A Guide to Middle Eastern Poetry
If you haven't heard of Middle Eastern poetry before, don't worry! I'm about to introduce you to some of the great writers of the region. Whether you're a lover of ancient and modern poetry, or simply are looking to expand your horizons, you're in luck. I've included some of my favorites below: Saadi Youssef, Mahmoud Darwish, Taabbata Sharran, and Nizar Qabbani.
The Arab poet Saadi Youssef's works are a combination of free verse, lyricism, and tradition. His poems deal with humanity as a whole, social problems, and personal feelings, all while incorporating a traditional Arabic vocabulary. His poetry often makes use of popular rhythms and language innocence, making it sound near-folkloric.
Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef died of cancer in his home outside London on May 22, 2018. He was 79. His poetry explores contemporary Iraqi history as well as the hopes and sorrows of the Iraqi people. Saadi Youssef, a Basra native, was raised by his grandfather in rural Abul-Khasib. Since his teenage years, he had been writing poetry regularly. His poetry is an honest, intimate record of his people's collective experience.
The evocative imagery of Saadi's poems evokes a sense of place and time. Several of these poems were written after the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. While the poet remained in the country, his experiences are recalled. His enraged memories of the war-torn country are vividly evoked by his poetry. "At the bottom of the sea, a rock," for example, calls on God to give him wings to escape the rock. His refusal to speak to his adopted country, the "shiver" repeats itself throughout the poem, creating a convulsive motion.
Born in 1934 in a village near Basra, Youssef was an influential figure in twentieth and early twenty-first-century Arabic poetry. He studied at the Higher Teachers' Training Institute in Baghdad and earned a B.A. in Arabic and worked as a journalist for both the socialist and progressive media. Eventually, Saddam Hussein's rule forced him to leave Iraq and settle in France.
In The Butterfly's Burden, Mahmoud Darwish gathers three of his recent books in one volume. The collection includes poems from as early as 1986, and it will be a valuable addition to readers of Middle Eastern poetry. These poems reflect the complex political history of Palestine, the endless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the universal experience of exile. Darwish's works explore the concept of "lost Eden" as it applies to the Palestinian diaspora. The work unravels this image of paradise and reveals its ephemerality.
Darwish's work is a rare blend of the ancient and the modern, the mundane and the celestial. His poetry explores a balance between personal and public concerns and reveals them through imagery and metaphor. In doing so, he has had a profound influence on generations of Arab poets. While his work is rooted in Middle Eastern literature, his poetry has a broad appeal.
Darwish's poem first appeared in the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot in February 1988. A second translation by Smadar Peri appeared in Ma'ariv a few months later. The translation was strewn with inaccuracies. Still, the poem ignited a strong response in both the political and poetic realms. In fact, many people who read the poem leave with a new appreciation of the Palestinians and their struggles.
In 2002, Darwish published a single-poem volume, Halat hisar, Arabic for "state of siege." This book examined the repeated reoccupations of Ramallah and the Palestinians' isolation. Though the Palestinians were not granted a state, Darwish foresaw a future of coexistence with Israelis and other cultures. His work is often quoted in political and academic circles.
The poets Thabit ibn Jabr and Ta'abbata Sharran, or 'Sharra' and 'Taabbata' respectively, composed poems during pre-Islamic times in the Arabian Peninsula. His poems depict tribal warfare, hardships in the desert, and ghouls, among other themes. His work is preserved in two Arabic manuscripts: Mufaddaliyat and Hamasah.
The Arabic language is the most unblemished of all the languages and it has achieved supreme level of creativity in several genres and disciplines. Taabbata Sharran is an example of a poet who was a great poet of his day, and this article attempts to present the interior landscapes of his poems within their social milieu. The aim of the article is to study some of the appealing images of Al-Gafiah, the first poem in his collection.
Born in Damascus in 1923, Nizar Qabbani is the son of a merchant. He attended law school in his native city and later dabbled in poetry. His first published poetry collection, The Brunette Told Me, won the approval of a prominent education department politician. He later married Palestinian poet Zainab al-Rawi. Her death resulted in the loss of their two sons, Omar and Zainab.
The work of Nizar Qabbani reflects a critical view of authoritarianism in the Arab world. The Arab Spring brought a fresh resurgence of interest in his poetry. Protesting Syrian youth took inspiration from a famous line of his, "When will you go away?" The poem is timeless, and continues to be relevant today. Regardless of the time and place, Nizar Qabbani's poetry remains one of the most beautiful and profound in Arabic and Middle Eastern literature.
Qabbani's early poetry works focused on women, and the sensitivity of his themes was evident in his work. His first volume of verse, Childhood of a Breast, broke from the traditional Arab literature. His sister had committed suicide, and his work reflected his resentment of male chauvinism. He also advocated for women's social freedoms and created a publishing house in London.
While visiting Baghdad in 1969 to attend a poetry festival, Nizar fell in love with a young Iraqi woman. She was the daughter of an officer and had just started her first job. They were both active in the social scene, and Nizar's poems were picked up by several great singers in the Arab world. Nizar was a Damascus-born poet who wrote about all of the major themes of the time. Occasionally, his views annoyed the Arab authoritarian regime, but they remained relevant and powerful.
Antarah ibn Shaddad
A pre-Islamic Arab knight named Antarah ibn Shaddad al-Absi, or Antar, is one of the most famous poets in Middle Eastern history. One of his chief poems, the Mu'allaqt, is a collection of seven hanging odes that are said to have been suspended in the Kaaba. However, Antarah ibn Shaddad did not write this poetry just to entertain the people. In fact, he wrote poetry in Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew.
A prominent Arabian poet, Antarah was born to slave parents in the fifth century. His father was a respected warrior from the Banu Abs tribe, and his mother was an Ethiopian woman who was captured by the Arabs during a raid against Axum. The young Antarah was born into servitude and eventually fell in love with an Ethiopian woman named Zabuba, making him a famous poet.
While 'Antarah's poems often depict a war as a 'healing process', they also reflect the aftermath of war. In the first poem, the poet relates the eulogy for the'soul of the warrior' as being the only way to survive. The next poem is a summing-up of the battle, and the poet's own life after the war.
'Antarah ibn Shaddad, pre-Islamic Arab poet, is famous for writing poetry, notably the Mu'allaqt. His chief poem, 'Shah', is one of seven hanging odes, supposedly suspended in the Kaaba. The poem is a perfect example of the kind of poetry written by a warrior.