Listen to the Mourners
The Essential Poems of Nāzik Al-Malā’ika
142 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: November 2021
- ISBN: 9780268200947
- Published: November 2021
- ISBN: 9780268200930
- Published: November 2021
- ISBN: 9780268200954
This is one of the first book-length English translations of Nāzik Al-Malā’ika’s Arabic poetry.
One of the most influential Iraqi poets of the twentieth century, Nāzik Al-Malā’ika pioneered the modern Arabic verse movement when she broke away from the formalistic classical modes of Arabic poetry that had prevailed for more than fifteen centuries. Along with ʻAbdulwahhāb Al-Bayyāti and Badre Shākir Al-Sayyāb, she paved the way for the birth of a new modernist poetic movement in the Arab world.
Until now, very little of Al-Malā’ika’s poetry has been translated into English. Listen to the Mourners contains forty of her most significant poems selected from six published volumes, including Life Tragedy and a Song for Man, The Woman in Love with the Night, Sparks and Ashes, The Wave’s Nadir, The Moon Tree, and The Sea Alters Its Colours. These poems show the beginning of her development from the late romantic orientation in Arabic poetry toward a more psychological approach. Her poetic form shows a significant liberation from the traditional two-hemistich line in traditional Arabic poetry, which adheres to the traditional Arabic measures of prosody and rhyme. ‘Abdulwāḥid Lu’lu’a’s introduction functions as a critical analysis of the liberated verse movement of the era and situates the poet among her Arab and Western counterparts. This accessible, beautifully rendered, and long overdue translation fills a gap in modern Arabic poetry in translation and will interest students and scholars of Iraqi literature, Middle East studies, women’s studies, and comparative literature.
1. From: “Life Tragedy and a Song for Man”
2. From: “The Woman in Love with the Night”
3. From: “Sparks and Ashes”
4. From: “The Wave’s Nadir”
5. From: “The Moon Tree”
6. From: “The Sea Alters its Colours”
“This is an excellent translation, capturing the beauty of Nāzik Al-Malā’ika’s poetry and making this formative, leading Arab poet available to an English audience.” —Bassam K. Frangieh, author of Anthology of Arabic Literature, Culture, and Thought from Pre-Islamic Times to the Present
"In the introduction to Listen to the Mourners, ‘Abdulwāḥid Lu’lu’a, who was a personal acquaintance and colleague of Al-Malā’ika's, outlines the nature of her contribution for the non-reader of Arabic. . . . Lu’lu’a's translations are literal and often compelling." —Times Literary Supplement
Nāzik Al-Malā’ika (1923-2007) is—viewed by any level-headed and unbiased literary critic—the real pioneer of innovation in modern Iraqi and Arabic poetry. By “modern”, I mean the middle years of the 20th century, and particularly those after the Second World War. Innovation in Arabic poetry began as early as the suspended odes of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry.
Traditionally, a line of Arabic poetry should be self-sustaining, expressing a self-contained idea, and a complete image within the line itself. An enlargement of that idea, or image, could be done in a second, third, or more lines, beginning those enlargements with words like and, or, but, and the like, to show a second idea or a second image connected to what we had in the first line. One such example is found in the suspended ode of Al-A‘asha (570-625), in the description of his sweetheart Huraira [little kitten!]. In line 12 of the poem, he says: ‘There is no luscious garden more aromatic, or better looking than her at the approach of sunset’. But he says this in two lines rather than one, and the phrase “better than her” comes only in the third line. By pre-Islamic standards of poetry, this poetic device extended the meaning and description to three lines of poetry rather than one. And yet the image was so cleverly portrayed that we do not find a decent critical opinion to object to it. The example of innovation in the shape of the two-hemistiches line, so basic to traditional Arabic poetics, was “violated” by a certain Umayyad, an exceptionally lunatic even for a poet, Deek-ul-Jinn of Ḥimṣ (777-849), who was so madly in love with his girl that he burned her, and out of her ashes he made a cup in which he drank and drank… Yet we are not told what happened to him after that! What that extremely romantic poet wrote was a hemistich of three feet, and the second hemistich had only two, while maintaining the same rhyming letter throughout the poem. The poem is inordinately expressive of a man writhing on the fire of love, a rather absurd image, even by present-day standards of exotic poetic expression!
In the ‘Abbāsid period, with more and more non-Arabs permeating the predominantly Arab society, a rather quick and more than tangible development took place in the writing and singing of Arabic poetry. It was more than the mere introduction of non-Arabic words into the flourishing Arabic poetry under the ‘Abbāsid caliphs; new forms of a poem, new Arabic words, and new, untraditional attitudes towards love poetry were introduced, developed, and, in many cases, adored. Abu-Nuwās presents a telling example in this respect:
The wretched went looking for a ruin to ask,
And I went looking for the town tavern.
He cries about the departed of Asad tribe,
Confound you: who are the Asadites?
And who are the Tameemites, and the like?
The Arabs are nothing before God!
More detailed examples of development in Arabic poetry are found in Andalus, between 711-1492, partially under the influence of the multilingual atmosphere in Muslim Spain, which, in turn, had an influence on the troubadour poetry of southern France and northern Spain, extending to Sicily and southern Italy, leading to the rise of a new lyrical poetry, completely unlike the poetry in Latin, which was mainly on ecclesiastical topics, in mediaeval Europe.
But the innovation in Arabic poetry, which Nāzik introduced, was not unaware of the previous steps in the development of Arabic poetry in the previous ages, and in several Arab countries. She was a poet well versed in classical Arabic poetry, in prosody, and very conscious of the withering state of Arabic poetry in her home country of Iraq, as well as some other Arab countries. Growing up in a family that took culture and poetry seriously, she had assistance and guidance from her parents, both of whom were poets in his and her own right and started developing her childhood poems by reading extensively on several aspects of poetry and literature in general. She published her first collection, A Woman in Love with Night, 1947.
That collection was expectedly highly romantic, in tune with the predominant Arabic poetry of the period, especially that of the Lebanese poets, and marked even more prominently by the Egyptian poets of the 1940s, who were not uncontaminated by the French attitudes of the turn of the century. She took a further, distinct step in her second collection, Sparks and Ashes, 1949. This collection contained a poem entitled “Cholera,” which was born, she says, on 27-10-1947, in which she expressed her shock at hearing news of the spread of that epidemic in Egypt. The form of the poem is completely different from the traditional two-hemistiches style of Arabic poetry, predominant until that time, which Nāzik herself observed in her poetry until then, and which her parents preserved and revered.