dies at 85 in Egypt

Nazik al-MalaikaIraq's renowned poetess, Nazek al-Malaika, famous as the first to write Arabic poetry in free verse rather than classical rhyme, died Wednesday in a Cairo hospital. She was 85.

Al-Malaika died of old age in Cairo, where she had lived in self-imposed exile since 1990, said Nizar Marjan, the Iraqi consul in the Egyptian capital.

Born in Baghdad in 1922 to a mother who was also a poet and a father who was a teacher, al-Malaika, the oldest among seven siblings, discovered love for literature early in life, writing her first poem at the age of 10.

She graduated in 1944 from the College of Arts in Baghdad, where she also studied music. Ten years later, she traveled to the United States to study and received a Master's degree in comparative literature from Wisconsin University.

In 1947, al-Malaika published her first collection of poems under the title "Night's Lover." She was greatly influenced by Shakespeare and Shelley.

In 1949, came her second collection, entitled "Sparks and Ashes." Two years later, she won fame outside Iraq. Her third collection, entitled "Bottom of the Wave" was published in 1957, and the fourth, "Tree of the Moon," in 1968.

She spent 40 years teaching Arabic and literature in Iraqi schools and universities, and also wrote literary criticism.

Al-Malaika left Iraq in 1970, just two years after Saddam Hussein's Baath Party came to power. She lived in Kuwait until Saddam's 1990 invasion, when she left Kuwait City for Cairo.

Al-Malaika preferred solitude and rarely socialized. In her memoirs, she wrote: "I discovered that I was unable to express my mind-set and emotions like others. I chose loneliness, silence and shyness. And when I realized that I have to break this cycle in my nature, I was in a deep struggle with myself. I was taking one step forward and ten steps backward. That took long, long years of my life."
Al-Malaika suffered for years from several ailments, including Parkinson's disease. Earlier this month, a group of Iraqi intellectuals wrote to the Iraqi government, protesting what they called negligence of "Iraq's greatest surviving symbol of literature."
In 1961, Al-Malaika married Abdel Hadi Mahbooba, who died two years ago.

Mirjan said that al-Malaika was to be buried Thursday in Cairo. She is survived by a son.

The Associated Press


Nazek al-Malaika

Iraqi poet and critic, one of the most important Arab women writers. Al-Mala'ika was a major advocate of the free verse movement in the late 1940s with Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. Her poetry is characterized by its terseness of language, eloquence, original use of imagery, and delicate ear for the music of verse.

Stay as you are, a secret world
Not such thing as a soul discerns
Spinner of poems, the last muse
In a world whose mirrors are dimmed
What song did not flow with honey
If you were to smile your praise upon it?
(from 'Song for the Moon')

Nazik al-Mala'ika was born in Baghdad into a cultured, literary family. Her father was a poet and the editor of a 20-volume encyclopedia. Her mother, Um Nizar al Mala'ika, wrote poetry under the pseudonym Omm Nizar Al-Malaika against the British rule. Al-Mala'ika started to write already in her childhood, and at the age of ten she composed her first poetry in Classical Arabic. She was educated at the Higher Teachers' Training College in Baghdad, earning her B.A. in 1944. While still in college, she published poems in newspapers and magazines. As a student she registered in the musical instrument oud (the Middle-Eastern lute) department of the Fine Arts Institute, and attended classes in the acting department. Her knowledge of English literature earned her a scholarship to study at Princeton University, New Jersey.

In 1954 Al-Mala'ika continued her studies at the University of Wisconsin, where she obtained an M.A. in literature. Al-Malaika worked as a university lecturer and professor. In 1961 she married Abdel-Hadi Mahbouba, her colleague in the Arabic department at the Education College in Baghdad. With her husband, she helped found the University of Basra in the southern part of Iraq. Al-Malaika taught many years at the University of Kuwait, and in 1985 a festschrift appeared in her honor. It contained twenty articles on her work. In 1990 al-Mala'ika was forced to return home by Saddam's invasion. After fleeing from Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, she moved to Cairo. Although she has avoided publicity, Al-Mala'ika again entered the literary scene in 1999 with a new book of verse, Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr. The bulk of the poems were written 25 years ago in 1974. The book also contains an autobiographical sketch.

