On World Poetry Day: A Kaleidoscope of 21 Arabic Poems in Translation

Sinan Antoon

From the poem:
There is a street somewhere
lined with houses
Washed by the whiteness of memory
one ceiling after another
I move about inside them
Storming like a night
Fashioning stairs out of my words
Voices too faint to be heard by anyone

14) “At Kerak Citadel,” Saadi Youssef, tr. 13) “The Dream of Houses,” Sargon Boulus (1944-2007), tr. He crunched his fangs, in whose rows lurked death,
Like the crunching of one shivering from the cold,
Teeth chattering. Indian ink on paper, 92 x 64 cm. I want to hear what silence is saying
Perhaps it is saying: come! Courtesy Galerie Claude Lemand, Paris. Where are those we loved,
where have their dark-white camels gone? Over there,
cutting through the desert haze. Still
others wanted to be more contemporary in expressing a
femininity that is difficult to pass through with ease: some
wrote about a blonde tourist who rolls up her pants and
wades in a captivating mirage, or an archeologist who
impersonates at night the images of ancient queens, or a
student of history whose name is that of a famous Arabic
lover, as she guides a team of students like a gazelle,
ascending to el-Deir. Agha Shahid Ali with Ahmad Dallal
It opens:
“10. The
sensory and the abstract merge, how wondrous, in ink. Also read this by Sinan Antoon. Elliott Colla
From the poem:
Always, at sunset, the castle walls begin to breathe. Yes, we realize this poetry is not in proper chronological order, and that there are actually 23 poems:
Al-Mu’allaqat 3, 1978. I terrified him when I appeared & the terror took his wings high & away. Emily Drumsta
In Karrada at night, wind and rain before dawn,
when the dark is a roof or a drape never drawn,
when the night’s at its peak and the dark’s full of rain,
and the wet silence roils like a fierce hurricane,
the lament of the wind fills the deserted street,
the arcades groan in pain, and the lamps softly weep. Here, Kareem James Abu-Zeid’s reads from his forthcoming translation of Imru al-Qays, on SoundCloud. In the songs there are windows: enough for blossoms to explode. But then suddenly when night falls, the war comes back. There is wine in our clay jars for the feast after us. Anton Shammas
From the poem:
1
Shattered places
and the breeze
of dawn wakes up on me
2
My shoulder still in slumber
A cloud bowing
to the flicker of infinity
20) “Celebration,” Iman Mersal, tr. Fady Joudah, in A Map of Signs and Scents: New and Selected Poems, 1979-2014
From the excerpt:
All who wrote about Petra imagined it as female. Also 21) “Anatomy of the Rose,” Soukaina Habiballah, tr. The playful thing. J.E. 8) “Cure Your Slavery with Patience,” Saniyah Saleh (1939-1995), tr. I brought out Colt—a stallion of brute power and pedigree. Marilyn Hacker
Cure your slavery with patience
and prayers
or so I was told
Cure your oppression and memory with sleep
as for me
I sat under the high, thorny trees
until they flowered

9) “Tattoo,”   Muhammad al-Mahgut   (1934-2006), tr. Robyn Creswell  
From the poem:
The thread of the story fell to the ground, so I went down on my hands and knees to hunt for it. 11)   From   “Eleven Stars Over Andalusia,” by Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), tr. Sometimes it seems strange to me when I read it or hear it, or it bores me & I detest it. As if children snickered in the vineyard bowers,
The song of the rain
Rippled the silence of birds in the trees… I want from love only the beginning”
I want from love only the beginning. A pagan
goddess like the morning star, a queen in a golden chariot
pulled by four horses, a young shepherdess guiding a herd of
goats, a Bedouin woman weaving an endless mat, a queen
daughter of a queen. 7) “To A Girl Sleeping in the Street,” Nazik al-Malaika (1923-2007), tr. Today is World Poetry Day — and the birthday of Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) — and thus ArabLit will take an exceptionally eclectic & arguably nonsense tour through the entire history of Arabic poetry in English translation, based on what’s available free online in at least a good (and preferably fantastic) translation. © Dia Al-Azzawi. Michael Sells

