Month: July 2014

Poetry Of Palestine – Salma Khadra Jayyusi #palestine #gazaunderattack #poetry

Unable to help in any way, only to celebrate Palestinian literature.

Professor of Arabic literature Salma Khadra Jayyusi is a Palestinian poet, critic, and anthologist. Born in Salt in East Jordan, she spent her childhood in Acre and Jerusalem.   She has travelled and lived in many places in the Middle East, Europe, and the US and has taught at the Universities of Khartoum, Algiers, and Constantine, and in America at the Universities of Utah, Washington, and Texas. She is the founder and director of the Project of Translation from Arabic (PROTA), which aims to provide translations of Arabic literature into English.Her first collection, Return from the Dreamy Fountain, was published in 1960.  Translated by the author and Charles Doria, this is:


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

Poetry Of Palestine – Ibtisam Barakat #palestine #gazaunderattack #poetry

Acclaimed Palestinian-American author, poet, translator, artist and educator, Ibtisam Barakat ابتسام بركات  grew up in Ramallah, Palestine, and came to the US for an internship in 1986.  She holds two Masters degrees, and has taught Language Ethics at Stephens College.  Barakat’s memoir, TASTING THE SKY: A Palestinian Childhood (2007) won many awards and honours, including the International Reading Association’s Best Non-Fiction for Young Adults; Middle East Council Best Literature Book; and Arab-American National Best Book for YA and Children.


A Poem Made Of Water

By Ibtisam Barakat


The biology teacher said that

people, all people, are made

mostly of water ..

And I understood that

all of us, like water,

have been through so much;

fell from the sky ..

spent nights in the middle

of a dark ocean ..

cleaned dirt out of clothes

and dishes of all kinds ..

had to freeze in winters

and simmer under covers,

and be put in cubes and 

hit countless times

on kitchen counters ..

and I understood why

when someone’s tears fall

I feel …



Poetry of Palestine

I don’t know how to help the people of Gaza. All I can do is celebrate their great writers and beautiful poetry.

 Considered Palestine’s most eminent poet, Mahmoud Darwish was born in Al-Birweh in 1941. He published his first collection of poems Leaves Of Olives in 1964.  Other collections include The Adam Of Two Edens, 2001; Stage Of Siege, 2002 and The Butterfly’s Burden 2006. His awards and honors include the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, and France’s Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997. He died in 2008.  


By Mahmoud Darwish


I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.

I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell

with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.

I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,

a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.

I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.

I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven

to her mother. And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.

To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.

I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a

single word: Home.


WestWords Perfect Pair 30.07.2014

Soldier and war poet Wilfred Owen was born in Shropshire in 1893. He is regarded by historians as the leading poet of the First World War, with poetry that is unsparing in its graphic depiction of life on the front lines. After a succession of traumatic events, including being blown high into the air by a trench mortar and becoming trapped for days in an old German dugout, Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craig Lockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It was whilst recuperating here, that he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon,  who was hugely influential in Owens’ development as a poet. Owen was killed in action in France on 4 November 1918 exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice. Most of his best-known works, including this one, were published posthumously. The last in the series on War Poetry, this is:

By Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
– only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.




WestWords Perfect Pair 29.07.2014

Miklos Radnoti, a Hungarian poet born in Budapest in 1909, published his first book of poems, Pagan Salute in 1931 and shortly after obtained his Ph.D. in Hungarian literature. In the early forties he was conscripted by the Hungarian Army, but being a Jew he was assigned to an unarmed “labour battalion”, at times arming and disarming explosives on the Ukrainian front. In 1944 Radnóti’s group of 3,200 Hungarian Jews was force-marched to central Hungary. Most of them died on the road, including Radnoti who was shot near the village of Abda in north-western Hungary. When his body was exhumed from a mass grave in 1946, a small notebook of poems telling the story of his last months was found in the pocket of his overcoat. This is:

By Miklos Radnoti
(trans from Hungarian by Zsuzsanna Ozsvath & Frederick Turner)

Beneath, the nether worlds, deep, still, and mute.
Silence howls in my ears, and I cry out.
No answer could come back, it is so far
From that sad Serbia swooned into war.
And you’re so distant. But my heart redeems
Your voice all day, entangled in my dreams.
So I am still, while close about me sough
The great cold ferns, that slowly stir and bow.

