر
شفيت من ضعفي ومن طيبتي
فطيبة النفس لها اخر
تحبني !! ليتك ماقلتها
هذا حديث غابر..غابر
منذ متى ؟ اصبحت تهتم بي
منذ متى هذا الهواى الغامر ؟
هل كنت إلا مقعدا مهملا
يضمه اثاثك الفاخر؟
مزرعة نهبت خيراتها
لاذمة تنهي ولا زاجر
ترنو الى مفاتني مثلما
يرنو الى امواله التاجر
يا أيها الباكي على ملكه
لقد تداعى ملكك الزاهر
حسابي القديم .. صفيته
بلحظة . فمن بنا الخاسر ؟
كانت لك الجنات مفتوحة
ثمارها .. وعشبها الناضر
واليوم .. لا نار ولا جنة
هذا جزاء الكفر ياكافر

لو كنت انسانا معي مرة
 ماكان هذا الرجل الاخر

Translation by Nayef al-Kalali

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Child Scribbles - Nizar Qabbani

My fault, my greatest fault,
O sea-eyed princess,
was to love you
as a child loves.
(The greatest lovers,
after all, are children)

My first mistake
(and not my last)
was to live
in the taste of wonder
ready to be amazed
by the simple span
of night and day,

and ready for every woman
I loved to break me
into a thousand pieces to make
me an open city,
and to leave me behind her
as dust.

My weakness was to see
the world with the logic of a child.

And my mistake was dragging
love out of its cave into the open air,
making my breast
an open church for all lovers.

 خربشات طفولية

خطيئتي الكبيرة الكبيره
أني ، يا بحرية العينين ، يا أميره
أحب كالأطفال
وأكتب الشعر على طريقة الأطفال
فأشهر العشاق يا حبيبتي
كانوا من الأطفال
وأجمل الأشعار ، يا حبيبتي  
ألفها الأطفال ..
خطيئتي الأولى وليست أبداً خطيئتي الأخيره
أني أعيش دائماً بحالة انبهار
وأني مهيأ للعشق يا حبيبتي
على امتداد الليل والنهار ..
وأن كل امرأة أحبها ..
تكسرني عشرين ألف قطعة
تجعلني مدينة مفتوحة ..
تتركني - وراءها - غبار
خطيئتي ..
أني أرى العالم يا صديقتي
بمنطق الصغار

خطيئتي ..
أني نقلت الحب من كهوفه
إلى الهواء الطلق
وأن صدري صار يا حبيبتي
كنيسة مفتوحة لكل أهل العشق .. 

Translated by Lena Jayyusi and Diana Der Hovanessian

This is in fact an extract (all I can find in translation) from a longer poem. The Arabic has been posted here in an edited version so as to fit the translation and avoid confusion (a shame, I know!). The full poem can be viewed by clicking here.

If you're a fan of all things kitsch, check out this youtube video of the poem.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

On Love - Khalil Gibran (The Prophet)

Forgive me, perhaps I'm cheating a bit here, because the original text of The Prophet was of course written in English, and because despite Gibran's poetic writing style, the book is made up of 'poetic essays' rather than 'poems'. My reasoning, therefore, is that it's just too good to leave out, that Gibran is Lebanese, and that students of Arabic might find this a more enjoyable way to learn some new vocabulary than spending another lonely hour with the Hans Wehr dictionary.


إذا المحبة أومت إليكم فاتبعوها,
وإن كانت مسالكها صعبة متحدرة.
إذا ضمتكم بجناحيها فأطيعوها,
وإن جرحكم السييف المستور بين ريشها.
إذا المحبة خاطبتكم فصدقوها,
وإن عطل صوتها أحلامكم وبددها كما تجعل الريح الشمالية البستان قاعاً صفصفاً.
لأنه كما أن المحبة تكللكم, فهي أيضا تصلبكم.
وكما تعمل على نموكم, هكذا تعلمكم وتستأصل الفاسد منكم.
وكما ترتفع إلى أعلى شجرة حياتكم فتعانق أغصانها اللطيفة المرتعشة أمام وجه الشمس,
هكذا تنحدر إلى جذورها الملتصقة بالتراب وتهزها في سكينة الليل.
المحبة تضمكم إلى قلبها كأغمار حنطة.
المحبة على بيادرها تدرسكم لتظهر عريكم.
المحبة تغربلكم لتحرركم من قشوركم.
المحبة تطحنكم فتجعلكم كالثلج أنقياء.
المحبة تعجنكم بدموعها حتى تلينوا,
ثم تعدكم لنارها المقدسة, لكي تصيروا خبزاً مقدساً يقرّب على مائدة الرب المقدسة.
كل هذا تصنعه بكم لكي تدركوا أسرار قلوبكم, فتصبحوا بهذا الإدراك جزءاً من قلب الحياة.
غير أنكم إذا خفتم, وقصرتم سعيكم على الطمأنبنة واللذة في المحبة.
فالأجدر بكم أن تستروا عريكم وتخرجوا من بيدر المحبة إلى العالم البعيد حيثما تضحكون, ولكن ليس كل ضحككم; وتبكون, ولكن ليس كل ما في ماقيكم من الدموع.
المحبة لا تعطي إلا ذاتها, المحبة لا تأخذ إلا من ذاتها.
لا تملك المحبة شيئاً, ولا تريد أن أحد يملكها.
لأن المحبة مكتفية بالمحبة.
أما أنت إذا أحببت فلا تقل: "أن الله في قلبي", بل قل بالأحرى: "أنا في قلب الله".
ولا يخطر لك البتة أنك تستطيع أن تتسلط على مسالك المحبة, لأن المحبة إن رأت فيك استحقاقاً لنعمتها, تتسلط هي على مسالكك.
والمحبة لا رغبة لها إلا في أن تكمل نفسها.
ولكن, إذا أحببت, وكان لا بد من أن تكون لك رغبات خاصة بك, فلتكن هذه رغباتك:
أن تذوب وتكون كجدول متدفق يشنف آذان الليل بأنغامه.
أن تخبر الآلام التي في العطف المتناهي.
أن يجرحك إدراكك الحقيقي للمحبة في حبة قلبك, وأن تنزف دماؤك وأنت راض مغتبط.
أن تنهض عند الفجر بقلب مجنح خفوق, قتؤدي واجب الشكر ملتمساً يوم محبة آخر.
أن تستريح عند الظهيرة وتناخي نفسك بوجد المحبة.
أن تعود إلى منزلك عند المساء شاكراً:
فتنام حينئذ والصلاة لأجل من أحببت تتردد في قلبك, وأنشودة الحمد والثناء مرتمسة على شفتيك.

 Love Beckoning (original illustration)

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.