As a writer al-Mala'ika made her debut in 1947 with A'shiqat Al-Layl. Its themes of despair and disillusion were familiar from the Arabic literary romanticism of the 1930s and 1940s. Her second collection, Shazaya wa ramad (1949, Ashes and Shrapnel), helped launch free verse as a new form for avant-garde poetry. The old two-hemistich mono-rhymed form had flourished unchallenged for fifteen centuries. Experiments outside the rigid structures started in the beginning of the 20th century, but it was not until the mid-forties that poets succeeded in creating an acceptable form of free verse. Al-Mala'ika's book contained eleven poems and an introduction, in which al-Mala'ika explained the advantages of the new rhyme patterns as opposed to the old.

In the 1950s al-Mala'ika was among the most prominent figures of modernism, and backed the movement with her critical writings, when arguments were thrown for and against metrical poetry. With one of her best-known poems, 'Cholera', was based on the emotional effect of the cholera epidemic that arrived from Egypt to Iraq in 1947.

"The night is silent/Listen to the effect of groans/In the depth of darkness, below the silence, on the dead." Taking the subject from recent history, she first time demonstrated the possibilities of the modern verse. However, this poem still followed a certain rhyme scheme. Al-Mala'ika's collected articles, Qadaya 'l-shi'r al-mu'asir (1962), continued the debate for more sophisticated expression, and developed further some of the principles formulated in the introduction of Shazaya wa ramad.

Why do we fear words?
Some words are secret bells, the echoes
of their tone announce the start of a magic
And abundant time
Steeped in feeling and life,
So why should we fear words?
(from 'Love Song for Words')

Al-Mala'ika has also been a strong defender of women's rights. Her two lectures from the 1950s about women's position in patriarchal society, 'Woman between passivity and positive morality' (1953) and 'Fragmentation in Arab society' (1954), are still topical. In the late 1960s al-Mala'ika started to distance herself from experimentalism and developed more moralistic, conservative views-she also wrote religious poems and often used the two-hemistich form. Al-Mala'aika has kept a diary all her life; she still plays the oud she studied in her youth, and likes to sing the songs of Omm Kulthoum and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab. Al-Mala'aika has translated poems by such writers as Byron, Thomas Gray, and Rupert Brooke, but in the 1960s she also criticized young writers who have embraced too uncritically Western models.

For further reading: The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal (2000); Zwischen Zauber und Zeichen. Moderne arabische Lyrik von 1945 bis heute, ed. by Khalid Al-Maaly (2000); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); 'Nazik al-Mala'ika's poetry and its critical reception in the West' by Salih J. Altoma, in Arab Studies Quarterly (09/22/1997); Reflections and Deflections by S. Ayyad and N. Witherspoon (1986); Women of the Fertile Crescent: Modern Poetry By Arab Women, ed. by Kamal Boullata (1981); Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak, eds. E.W. Fernea and B.Q. Bezirgan (1977); Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry by Salma Jayyusi (1977); Literatura arabe by J. Vernet (1968) - For further information: Jasmine - When the sea changed its colour - Unidad Arabe y Arabidad en la Obra de la Poetisa Nazik al-Mala'ika - See also: 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati –


    • A'shiqat Al-Layl, 1947
    • Shazaya wa ramad, 1949
    • 'Al-mar'a baina 'ltarafain, al-salbiyya wa 'l-akh-laq', 1953
    • 'Al-tajzi'iyya fi 'l-mujtama' al-Arabi', 1954
    • Qarárat al-mawya, 1957
    • Qadaya 'l-shi'r al-mu'asir, 1962
    • Al-Sawma'a wal-Shurfa Al-Hamraa, 1965
    • Shaýarat al-qamar, 1968
    • Ma'sát al-hayát wa ugniya li-l-insán, 1970
    • Al-taýzi'iyya fi-l-muýtama' al-'arabi, 1974
    • Yugayyir alwána-hu l-bahr, 1976
    • Li-l-salat wa-l-tawra, 1978
    • Sykolojia Al-Shi'r, 1979
    • Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr, 1999
    • Al-Aamal Al-Nathriya Al-Kamila, 2002 (2 vols.)
    • Al-Aamal Al-Shi'riya Al-Kamila, 2002

From: Books and Writers


Nazik Al Malaika

Renowned Arab poet Nazik al-Malaika was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1923, oldest among her four sisters and two brothers. She got her baccalaureate in 1939. In her early teens she showed great love for the Arabic language, history and music. In 1944, she graduated from the Baghdad faculty of letters, Arabic department with honors. Um Nizar, Nazik's mother, was herself a poet, and her father was a teacher of Arabic grammar in Baghdad secondary schools. He left a twenty volume encyclopedia on Arabic grammar and literature.