When I’ll see you, I don’t know. You whose calm
Is as the weight and sureness of a psalm,
Whose beauty’s like the shadow and the light,
Whom I could find if I were blind and mute,
Hide in the landscape now, and from within
Leap to my eye, as if cast by my brain.
You were real once; now you have fallen in
To that deep well of teenage dreams again.
Jealous interrogations: tell me; speak.
Do you still love me? Will you on that peak
Of my past youth become my future wife?
– but now I fall awake to real life
And know that’s what you are: wife, friend of years
– just far away. Beyond three wild frontiers.
And Fall comes. Will it also leave with me?
Kisses are sharper in the memory.

Daylight and miracles seemed different things.
Above, the echelons of bombers’ wings:
Skies once amazing blue with your eyes’ glow
Are darkened now. Tight with desire to blow,
The bombs must fall. I live in spite of these,
A prisoner. All of my fantasies
I measure out. And I will find you still;
For you I’ve walked the full length of the soul,

The highways of countries! – on coals of fire,
If needs must, in the falling of the pyre,
If all I have is magic, I’ll come back;
I’ll stick as fast as bark upon an oak!
And now that calm, whose habit is a power
And weapon to the savage, in the hour
Of fate and danger, falls as cool and true
As does a wave: the sober two times two.

WestWords Perfect Pair 22.07.2014

English poet, scholar and novelist Robert Graves was born in South London in 1895. He studied at Oxford after serving on the front lines in WW1. The publication of his early collections Over The Brazier in 1916 and Fairies And Fusiliers in 1918, which contains many poems celebrating his friendship with fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon, earned him the reputation as an accomplished war poet.  During his long life he produced more than 140 works, many of which, have never been out of print. He died in 1985. This is:

By Robert Graves

And what of home—how goes it, boys,
While we die here in stench and noise?
“The hill stands up and hedges wind
Over the crest and drop behind;
Here swallows dip and wild things go
On peaceful errands to and fro
Across the sloping meadow floor,
And make no guess at blasting war.

In woods that fledge the round hill-shoulder
Leaves shoot and open, fall and moulder,
And shoot again. Meadows yet show
Alternate white of drifted snow
And daisies. Children play at shop,
Warm days, on the flat boulder-top,
With wildflower coinage, and the wares
Are bits of glass and unripe pears.

Crows perch upon the backs of sheep,
The wheat goes yellow: women reap,
Autumn winds ruffle brook and pond,
Flutter the hedge and fly beyond.
So the first things of nature run,
And stand not still for any one,
Contemptuous of the distant cry
Wherewith you harrow earth and sky.

And high French clouds, praying to be
Back, back in peace beyond the sea,
Where nature with accustomed round
Sweeps and garnishes the ground
With kindly beauty, warm or cold—
Alternate seasons never old:
Heathen, how furiously you rage,
Cursing this blood and brimstone age,
How furiously against your will
You kill and kill again, and kill:
All thought of peace behind you cast,
Till like small boys with fear aghast,
Each cries for God to understand,
‘I could not help it, it was my hand.’”




WestWords Perfect Pair 21.07.14

Recognised around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century, Nazim Hikmet was born in Salonica, modern day Thessaloniki in Greece in 1902. A Turkish poet, playwright, novelist and memoirist, his poetry has been translated into more than fifty languages. 
This next poem has achieved popularity as an anti-war message and has been performed by singers and musicians worldwide including US band, The Byrds. The poem, sometimes known as The Little Girl, conveys a plea for peace from a seven-year-old girl, ten years after she’d perished in the atomic bomb attack at Hiroshima. This is:

By Nâzım Hikmet

I come and stand at every door
But no one hears my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead.

