Prefatory Essay
The following is a translation of Yusuf al-Khal's "al-Judhur" ("The Roots") which appeared in his 1958 collection al-Bi'r al-Mahjura (The De­serted Well) out of Dar Majallat Shi'r.
Yusuf al-Khal was born in 1917 in Tripoli, Lebanon. He read literature and philosophy at the American University in Beirut and started teaching there in 1944. In 1948 he came to the United States to work for the Unit­ed Nations and returned to the American University in 1955. In 1957 he founded Shi’r magazine and the press Dar Majallat Shi'r which published the works of poets associated with his magazine and movement, the most prominent of which were al-Khal himself and Adonis. In addition to al-Bi'r he has published these four collections of poetry:
al-Hurriya. (Freedom), Beirut 1944
al-Ard al-Kharab (The Ruined Earth), Beirut 1958
Qasd'id fi'l-Araba’in (Poems in the Forties), Beirut 1960
al-Amal ash-Shi’riyya al-Kamila 1938-1968 (Complete Poetic Works),
Beirut 1973
Hirudtiya (Herod), New York 1953
and the following translations:
Diwan ash-Shi’r al-Amriki (An Anthology of American Poetry), Beirut 1958 Robert Frost, Beirut 1962
an-Nabi, (The Prophet by Khalil Gibran), Beirut 1968
It must be noted that al-Khal was a follower of Antun Sa’adeh. THE ROOTS was inspired by Sa’adeh’s style of thinking and touches pretty much on the themes that Sa’adeh aroused.


In the summertime the roots ask about
their fate, and the river answers not.
Roots so glorious, and yet the river answers not:
it lies choked in the mountain springs or
usurped by the clay in the noonday heat.
Who thcn shall answer these roots about
their fate? Who shall embrace and protect them in the autumntime,
who shall restrain from them the harshness of winter, I wonder?

***

The leaves that whimper are a body
and the secret is in the roots.
And in the roots is our yesterday,
and in the roots is our tomorrow:
here the fruits are dates and oranges, and there,
grapes that the cupbearer presses into wine;
and where the locusts abound there is no fruit, just pebbles.
In vain do we scream like the winds, the hot winds
that come from their origin and just as hot depart.
And we, stranger-friend, cultivate and restore the moist earth.
The soil is to us a home-womb and a shroud,
and in the earth the roots wither as they ascend,
and the earth is then a birthplace, a harvest.
Behold Nineveh!
***
The sign, screaming, took me by surprise: behold Nineveh!
I once made out in the engravings
the face of my friend. I touched it with the palm of my hand
saying: "here the echo is prolonged.
And the notion that endures is a droplet,
a droplet that the soil drinks,
that the torrents embrace, ceaseless.
What was does not become,
the owl does not screech in its dwelling
and the raven does not hover around it.
Every time is eternal,

and every journey is a return."
And wherever I turned were etchings
carved by time, ceaseless. Not a thing ceases in this place:

***

My grandmother says her grandson is like his grandfather:
he walks about waving his hand in the air,
and prefers to turn in early,
and the dawn, when he awakens, is a forest
of spears around his eyelids.
And in Damascus my eyes caught sight of Sennacherib
cowering, death beneath his pavilions,
on the way a thousand and one specters,
and over here the faces are earthenware, long-necked bottles,
and the obedient seal-ring is rusty,
and the carpets are winds transformed into a bird,7
into a wheel that turns while time is solitary,
and Shahrazad is still carrying on life
here as a fairytale. And Shahrazad is a body
like the leaves that whimper, a body
and the secret is in the roots.

***

And in vain we scream like the winds, the hot winds
that come from their origin and just as hot depart.
The soil is for us a home-womb and a shroud,
and death alone is immortality.
My feet are in space and space
is fleeing, and I have no wing.
The sun does not warm me, and the winds
do not immerse my body.
Would that the one who hanged me there had drawn tight
around my neck, or rather would that he had nailed me.
Or rather, when I was ungrateful to my brother, would that he had
banished me. Here, here on the soil is my brow and in the soil is my step,
and my step is temples and cities
and a tear is sometimes the Euphrates and sometimes it is oceans,

and my step is blood and a kiss and my step is a prayer:

***

O Lord, summon me right here,
O Lord, summon me right here unto you, summon me
right here unto the soil: this star
that I fashioned is alien,
the lilies of the valley do not want it
nor do the yearlings in my enclosure want it
nor I, nor do I want it,
and you, you who willed me of
the soil, do not want it.

***

When I ascended the first mountain, who
taught me ascent, who helped me
to descend, who returned me
forcibly to the starting-place? Who, I wonder, induced me?
O Lord, summon me right here
O Lord, summon me right here unto the soil,
and the soil for us is a home-womb, a shroud
and the earth alone is immortality.
O my stranger-friend, we are a body
like the leaves that whimper, a body
and the secret is in the roots.
And right here the roots ask the soil
about their fate, and the river answers not.
In the summer it does not answer.
Then who, I wonder, shall answer these
roots about their fate, embrace and protect them
in autumntime, restrain from them
the harshness of wintertime and the spring is coming,
inevitably coming
from the graves and the fields, coming,
and death and life are one
and the earth alone is immortality.

*****
'THE ROOTS' by YUSUF AL-KHAL
Translated by SHAWKAT M. TOORAWA