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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