Nazik 's readings in philosophy helped her acquire a dialectical thinking and ideology.
At an early age, she showed inclination to modern Arabic poetry written by Muhammad Hassan Ismael, Badawi al-Jabal Besharael - Khouri, Omar Abu Resheh and many others. For Nazik, the year 1941 was to mark the beginning of her social and spiritual maturity. Added to these it was a year of great national revolt for the Iraqis when the national revolution led by Rasheed al-Kilani was launched.

In 1947 Nazik published her first collection of poems under the title "Night's Lover." For poet Nazik "night" was the symbol of poetry, imagination and dreams, beauty of the stars, wonder of moon lights and the glimmering of the Tigris river under light. She was fascinated by the songs of Egyptian singers Um Kalthoum and Abdul Wahab.
On Friday January 27, 1947, she got up in the morning to hear on the radio a report on the number of Cholera deaths reported each day in Egypt. One thousand deaths of cholera per day made the poet write her well-known poem "The Cholera." It reads "Night came to a standstill listen to the echoes of wails in the dark of night, under silence and on corpses death, death, death humanity laments."

In 1949 Nazik published her second collection, entitled "sparks of ashes" prefacing it with a theory of new poetry metrics.
Two years later, the poet had won fame outside Iraq. She read English literature and the French literature as well. She studied Latin and leant by heart long poems of well-known ancient Greek poets. In 1951 she traveled to the US where she studied literary criticism and in 1954 she also went back again to the US to study "comparative literature."

Her third collection, entitled "Bottom of the Wave" was published in 1957. The July 14, 1958 revolution was a great source of inspiration not only to the Iraqi people but also to the poet when in a poem she expressed the people 's happiness saying: The happiness of children when, embraced by parents is like the happiness of a thirsty man when drinking water. The happiness of July when flirting with cold winds is like the happiness of night when it gives to the stars and the birth of the Republic.
In 1962, the poet published her first book on literary criticism entitled "Issues of Contemporary Poetry." He fourth collection of poems under the title "Tree of the Moon" was published by the beginning of 1968.

In 1970 she wrote a long poem under the title "The Tragedy of Life and a Song for Man."
Her poems written in 1973 published under the title "For Prayer and Revolution" and poems written in 1974 were published under the title "The Sea Changes its Colors."
The poet resided in Iraq and traveled to the US frequently.
She is currently living in Cairo, Egypt where she has lived in self-imposed exile since 1990.

When the sea changed its colors, Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr, Nazik Al-Malaika, Cairo: Afaq Al-Kitaba (Writing Horizons) series of the Cultural Palaces Organisation.

Recent celebrations in Egypt of the career of the Iraqi poet Nazik Al-Malaika, on of the pioneers of free verse, have drawn attention to the poet's connection to the country, such as her decision to live in Egypt during a period of convalescence last year. On this occasion Al-Malaika, for reasons best known to herself, put up a barrier against the press, which few journalists were able to penetrate. This meant that Al-Malaika's presence in the country, went largely unmarked. However with the publication of this book this situation has changed, and we now have available a selection of Al-Malaika's work that justly represents her fame.

Al-Malaika herself chose the contents of the selection, and the bulk of the poems she has chosen were written 25 years ago in 1974. Yet, as is the case with all real, sincere poetry, they have kept their direct appeal: 'My love/My rapture was a sea/Which changed its colours, the sockets of its eyes turning black and green/It threw its waves ahead, forged pearls/Flowed into springs, landed on shores/Created tides, made islands/Scattered, across the blue of the gulf, a blond archipelago.' Besides the poetry, the book also includes a fascinating autobiographical sketch, in which Al-Malaika reveals various aspects of her life.

