Two Poems by Kamal Kheir Beik, tr. Salma Harland

We waited for a thousand years

Just to see the dry branches blossom. He obtained his PhD from the University of Geneva in 1972, and his dissertation, Modernity in Contemporary Arabic Poetry, was first published in French in 1978 and later translated and published in Arabic in 1982. Beik also deconstructed classical and neoclassical Arabic poetic forms. Oh God, if only you would rid me of my memory! We both fell… as the caravan moved on. How ignorant, foolish, and misguided I was! In his poems, Beik dissected and criticised grand narratives, such as Arabism and nationalism. Although Beik did not publish any further collections between 1965 and the day of his assassination, he never stopped composing poetry. It presents a comprehensive critical multi-faceted overview of the modern Arabic poem with a specific focus on the production of Shi’r magazine. When is tomorrow? in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Sussex, a PGCert in Translation and Interpreting from the American University in Cairo, and a BA in Translation from October 6 University. A story circulated by his friends holds that a paper was found in his bloody shirt, which contained a last, unfinished, poem. Two of his poems:


By Kamal Kheir Beik

Translated by Salma Harland

He was once a cloud, like me, before he poured down

The desert of barren faces. She was also a recipient of the Chancellor’s Postgraduate International Scholarship from the University of Sussex and two Academic Excellence Scholarships from October 6 University. Salma Harland

Syrian poet and political dissident Kamal Kheir Beik– born in 1935 in Masyaf, Syria and assassinated on November 5 1980 in Beirut — was a lesser-known pioneer of Arabic free verse:

By Salma Harland

Kamal Kheir Beik was 45 when he was assassinated for his political views during the civil war in Beirut. Only then did we come to know,

Also accidentally, that when the caravan 

Passed under us

They rushed, and hid in the tents. Two Poems by Kamal Kheir Beik, tr. Her literary translations (from and into English and Arabic) have appeared or are forthcoming in ArabLit Quarterly, Jadaliyya, Banipal, Eurolitkrant, Romman Magazine, Turjoman, and Egyptian Researchers. *


المجد لي؟

المجد للسجان، للحشرات تعبث بي

لشتائم تنهال كالسحب

المجد للجدران هازئة

مزروعة بالرعب والغضب

وعوالمي البيضاء غارقة

بالخيبة الرقطاء والعتب

وعوالمي تنهار بين يدي

تنهار مثل تساقط الشهب

وأدور.. I have inwrought it with diamond and gold. 

I have long exalted their revolution;

I have trembled with indignation

And consumed myself to illuminate their darkness;

My blood has long sung for them. His assassination—alongside two young colleagues from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Bashir Obeid and Nahia Bijani—remains a mystery to this day. I look about… Where am I? Luckily, his close friends (Syrian poet Adunis, Lebanese poet Ghassan Matar, and Lebanese singer Makhoul Qassouf) had held onto most of these poems — which he used to write down on cigarette packs and snippets of paper — and later published three more of his poetry collections: A Notebook of Absence, Farwell to Poetry, and Rivers Cannot Swim in the Sea. When he was only 15, he composed his own poetical contrafactions (mu’āraḍāt) of the poetry of Muhammad Sulayman al-Ahmad (1903–1981), commonly known as Badawi al-Jabal, before fully taking to free verse in 1965. As Syrian poet Hussain bin Hamza says, Beik’s revolutionary contributions to Arabic free verse are on a par with Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, Nazik al-Malaika, and Abd’l-Wahhab al-Bayati. In 1965, he pseudonymously published his second poetry collection, Roaring Demonstrations, under the name Kamal Mohamed, before fully dedicating himself to political activism. When they finally yielded their fruit, 

We bloomed flowers that tell our story,

Budding leaves that rustle

How we accidentally became the rain

Some thousand years ago,

How we fell 

Down the desert of barren faces. *


كان مثلي غيمة ثم انهمر

فوق صحراء الوجوه القاحلة

وتساقطنا معاً … في طريق القافلة

وانتظرنا ألف عام

كي نرى فوق الغصون الراحلة

بعثنا، عبر الثمر

زهرة تنبئ عنا

برعماً يهمس أنا

صدفة، من ألف عام، قد تقمصنا المطر


فوق صحراء الوجوه القاحلة،


صدفة، أيضا، بأن القافلة

حين مرت من تحتنا

هرعت، واختبأت تحت الخيام


The Memory

By Kamal Kheir Beik

Translated by Salma Harland

Glory be to me? Understandably, his poetry was deeply impacted by the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, which evoked an overwhelming sense of disillusionment and despair. She holds an M.A. His first collection of poems, The Volcano, was published pseudonymously under the name Cadmus in 1960 when he was only 25 years old. Glory be to the scornful walls

Imprinted with horror and rage

And to my white realms, plagued 

With disappointment and reproach,

Slipping through my hands

Like shooting stars. It read: “By my horse / I laid dead on the pavement, homeland slipping away.”

Although born in Syria, Beik lived most of his life in exile, travelling between Lebanon, Switzerland, Australia, and France (where he survived several assassination attempts). أين أنا؟ وأين غد؟

عمرته بالماس والذهب

يا طول ما مجدت ثورتهم

وحرقت في ظلمائهم غضبي

يا طول ما غنى دمي لهم

يا رب لو تغتال ذاكرتي

كم كنت غرّا، جاهلا، وغبي

Salma Harland is an Egyptian-born, UK-based translator and academic researcher. Glory be to the jailer, to the insects tampering with my body,

To the downpour of insults clouding me.