Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998)



O people
I have become a sultan over you
Break your idols after straying, and worship me…
I don’t always reveal myself…
So sit down on the patience pavement to see me
Leave your children with no bread
And leave your women with no husband…and follow me
Give thanks to God for His grace
He has sent me to write History
And History is not written without me
I am Joseph in beauty
The Creator did not create golden hair like mine
Or a forehead as prophetic as mine
My eyes are a forest of olive and almond trees
Always pray for God to safeguard my eyes
O people
I am Majnun Layla
Send your wives to be impregnated by me
And send your husbands to thank me
It is an honor that you eat my body’s wheat
It is an honor that you pick my almond and figs
It is an honor that you resemble me
For I am an event that hasn’t happened
For thousands of centuries…


O people
I am the first, the fairest
And the finest among the rulers
I am the full moon and the whiteness of jasmine
I am the inventor of the first gallows, and the best divine messenger
Whenever I think of retiring from power, my conscience holds me back
Who, I wonder, will govern after me this good people?
Who, after me, will heal the lame, the leper, and the blind…
And who will revive the bones of the dead?
Who, I wonder, will take out the moon from his coat?
Who, I wonder, will send the rain to people?
Who, I wonder, will flog them ninety lashes?
Who, I wonder, will crucify them above the trees?
Who, I wonder, will force them to live like cows?
And die like cows?
Whenever I thought of leaving them
My tears overflowed like a cloud
And in God I trusted…
And decided to mount the people…
From now…until the day of resurrection…


O people
I own you
Like I own my horses…and my slaves
And I walk over you as I walk on my palace’s rugs
So prostrate yourselves before me as I stand
And prostrate yourselves before me as I sit
Didn’t I find you one day
Among the papers of my ancestors?
Be careful not to read any book
I will read for you…
Be careful not to write any speech
I will write for you…
Be careful not to listen to Fairuz in secret
For I know all your intentions
Be careful not to enter the tomb without my permission
This is for us a great sin
And adhere to silence when I speak to you
My words are a Holy Quran


O people
I am your Mahdi; await me
My blood is pulsing in the heart of the vines; drink me
Stop all the songs that children are singing
In the love of the homeland
For I have become the homeland
I am the one, the eternal of all beings
I am instilled in the memory of the apples, of the flute
And blue songs
Raise my portraits over the squares
Cover me with the haze of words
And betroth to me the youngest wife…
For I do not age…
My body does not age…
My prisons do not age
And the repressive apparatus in my kingdom does not age…
O people
I am al-Hajjaj, if unmasked you will recognize me
I am Genghis Khan and I have come to you…
With my spears…my dogs…and my prisons
Do not be fed up, O people, with my tyranny
I kill so that you don’t kill me
I hang so that you don’t hang me
And I bury you in that mass grave
So that you don’t bury me…


O people
Buy me newspapers that write about me
They are displayed like prostitutes in the streets
Buy me green paper as shiny as spring grass
And ink…and presses
Everything is bought in our era…even the fingers
Buy the fruit of thinking…and keep it in front of me
Cook me a poet
And make him one of my dishes…
I am illiterate, and I have a complex with what the poets say
Buy me then poets who praise my goodness
And make me the star on all covers
Stars of theater and dance are not at all more beautiful than I
Because, with hard currency, I can buy anything
I can buy the poems of of Bashshar Ibn Burd
Al-Mutanabbi’s lips and Labid’s hymns
For the millions in the treasury of Muslims
Are old inheritances of my father’s
Take some of my gold
And write in handbooks
That my reign is Harun al-Rashid’s


O people of my country
O masses of the Arab peoples
I am a pure spirit who has come to wash away the dust of barbarism
Record my voice on audio tapes
My voice, like an Andalusian fountain, has a beautiful cadence
Draw me smiling like the Jocund
And gentle like the Magdalene’s face
Draw me
Devouring poetry with my teeth
And sucking the blood of the alphabet…
Draw me
With my dignity and glory
And my military staff
Draw me…
As I am hunting a wild goat or a deer
Draw me…
As I hold you on my shoulders to the eternal abode
O masses of Arab peoples…


O people
I am responsible for your dreams, when dreaming
I am responsible for every loaf of bread you eat
And for the poetry that, behind my back, you read
Because the security apparatus in my palace delivers to me
The birds’ news…and the spikes’ news
And delivers to me what happens in the bellies of pregnant women
O people, I am your prison guard
And your prisoner…You shall forgive me
I am the exiled within my own palace
I don’t see a sun, or a star, or an Oleander
Ever since I came to power as a child
The circus men gather around me
One blowing a flute…
One beating a drum
One wiping broadcloth…One wiping shoes
Ever since I came to power as a child
The palace advisor never said “No”
My ministers never said “No”
My ambassadors never said “No” to my face
None of my women said “No” in bed
They have taught me to see myself a god
And to see the people from the balcony as sand…
Forgive me if I turned into a new Hulagu
I never killed for the sake of killing
But I kill you…to have fun…

* Al-Hajjaj: A notoriously cruel governor of Iraq in the 7th/8th century.
Translated by Gaelle Raphael

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