I’ve written about this before, but the Middle Eastern poet is someone rather special in Middle Eastern society. Despite some Quranic consternation of poets, there’s a respect levied at them that I yearn to feel here, in Australia.
I suspect the difference is that Arabic is a playful and lyrical language, lending itself to poetry more readily than the stripped to the bones, business-like English that we have today. Unlike ‘stable’ countries like Australia, the Middle East is in dire need of a revolution, and the Middle Eastern poet is often at the forefront, carrying the revolutionary flag. Their words become anthems that leading protesters to a battle with the status quo, flaming the fans of desire for change, for a better life and a better leadership.
Rumi, Gibran Khalil Gibran and Mahmoud Darwish obviously spring to mind for the Western reader, but there are many, many more (try arablit for the latest in Arabic literature/poetry).
One of the most well respected of Middle Eastern poets is the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). He was one of the founding fathers of ‘modern’ Arabic poetry and after the suicide of his sister, he became one of the most outspoken feminists in the Arab world.
He was and continues to be well known for his sensual and often erotic romantic poetry.
Here’s a translation of one of my favourite pieces of his. Hope you enjoy!
There are women who touch the burning love of the soul, cross your life like a beautiful musical phrase, that the heart keep humming for years after separating from them. And others without an ending to the chorus, and as they’re leaving you wonder, is there still more or not. And there are from who you get only a single glimpse of a memory, like a single note of a piano leaving you hanging for a look. And others like dissonances, that you can’t tune, who don’t leave until they wreck the harmony all the creatures around you. And then, there is that woman, simple as a flute, close as a violin, elegant in black as a piano, warm as an oud. She is all the instruments in a woman. She is a philharmonic symphony of desire, but even though you won’t play any of those instruments in her. She is your impossible rhythm.
— Nizar Qabbani