At the way stations
stay. Then I tie cowrie shells to her collar
to repel the harm of evil eyes. Kareem James Abu-Zeid. Grieve over the ruins. 19) “Rose of Dust,” Mohammed Bennis, tr. 12) “Celebrating Childhood,” Adonis, tr. And I want to follow it
17) “The outstretched hand,” Mohab Nasr, tr. Each day, before I feed my family, I see that she gets
our choicest meats and purest waters. Lena Jayyusi and Christopher Middleton
It is as if archways of mist drank the clouds
And drop by drop dissolved in the rain… Sinan Antoon
Lower your voice please! He doesn’t differentiate between all of us who are called human; it’s the same whether it’s me or someone else since his shining eyes don’t feel safe with any of us. The feminine metaphor is ready at
the tips of their pens, just as I did in discussing el-Siq. Ask the meadow grounds,
now desolate, this question. Fire’s energy coursed
Through his tight-twist, taut-rope joints
He was sent to earth by night clouds guided by a rising star
Showered with their gifts
Blessed by clouds black with rain
In constant downpours. Kareem James Abu-Zeid
From the poem:
When the rose perceived the distance
between itself and the earth,
it brought forth its thorns. Now my mouth, bared wide in a smile,
            Is the wide mouth of a red wound, untoothed,
And my teeth like full-bodied girls — mentioned
            Fondly in speech but kept hidden, protected. Still, it is possible for the sensory
metaphor to flip into a Sufi ramble within one range. Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. 18) From “Petra,” by Amjad Nasser, tr. 5) “Untitled,” Abu Amir al-Fadl ibn Ismail al-Tamimi al-Jurjani (11th century CE), tr. When she sees
my face contorted in a frown,
sometimes she sings, sometimes she dances,
sparing no exertion for my diversion’s sake. Creased by hunger, his resolve had hardened:
Nothing but bones, spirit and hide. Tarif Khalidi
Suddenly, a grey wolf! More by Mersal. I leave jasmine in the vase; I leave my young heart
in my mother’s cupboard; I leave my dream, laughing, in water;
I leave the dawn in the honey of the figs; I leave my day and my yesterday
in the passage to the square of the Orange where doves fly. 1) “Untitled,” Imru al-Qays, (501-565), tr. Take me back to the house of my father
They took her back
And when she made to scream again
The night had passed
And the men had gone to work. A guard frowns as he passes with trembling steps,
lightning shows his thin frame, but shadows intercept. The war is over—it has been two or twenty centuries now. His legs were thinner than the line, weak but they served his needs well. The abstract has a
roothold in the sensory, perhaps a drip in the urns of utmost
desire, the impossible desire, drop by drop, until vanishing. Yes, we’ve heard of Mutanabbi. Eye-catching, forepart and ribs upturned,
Limbs at his sides lanky, spindly,
Dragging behind him a rope-like tail,
His spine crooked, bent like a bow. 6) From “The Translation of Desires,” Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), tr. David Larsen

I have a cat whose foot-pads I dye with henna
before I put henna on my own newborns. Khaled Mattawa
From the poem:

Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies. You can find much more Darwish on his birthday post. Drop, drop, the rain
Drip
Before you curse my choice of translation (although go ahead!), read Ghareeb Iskander’s criticism of the available versions. Robin Moger
From the poem:
My sister screamed in the night
Take me to my brother’s house
And there she screamed that same night
No no! Yes, there’s too much emphasis on modern poetry. 2) “Three Hunting Poems,” Abu Nuwas (756-813/14), tr. He drank from their bounty. 21) “The Scream,” Ahmed Yamani, tr. 3)   “The Poet and the Wolf,” al-Buhturi (820-897), tr. 4) “An Elegy,”   Abu Ala’a al-Ma‘arri (973-1057), tr. Robin Moger
An arm is severed
But the past remains there,
Like a void in my sleeve
On the verge of greeting someone. This was at one of those patriotic celebrations, and all I saw were imported shoes and jackboots. When the rose realized
that a single leg
couldn’t take it anywhere,
that it was voiceless
and mostly had no echo,
it thought of fragrance. Soldiers in their towers light their candle, far from the gusting wind
And alone, they cry to themselves. We can also recommend Michael Sells’ translation, but there doesn’t seem to be an excerpt online. Montgomery
Horse
Rays lit up the sky
Black night struck camp—
Proof it was day. Sinan Antoon
From the poem:
After months of pain
I took x-rays of my chest
The images astonished me:
Moroccans dancing
A Jew from my childhood
is selling fabric in an alley
Charlie Chaplin is sitting with my father in the guestroom
Where father hid his clean dinars
16) “Lower Your Voice,”   Wadie Saleh, tr. Sinan Antoon
Now
At the third hour of the twentieth century
Where nothing separates the corpses
from pedestrians’ shoes
except asphalt
I will lie down in the middle of the street
like a bedouin sheikh
and will not get up
until all the prison bars and suspects’ files of the world
are gathered and placed before me
so I can chew on them
like a camel on the open road
Until all the batons of the police and protesters
escape from grips
and go back (once again)
budding branches in their forests
10) “Rain Song,” by   Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (1926-1964), tr. But I hate it that I keep watch over the name I was given to capture me, that I drag it & it drags me, and that it’s stuck to my face & has become part of my voice. Doves patch,
over the squares of my Granada, this day’s shirt. Kevin Blankinship
  I scorn delight, even the flashy grin of a pale storm-cloud –
            Let hazy skies rain only a sneer! Limbs grew strong. Haji and Stephen Watts, in   A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know
From the poem:
The sparrow that flew down from the washing-line recognized me without knowing my name. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Translating from the Arabic: Marilyn Hacker and Lina Mounzer in ConversationCategories: poetry Also 21) “March Light,” Golan Haji, tr. Like everyone I have spent a long time imprisoning myself in my name, since all of us are buried alive, each in his own : a grave of fear & delight & misunderstanding. More translations of al-Sayyab here. 15) “Untitled,” Salah Faik, tr.