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Four Poems from Syria

posted May 10, 2014, 11:13 AM by Almohajer Aljadeed
Written By: Muhammad al-Maghout
(1934- April 3, 2006) / Translated By: Reda Mansour

Muhammad al-Maghout is a poet, playwright, and columnist, born in 1934 in al-Salamiyaa, Syria. His best collections  are: -- Huzn fi Daw' al-Qamar [Sadness in Moonlight, 1959], Ghurfa bi-malayin al-Judran [A Room with Millions of Walls, 1964] and al-Farah laysa Mihnati [Joy is not my Profession, 1970], and was the first modern Arab poet to bring attention to the colourful complexities of the simple life.  He introduced Arabic poetics to current and newly-coined words, sometimes even slang-words juxtaposed in simple phrases creating a cadence previously unknown. Written during his exile in Beirut, his poetry -- which is among the pioneer works of non-metrical Arabic free verse -- is a cry in the jungle of language against the ruthless world of exile. He presented a new vision of life that was an access to the unknown for new generations of poets, and is still an influential force in modern Arab poetry. He has also several plays, among them; The Hunchbacked Bird (1967), The Clown (1974), a novel, The Seesaw (1991), and ten collections of his satirical articles. Since 1970 Al-Maghut has published no new poems, but poetry still remains the hidden passion of this clear-sighted man, as he says himself: "To be a great poet in the Arab world, one must be sincere; to be sincere one must be a free man; to be free one must live; and to live one must keep mum . . . You sicken me, poetry, you immortal and divine

To A Tourist

Here I sit – equidistant
between the innocence of childhood
and the decline of old age
Tourist – help me see – I need
your binoculars
What calls for my attention – I cannot fathom
I, a poet from the East

Your white scarf – place it on the sidewalk
Please sit at my side as the rain – soft as the yellow sun
Soothes – a balm for the soul.

Guides and maps are impotent
They are unable to help you
Your writing do nothing for you
as time winds down like a cheap watch

Peasants of multiple decades
deliver folk wisdom
Just two quatrains will deliver in a folk song
the history of the east

The Tattoo

This the third hour of the twentieth century
Corpses everywhere in this hollow land
pedestrians crying tears of hopelessness
Watch as I lie down in the middle of the street
I resemble an old Bedouin
who lives with bars of steel

Policemen victimize demonstrators who in vain seek justice
Watch as I write in the dark
My pen and my tears are now one.
My pen is impotent but still i write – words as hollow as a life without hopelessness

Prison bars seek what i no longer am
as my pen scribbles like a child with language hiding in the dark
Where does this fear originate? When will it be no more?
My bones are old; my hopes mock me like blood losing its redness

My love – in vain I try to restore my courage even my misery


The Aroma of bread
Or the scent of nations on travelers’ clothes

In my finest dress- like a lover
Anticipating my first date
Flooded with excitement.

Catching sight of her (the revolution) my, soul sings
A song of enchantment and young love

Evenings I plan to accompany her
To both alleys and country sides
Where I can open my heart and fill her
With all that I am and wish to be.
Until sleep overtakes her
Like a grandmother by a fire place.

But suppose she fails to come.
Then sorrow will assault me
And hope hide among the trees
And I will curse the heavens.


Poetry no longer becomes me
I see Lebanon Burning
I seek escape from this conflagration
What can one do when his nation is collapsing
A village girl can do me no good
Only collapse I see

Poetry hides its light from my sight
An unknown girl is seeking my love
or is it the love of all?
The mountains swell with passion
in the desert of my days

I am not your typical citizen
My words fail and mock my efforts
I – a ruthless eagle not knowing what
to do
Arabs skirt to and from lost among the mountains
their voices of sadness weigh on me
Graves of the unknown mar the land
My eyes of treachery stare in blindness
My brothers are now unknown to me
Lebanon – nation hiding her treasures from me
as women captive and alone shed tears on lonely crags.

My nation is voiceless
all of my efforts futile
How can I write poems of trees and other treasures of nature
My words fade like ice in temperature of ultimate heat
Days of gladness – are they no more?
A bullet in my throat my only answer
(Beirut 1958)