A Poetic Tribute to the to the Popular
Revolutions in the Arab World
Anne Fairbairn AM
As tensions are increasing in the Middle East I feel that it is imperative to emphasize that the history of poetry in the area known as ‘the cradle of civilization’ goes back thousands of years.
I have studied in Baghdad, with the help of scholars, many cuneiform inscribed clay tablets some thousands of years old, about the history and the poetry of the area. There is little doubt in my mind that poetry transcends racial, religious and political differences, drawing people together in understanding. I have attended many poetry festivals, including the Al Mirbed poetry festival of Baghdad, and the Jerrast poetry festival over a number of years. At these festivals poets would attend from every Arab country, celebrating with great joy their shared enthusiasm for poetry, and some poets from overseas were also invited.
I have also been invited over many years to the Arab world to speak about Australian poetry at universities, where I learned a great deal from the academics about Arabic poetry. Those who have been particularly helpful were two Palestinians: Prof Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, at Baghdad University and Dr Hussam Al Kahatibe at Damascus University. Also, in Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah Al Faisal and Dr Ghazi Al Quasabi.
I have composed books of Australian poetry with academics at several universities. The work of a number of our poets was hugely appreciated, especially the poetry of Prof A.D. Hope and James Macauley and many Aboriginal song cycles ‘Feathers and the Horizons’.
The poet laureate in Baghdad Abdul Razak Abdul Wahed, who introduced me to the work of many Arab poets, was a Mandaen, the world’s oldest religion. I met Mother Theresa in his house in 1991. She certainly believed that poetry unites people spiritually, as did so many of the great Arab poets. Professor A. D Hope, when he launched my anthology of Arabic poetry in Canberra at the National Library, said that he believed that poetry reduces the differences that so sadly divide us to-day.
Hence, my efforts over many years to bring the magnificent poetry of the Arab world - both classical and modern - to lovers of poetry in Australia, as a symbol of the unity of the spirit of mankind, and because I believe that poetry is a symbol of that spirit.
I have now chosen the following poems which I have translated from Arabic. They include poems from various Arab states, which appear to be particularly troubled countries at the present time.
The City and I
This is me
and this is my city
The massive square .. walls are ridges
appearing and disappearing one behind the other.
A small leaf, caught up in the wind, spirals to the ground
and is lost along an alley way.
A shadow diminishes,
a shadow grows,
as I walk in the dull glow
of a curious street lamp.
Moved by the memory of a wistful song,
I begin to hum .. I stop.
Who are you, oh .. who are you?
The dumb watchman doesn't understand my story -
since I was kicked out
of my room today
I've been lost, without a name.
This is me and this is my city.
Ahmad Abd al-Mu'ti Hijazi (Egypt)
Doctors have achieved the impossible -
transplanting skulls and hearts and restoring rib-cages.
But when will the banner for the flnal vrctory be raised -
transplanting a conscience into minds devoid of conscience?
Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri (Iraq)
DROP OF SADNESS
All the fears of this world rest in my heart.
Who knows your frontiers, oh bird of fear?
Oh kingdom of fear, abode of suffering.
My love carries me;
I journey away from you
and I journey into you. What a cross is my journey, extending to the far corners of the earth.
Oh my heart.
Oh bird exhausted by flight
still dragging bruised wings this way and that
across the earth.
Oh treasury of fear.
Oh drop of sadness,
beating above the cross of the world.
Oh my heart!
Abd al-Razaq Abd al-Wahid (Iraq)
He asked "What's a palm tree?" so
I replied, giving deepest shade from the burning sun, with superb patience as barefooted blades
He asked "Who at your place slaughters these trees,
Is there no one among you burning with zeal
"They talk .. we talk .. that's all I can say,
"Motherhood and selfless charity,
an overflowing source of abundant beauty
crowd in to cut, burn and bury."
leaving them dry with a spring near by?
to stand up and protest publicly?"
but what's the use, no one listens today."
Abd al-Rahman Rafi' (Bahrain)
Silence they said ... but I'm not dead;
silence belongs to the lifeless.
The meaning of life is to speak and to act,
in our sacred struggle ahead.
While my heart beats and my tongue speaks,
silence is not for me.
A nightingale sings wherever it is,
in the highlands or the abyss;
this is the way I live my life,
in spite of adversity.
In darkest cages, I believe,
birds can sing joyfully.
Jbrahim al-Usta Umar (Libya)
Listen to the gale thundering across the mountains.
Listen to the protracted moaning of the forest.
Listen to all the birds in the darkness;
lost and wet in the torrential rain,
they're searching for shelter until morning.
Who will save them from the slap of the wind?
Open your skylight and look up at the face of the sky;
see it wearing a winter veil
as it hides in fear, behind the clouds.
The wind has blown out the stars.
Close your skylight in the face of the wind until morning.
Take refuge in me and sleep oh my darling love.
Salah Labaki (Lebanon)
EULOGY FOR AN INSIGNIFICANT MAN
He died .. the way he'd lived,
pitiful and trodden upon
like rubble in a graveyard.
His sallow death was sudden,
death upon death.
He had no family and no friends
for he'd never shared
the joys of childhood
so no one remained close during his youth.
He was always alone, bleeding like a passing rain-cloud,
as commonplace as any fly.
I knew him.
As I landed each morning in the lake of human suffering, I would see him,
while collecting in my skin bag
a few dust-edged crumbs, scattered by boys to dogs and fowls. Whenever I rejected a too filthy crust,
he would seize it, dust it on his sleeve, kiss it and swallow it, saying:
"In a world like this
insignificant men are blind to dirt in food and drink."
You ask, was he my friend?
How can there be friendship between travellers?
Why then, when I heard of his death,
did I weep?
Why did a sense of desolation remain with me for two nights?
Why do I write this eulogy?
Salah Abd al-Sabur (Egypt)
MOMENTS OF INSPIRATION
I feel the winds of Paradise
soon rhymes are stirring,
This one slips away, another departs in despair;
I scatter them across the world,
for when they touch my soul
I pour into my poems
to people the world with nations
dazed yet caring and joyful, l
Had I not known these symptoms
blowing through the depths of my soul;
ant-like in my mind
that one submits responding,
now this one's promising
in their fragrant innocence;
and I am deeply moved,
the essence of all dreams,
I surrender to my rhymes,
as I listen in peace or anger
of genius, I'd rush to a doctor.
Muhammad Mahmud al-Zubairi (Yemen)
Its ceiling is low;
between its walls
a warm eternity.
Shall I say, then, this is my home?
I have no other home.
I hove no other.
Samih al-Qasim (Palestine)