I’m only seven although I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow.

My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind.

I need no fruit, I need no rice I
need no sweet, nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead, for I am dead.

All that I ask is that for peace
You fight today, you fight today
So that the children of this world
May live and grow and laugh and play.





WestWords Perfect Pair 14.07.2014

Irish language poet, reporter and editor Michael Davitt was born in Cork in 1950.   He worked as a reporter and presenter at RTE in the 80s and in 1994, he won the Butler Prize for Literature. Some of his dual-language collections include Selected Poems / Rogha Dánta and The Oomph of Quicksilver. He died in Sligo in 2005.  In light of current events in the middle-east I feel this poem is timely, highly emotive and unflinchingly honest.  This is:

O My Two Palestinians

by Michael Davitt

(18/9/82, having watched a news report

on the massacre of Palestinians in Beirut )

I pushed open the door
enough to let light from the landing
on them:

blankets kicked off
they lay askew
as they had fallen:

her nightgown tossed above her buttocks
blood on her lace knickers,
from a gap in the back of her head

her chicken brain retched on the pillow,
intestines slithered from his belly
like seaweed off a rock.

liver-soiled sheets,
one raised bloodsmeared hand.
O my two Palestinians rotting in the central heat.

Ó Mo Bheirt Phailistíneach

Bhrúigh mé an doras
oiread a ligfeadh solas cheann an staighre
orthu isteach:

na héadaí leapa caite díobh acu
iad ina luí sceabhach
mar a thiteadar:

a gúna oíche caite aníos thar a mása
fuil ar a brístín lása,
as scailp i gcúl a cinn

a hinchinn sicín ag aiseag ar an bpiliúr,
putóg ag úscadh as a bholgsan
mar fheamainn ar charraig,

ae ar bhraillín,
leathlámh fhuilthéachta in airde.
Ó mo bheirt Phailistíneach ag lobhadh sa teas lárnach.

WestWords Perfect Pair 04.07.2014

Lucian Blaga was a Romanian poet, philosopher and playwright, born in Transylvania in 1895. He did not speak any words until he was four and in his poem Self-Portrait he describes himself : Lucian Blaga is silent like a swan. A personal favourite, this is:

By Lucian Blaga

Such a deep silence surrounds me, that I think I hear
moonbeams striking on the windows.

In my chest,
a strange voice awakens
and a song plays inside me
a longing that is not mine.

They say that ancestors, dead before their time,
with young blood still in their veins,
with great passion in their blood,
with the sun still burning in their blood
come to continue to live
within us
their unfinished lives.

Such a deep silence surrounds me, that I think I hear
moonbeams striking on the windows.

O, who knows, soul of mine, in which chest you will sing
you also, after centuries,
in soft ropes of silence,
on harps of obscurity – the drowned longing
and the pleasure of living torn? Who knows?
Who knows?


WestWords Perfect Pair 03.07.2014


Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donoghue was born in Co. Clare in 1956, He was ordained as a Catholic priest, but left the priesthood in the 1990s. He is probably best known, as author of Anam Cara or Soul Friend, a compendium of Celtic wisdom for the pilgrim soul. He passed away unexpectedly in early 2008. From Connemara Blues, this is: 

By John O’Donoghue

Nothing can make the night stay outside,
It pours in everywhere, smothers my room
With black air prepared in some unseen cave,
Tightens around my skull the root silence
Of that room in rock; nothing broke the dark
Except the tick of raindrops from above;
Centuries seeping through the limestone
To point a cold finger of stalactite
At emptiness never softened by breath;
Where the sore of absence was never felt
In cold that fasted solid from light,
A hermit space that let in no question.

This dark is all eyes; but cannot feel
How it blackens the breath and the heart.
It weighs me down as it would a stone.