Born in 1923 in Baghdad, Nazik Al-Malaika completed her secondary education in 1939, before proceeding to earn a BA degree in literature from Baghdad Education College. Her attachment to poetry, however, had begun many years before her years of formal study, and she tells us in her autobiography that she composed her first poetry in Classical Arabic at the age of 10 under the tutelage of her father, who was himself a poet. Her family was very important to her in her early years and later, and it was her father who gave her a secure foundation in the Arabic language. Concerned by the presence of grammatical errors in his daughter's early work, he undertook her education himself, something which he had every qualification to do, since in addition to his own poetry he was also the editor of a 20-volume encyclopedia. He, however, was not the only writer of talent in the family since Al-Malaika's mother, who wrote under the pseudonym Omm Nizar Al-Malaika, was also a poet. The young Nazik thus grew up in an intensely literary environment.

"My father laid out a wonderful smooth path before me," she writes here, "when he provided me with books containing the principles of grammar and the classics of our literature. Thus it was only natural for me to be the only student in the Arabic department to choose the various schools of grammar as a topic for my dissertation. My supervisor was a great professor, the late Mustapha Jawad, and he had a profound effect on my intellectual life. The manuscript of my dissertation is still in the college building and carries the corrections that he made on it in red ink."
In her autobiographical sketch Al-Malaika also recounts the influence that the modern poetry of Mahmoud Hassan Ismail, Badawi Al-Jabal, Amjad Al-Tarabolsi, Omar Abu Risha and Bishara Khouri initially exerted on her. She participated at college meetings, where she would read aloud her work that was already being published by newspapers and magazines. Since then, however, like many another poet, she has largely disowned these early works and has not included them in later books and collections. However one memory of this period remains vivid to her, and that is of sitting alone for hours in her parents' back garden, playing the oud and singing the songs of Omm Kulthoum and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab.

In 1947, Nazik Al-Malaika published her first collection of poetry, A'shiqat Al-Layl (Lover of the Night). A few months later news of the cholera epidemic that was then sweeping Egypt arrived in Iraq, and this had a great emotional effect on the young poet. Later she wrote of this time in her autobiography, and specifically remembered events on Friday 27 October, 1947. "I woke up," she writes, "and lay in bed listening to the broadcaster on the radio, who said that the number of the dead in Egypt had reached 1,000. I was overwhelmed by a profound sadness and deep distress. I jumped out of bed, took out a pen and paper, left the house, which was always noisy and busy on a Friday, and went to a construction site close by. Since it was a holiday, the whole place was deserted, and I sat on a low fence and began to compose 'Cholera', a poem that has subsequently become well-known. I had heard that the corpses of dead people in the Egyptian countryside were being carried crammed together on horse-drawn carts, so as I wrote I imagined something of the sounds of these horses: 'The night is silent/Listen to the effect of groans/In the depth of darkness, below the silence, on the dead.'"
It was under these circumstances that Arabic poetry was first freed from the rigid strictures of traditional rhythmic forms and rhyme schemes. Only the tafila, a looser, more flexible metric division, was retained. Nazik Al-Malaika must take much of the credit for this emancipation and, for her part, from that day on she wrote only what she called 'free' verse, rather in the manner of that written by other earlier experimenters in certain European traditions. In 1949 in her introduction to her second volume of poems, Shazaiya wa Ramad (Shrapnel and Ash), she explained the new theory of metre which she had introduced into Arabic poetry and her own practice of free verse. The essay gave rise to a series of attacks on Al-Malaika by proponents of the older poetics, however Al-Malaika, who was not only a poet but was also a theorist, grammarian and musician, defended herself ably. Her years of study and early foundations in the Arabic language meant that she was able eloquently to defend the new practice.

Throughout her life Al-Malaika exhibited a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge of all kinds. As a student she registered in the oud department of the Fine Arts Institute, attended classes in the acting department and took Latin, while she was still a second-year undergraduate at university. To this day, she tells us here, she still plays her oud and sings the songs of Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, Omm Kulthoum, Fairouz, Abdel-Halim Hafez and Nagat. She studied French with her younger brother without the aid of a teacher, and her love of English literature allowed her to earn a scholarship to study at Princeton University, New Jersey, which was then a predominantly male institution in which Al-Malaika was one of the very few female students.

In 1954 Nazik Al-Malaika travelled again to the United States, this time to earn a Masters degree in Comparative Literature. Besides her studies, it was at this time that Al-Malaika began to write an autobiographical account of her life. In 1961 she married her colleague in the Arabic department at the Education College in Baghdad, Abdel-Hadi Mahbouba, who was himself a graduate of Cairo University.

Reviewed by Mahmoud El-Wardani

From: One Fine Art


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