A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Good Poetry: Nizar Qabbani

I've just finished Breakable You, the latest novel by Brian Morton. I'm crazy about Morton, who reminds me a lot of Philip Roth. Like Roth, he frequently makes his characters novelists.

"I write about writers all the time because I have no imagination," Morton says. Speaking about the protagonist of Breakable You, he explains, "For a while I thought Adam was going to be a businessman, but I was so oppressed by the thought of doing research—you know, finding out about hedge funds—that I just gave up and made him a novelist."

Adam's son-in-law is a very intense and appealing Arab-American, traumatized by grief when he first meets Maud, but eventually redeemed by her love. At one point, he quotes a translated line from Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani: "The day I met you I tore up all my maps." That line alone is worth the book.

The full text of the translation reads:

The day I met you I tore up
all my maps

all my prophecies

like an Arab stallion I smelled the rain.

Qabbani wrote many poems which could be classified as love poems; many which could be classified as political poems. Also this intriguing piece, entitled Statement to the Reader (translation by Salman M. Hilmy):

I fill my pocket with stars; And build for myself a place to sit; On the seat of the sun.
Sunset weeps on my balcony; And cries for a rendezvous with me.
I am a sail that cannot stand a journey’s end; I am a loss that wants no guidance.
My letters are swarms of swallows; That drape the clear sky with their black mantle.
I have imagined till I made perfumes visible; And resonance of the echo smell.
In my red veins is a woman; Who walks with me in the folds of my gown; Hisses and blows in my bones; To turn my lungs into a brazier.
Your beauty springs from me—without me;You’d be nothing, without me you wouldn’t be; Without me no rose would bloom; No breast would bubble or revel.
O reader, my travel companion; I’m the lips and you’re the echo.
I plead with you, be soft and tender; If tomorrow you embrace my letters; When you pass by them remember; The torture of these letters to exist.
No one dies who in time has loved; No one dies who—like a bird—has sung.

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Anonymous Christopher said...

"I was so oppressed by the thought of doing research—you know, finding out about hedge funds—that I just gave up and made him a novelist."

Yes, the horrible fate of researching hedge funds that has destroyed many a novelist rears its petrifying head again.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Navcity said...

Unfortunately the English translations do not do Qabbani's poems any justice as they lose the richness of historical references and metaphors, and some of the words just cannot be translated. His poems in Arabic are enough to make a person go into a state of ecstasy due to their richness - and generations of men and women have. They are sensual without being explicit. His poems literally permeate the arabic reader or listener's person.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Cicily Corbett said...

Yes, I agree completely. My Latin teacher, Miss Dean, used to ask us why we study Latin. The correct answer, of course, was "so that we can read Latin." Not so that we can improve our minds, increase our English vocabulary, etc., etc. To me, it is worth learning Russian to be able to read Dostoyevsky, Spanish just to be able to read Cervantes, Arabic to be able to read the Quran and Qabbani.

5:01 PM  

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