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  1. Salma Khadra Jayyusi
  2. Mohammad Bennis
  3. Mahmoud Darwish
  4. Nizar Qabbani

Selections from Contemporary Arabic Poetry

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Salma K. Jayyusi

From Contemporary Arabic Poetry
© 1987 Columbia University Press
Text available online from the publisher

Salma Khadra Jayyusi

Palestinian poet, critic, and anthologist. Born in Salt in East Jordan, she spent her childhood in Acre, then lived in Jerusalem where she finished her secondary education. She graduated in Arabic and English literature from the American University of Beirut and, later, obtained a Ph.D. from the University of London. Her doctoral thesis, Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry was published by Brill, Leiden, in two volumes. She has traveled widely and has lived in many places in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, first as a diplomat's wife, then as professor of Arabic literature. She has taught at the Universities of Khartoum, Algiers, and Constantine, and in America at the Universities of Utah, Washington, and Texas. She has published her poetry and critical writings in many journals in the Middle East and abroad. Her first collection, Return from the Dreamy Fountain, was published in 1960. The June 1967 war made her suspend publication of her second diwan, and since then she has published little of the poetry she has written. Shocked at the fact that very little Arabic literature has been translated into the leading modern languages, in 1980 she founded PROTA (Project of Translation from Arabic), which aims at the dissemination of Arabic culture abroad, and to this enterprise she dedicated her full time and energy. In addition to the present anthology, she has finished editing two others: Modern Arabic Fiction and Drama (forthcoming, Columbia University Press), and The Literature of Modern Arabia (forthcoming, Kegan Paul International). She has edited several single-author books and collections, and is now working on an anthology of Palestinian literature and, with Roger Allen, an anthology of contemporary Arabic theater.


Love, hide me in your breast.
No one is looking.
Don't even let the perfume of air
come between us,
one breath from the past
that could stir painful remembrance:
now that sky is ours,
I want to forget all earthly care.

Star of those who have lost the way,
rain down your light on me,
shine into the shy center
of my labyrinthine soul
the years have made dark
and be my sure-footed guide.

Dream, envelop my heart
in imaginary finery
while my rose of desire
pours forth her ardent perfume.
I am become passion.
Enfold me, heavenly wings,
lift me beyond the clouds.

This is bliss.
My heart can hold no more.
Call to me the wretched of the earth,
those who tried love and lost,
who flowered in hell,
for I would tell them
of the mountains we have climbed,
you and I, my love, together
how we made paradise home
and found the lighthouse
beaming us to snug harbor.
Yes, call to me
all who have lost.

Here my heart overflows its banks.
River, swathe me in your currents,
drown me in my own longing,
shade my breasts with your dark water,
pull me from the abyss
where my swamped ship slowly dances,
tugged this way and that,
on your sunless sandy bottom,
where the watchmen of my heart
fell asleep a long time ago
till you woke them with love's cockcrow!

Love, let me share your breast and hide.
I shall bestow my love on all creatures
Take me to the fountain of despair,
I shall summon it to new life,
recalling dead vision to fresh joy
by the ecstasy just conceived,
welling up in my heart
until it can no longer be contained.

You dreaming on the road,
go sleep somewhere else
and leave it to those
who purely mad sweep the sea of life,
who share the mad whispers
of the heart prompting love.

My ship splits the sea's waves,
rocking on his noble flanks,
he flows alone, alone!
with the ocean's roar,
the bubbling tides,
never awakening,
never falling asleep,
sways, floats, sinks
into the dark deeps.

O tent of those who've lost the way,
invite me to your shade,
there's no place here for the unhappy,
for the frowning face-
Let me be free!
I was born on briny whitecaps,
I found where the sun shines,
how the Pleiades glow at night,
how the heart of loving day
is made resplendent by our devotion.
Let me be free!
Venus' star is on the rise,
I surrender to the wind,
lighter than it I am carried aloft,
clasping the secrets of true love,
I know how to see truth in things.

Translated by the author and Charles Doria


Poem to My Son

I am an April woman:
December ash that consumes itself
frightens me

My son, hide me while you rocket to the stars
spreading over the earth like grass
Winter thunderstorm will drink down
my river flowing with love's secrets,
muffling that music in whose echoes
you were born.
But you shrug your shoulders:
"This woman is planted in time
she bridges the air like a dove
a thousand years old.
She is a willow, I know her:
bend her -she springs back
She is a palm tree, I know her
pick her fruit -she makes more
honey and dates
She is a cypress tree, I know her
she never loses her leaves
What do December storms mean to her?"

Yet the winter winds do howl, my son,
night and day I yearn for you
for your sweet sarcastic voice
your voice wise and cruel, innocent and selfish.

Night and day I miss you
We both live in space, in the wind and the rain
Each of us drinks his own wine
each of us is poured in his own glass
for you were made of my elements.

I gave you:
my impetuous soul
my constant disappearance
flitting far away across the world
my chronic elusiveness
a will like rock, loyal
as the true stars
in the sky's valleys.
And I gave you:
love's ecstasy
the will to conquer
passionate devotion
and the enchantment of the spirit
in the presence of holy fire.

Should I blame you?

And you gave me:
a promise and pledge
security forever delayed
love that's here and is never here
Should you blame me?
I am a wild gazelle
you are rock
My head is bloodied.

Translated by the author and Charles Doria

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