A gathering of Arab poets for a session of Beirut-based poetry journal Shiʿr’s Thursday reading series in January 1960. Includes Yusif al-Khal, Adonis, Fadwa Tuqan, Nazik al-Mala’ika and Salma Khadra Jayussi

Revolt Against the Sun
A gift to the rebels

She stood before the sun, screaming out loud:
Oh Sun, my rebel’s heart is just like you:
while young, it washed away much of my life,
its lights quenched the stars’ thirst, ever renewed.
Careful – don’t let the sadness in my eyes
or these copious tears deceive your sight.
This sadness is the form of my revolt,
to which the gods bear witness every night.

Careful, don’t be deceived by my pale skin,
these quivering emotions, this dark frown.
If you see indecision, or the lines
of fierce poetic sadness on my brow,
know that it’s feeling causing my soul’s grief
and tears at life’s terror – it’s prophecy 
that failed to fly, but stood up to resist
a life of sadness and melancholy.

My lips are fastened shut over their pain,
my eyes are thirsty for sweet drops of dew,
the evening left its shadow on my brow
and morning’s killed off all my pleas to you.
I came to pour out my uncertainty
in nature, amid fragrances and shade,
but you, Sun, mocked my sadness and my tears
and laughed, from up above, at all my pain.

Even you, Sun? Alas, what misery!
You were the one I yearned for in my dreams,
you were the one whose name I once revered,
singing the praises of your smiling beams. 
You were the one I once held sacred and
idolized as a refuge from all pain.

But now, crusher of dreams, melancholy,
darkness, and shadows are all that remain.

I will shatter the idol that I built
to you out of my love for radiance
and turn my eyes away from your bright light –
you’re nothing but a ghost, splendor’s pretense.
I’ll build a heaven out of hidden hopes
And live without your luminosity.
We dreamers know we hold within our souls
divine secrets, a lost eternity.

Do not spread out your beams over my grove,
You rise for other than my poet’s heart.
Your light no longer stirs feelings in me,
the night stars now inspire all my art.
They are the friends who guard me in the dark,
they understand the feelings that ignite
my spirit, they extend thin, silver threads
to guide my eyes through the enchanted night.

Night is life’s melody, its poetry,
here gods of beauty roam to their content,
here uninhibited souls fly about
and spirits hover in the firmament.

How often I have wandered to forget
life’s gloomy sorrows in the evening’s dark,
upon my lips, a divine melody
recited by a caravan of stars.

How often I have watched stars as they pass
letting the twilight tune my incantations,
and watched the moon bidding the night goodbye,
and roamed the valleys of imagination.
The silence sends a shiver through my spine
beneath the evening’s dome, so still and dark,
light dances, painting on my eyelids with
the dreamy palette of a peaceful heart.

And as for you, oh Sun… what can I say?
What can my feelings hope to find in you?
Don’t be surprised that I’m in love with night,
goddess of cruel flames that melt us through.
You rend our dreams on the horizon line,
you decimate what we build in the dark,
you shatter magic visions, ghostly dreams,
and break the silence in a poet’s heart.

All of your dancing lights look pale, oh Sun,
compared to my resistance and its fire.
Your mad flames can’t tear up my melody
so long as my hands grasp this singing lyre.
And when you flood the earth, remember this:
My temple has no room for your cruel light
I aim to bury the past you revealed
And live beneath the canopy of night.

(8 July 1946)


in the night
listen to echoed moans as they fall
in the depths of the dark, in the still, on the dead
voices rise, voices clash
sadness flows, catches fire
echoed cries, stuttered cries
every heart boils with heat
silent hut wracked with sobs
spirits scream through the dark everywhere
voices weep everywhere
this is what death has done
they are dead, they are dead, they are dead
let the strained Nile lament over what death has done

in the dawn
listen to passing feet as they fall
in the still of the dawn, watch and hear the procession of tears
ten are dead, twenty dead
countless dead, hear the tears
hear the pitiful child
they are dead, many lost
they are dead, there is no future left
bodies strewn everywhere, everywhere the bereaved
not a moment to mourn, not a pause
this is death’s handiwork
they are dead, they are dead, they are dead,
all humanity suffers the crimes death commits

lies with corpses in terrible caves
death becomes medicine for eternity’s hush
cholera lies awake
unavenged, overflowing with hate
pouring over the Delta’s sweet soil
crying out, agitated, insane
it is deaf to the voices that mourn
as its talons leave scars everywhere
in the poor peasant’s shack, in the landowner’s house
nothing but cries of death, pouring out,
they are dead, they are dead, they are dead
as death takes its revenge wearing cholera’s face

silence, still
nothing left but the trace of Allahu akbar
as the gravedigger too lies in eternal sleep
there is no one to help
the muezzin is dead
who will eulogize them?
nothing left now but shuddering sobs
the poor child has no mother, no dad
and tomorrow disease will no doubt snatch him too

evil cholera, what have you done?
you’ve left nothing in Egypt but sadness and death
they are dead, they are dead, they are dead
this is what death has done, and my heart is in shreds


Extract from Revolt Against the Sun: The Selected Poetry fo Nizik al-Malaika:
A Bilingual Reader
, edited by Emily Drumsta, Saqi Books, London, 2020

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