By Nazik Aal-Mala’ika

Nazik Aal-Mala’ika[The Iraqi poet Nazik al-Mala'ika is perhaps best known for the important role she played in the development and popularization of Arabic "free verse" (or taf'ila poetry) in the 1950s. After laying out the basic parameters of this new poetic form in the preface to her second collection of poetry, Fragments and Dust (Shazaya wa Ramad) in 1949, she later expanded her discussion of the topic in a critical text titled Issues in Contemporary Poetry (Qadaya al-shi'r al-mu'asir) (1962). While most of her best known poems, such as "Cholera" (al-Kulira) and "For Prayer and Revolution" (Li-l-salat wa-l-thawra), appeared in this later collection, "Revolt Against the Sun" (Thawra 'ala al-shams) was published in an earlier collection titled The Woman in Love with Night ('Ashiqat al-layl) (1947). Critics have generally dismissed this earlier text as a purely romantic work preoccupied with the topics of melancholy and bittersweet beauty, but "Revolt Against the Sun" reveals a more complex dimension to the collection. Though it seems at first like a typically romantic meditation on the beauty of the night, the stars, and the power of poetic inspiration, al-Mala'ika's use of political terminology (thawra, tamarrud, etc.) and her insistent, almost defiant tone ask that we read her assumption of the elegiac/nocturnal/melancholic position (stereotypical for women poets in the Arab tradition) as a distinctly political act. According to such a reading, "revolting" and "rebelling" against the sun imply the denunciation of male poetic hegemony and the relegation of women poets to the "mono-thematic" realm of the elegiac. In this poem, as in others from this collection, al-Mala'ika reclaims the (feminized) space of elegy in order to affirm a strong and willful poetic voice.]

Revolt Against the Sun
A gift for the rebels.

She stood before the sun, screaming:
“Sun! You are like my rebellious heart
Whose youth swept life away
And whose ever-renewed light
Gave the stars to drink.
Careful! Do not let a bewildered sadness
Or a sighing tear in my eyes deceive you.
For sadness is the form of my revolt and my resistance
Beneath the night—divinity be my witness!”

“Careful! Do not let the sadness of my features,
My pale color, or the shiver of my emotions deceive you.
If my bewilderment and the lines of my torrential poet’s sadness
Should appear shimmering on my brow,
It is only the feelings that inspire pain in my soul
And a tear at the frightening power of life.
It is only the prophecy that could not fly and so resisted
Sadness, in the face of a dismal life.”

“My two lips—pressed above their pain
My two eyes, thirsty for dew.
Evening has left its shadow on my brow,
And morning has extinguished my hopes yet again.
So I have come to pour out my bewilderment to nature
Among the fragrant roses, the afternoon shadows.
But you mocked my deep sadness and my tears
And laughed above my bitterness and pain.”

“Even you, Sun? What melancholy!
You are the object of my dreams’ contemplation.
You are the one in whose name my youth sang out,
Chanting in the flood of your smiling light.
You are the one I held holy and worshipped
As an idol when I sought refuge from pain.
What disillusionment! Now you are no more to me
Than the shadow of my melancholy and gloom.”

“I will smash the idol that I built for you
From my love for every radiant light
And avert my eyes from your gleam.
You are nothing but the specter of a deceptive glow.
I will craft a paradise from the dreams of my own heart;
My life can do without your gleaming rays.
We, the idealists, in our spirits
Lie the secrets of divinity and an immortality lost.”

“Do not cast your beams over my thicket!
If you rise, it is for other than my poet’s heart.
Your light no longer stirs my emotions,
For my lot is the night stars that inspire the mind.
They are friends who remain awake in the dark.
They understand my soul, my explosive emotions,
And they stretch to my eyelids radiant threads
Of silver light in the enchanted evening.”

“Night is all life’s melodies and poetry
Where the inspirational god of beauty wanders.
The soul, no longer imprisoned, flutters about in it
And spirits soar above the stars.
How often I have walked beneath its shadows and lights
Forgetting the sadness of an unjust existence,
On my lips a song with a divine resonance
Recited to my mouth by a caravan of stars.”

“How often I have gone to watch every passing light
And compose my melodies in the dark of night,
Or to watch the moon bidding farewell in the darkness
And wander in the valley of enchanting fantasies.
Silence sends a shiver through my soul
Beneath the evening calm and dark,
And light dances in my eyelids, drawing
In their depths the dreams of a hopeful heart.”

“Sun! As for you… what?
What can my emotions and my mind find in you?
Do not be surprised if I am in love with darkness,
You goddess of the flame that melts and thaws
You who shred every dream that rises
For the dreamers, and every enchanting spirit—
You who destroy what the darkness builds
And the silence in the depths of a poet’s heart.”

“The sum of your dancing lights, oh sun,
Are weaker than the flame of my resistance,
And the madness of your fire will never rend my melody
As long as my singing harp stays in my hand.
If you should submerge the earth, remember
That I will rid my temple of your rays
And bury the past that you exalted
To let the beautiful night be canopied
Over my tomorrow.”


Translated from the Arabic by Emily Drumsta.

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