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Nizar Qabbani

August 5, 2009

nizar qabbaniNizar Qabbani (21 March 1923 – 30 April 1998) was a Syrian poet and a diplomat. He was a prolific poet with numerous gems of literature to his name. But one of his poems that had created furor in the palaces of the Arab world (especially the verse 17 – The Egyptian government had banned all his books as well as his entry in the country but later on after negotiations all the restrictions were lifted) startled me because when I read it, I realized that nothing has been changed. The situation in the Arab world is the same if not worse and the Palestinians are still languishing in the refugee camps or are being thrown out of their homes. This poem is so true to present times indeed and some of the verses aptly reflect the situation in Pakistan as well.

Nizar Qabbani had written that poem called Footnotes to the Book of Setback after the 1967 war between the Israel and Egypt-Jordan-Syria forces.


The old word is dead.
The old books are dead.
Our speech with holes like worn-out shoes is dead.
Dead is the mind that led to defeat.


Our poetry has gone sour.
Women’s hair, nights, curtains and sofas
Have gone sour.
Everything has gone sour.


My grieved country,
In a flash
You changed me from a poet who wrote love poems
To a poet who writes with a knife.


What we feel is beyond words:
We should be ashamed of our poems.


Stirred by Oriental bombast,
By boastful swaggering that never killed a fly,
By the fiddle and the drum,
We went to war
And lost.


Our shouting is louder than our actions,
Our swords are taller than us,
This is our tragedy.


In short
We wear the cape of civilization
But our souls live in the stone age.


You don’t win a war
With a reed and a flute.


Our impatience
Cost us fifty thousand new tents.


Don’t curse heaven
If it abandons you,
Don’t curse circumstances.
God gives victory to whom He wishes.
God is not a blacksmith to beat swords.


It’s painful to listen to the news in the morning.
It’s painful to listen to the barking of dogs.


Our enemies did not cross the border
They crept through our weakness like ants.


Five thousand years
Growing beards
In our caves.
Our currency is unknown,
Our eyes are a haven for flies.
Smash the doors,
Wash your brains,
Wash your clothes.
Read a book,
Write a book,
Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,
Sail to the country of fog and snow.
Nobody knows you exist in caves.
People take you for a breed of mongrels.


We are thick-skinned people
With empty souls.
We spend our days practicing witchcraft,
Playing chess and sleeping.
And we the ‘Nation by which God blessed mankind’?


Our desert oil could have become
Daggers of flame and fire.
We’re a disgrace to our noble ancestors:
We let our oil flow through the toes of whores.


We run wildly through streets
Dragging people with ropes,
Smashing windows and locks.
We praise like frogs,
Swear like frogs,
Turn midgets into heroes,
And heroes into scum:
We never stop and think.
In mosques
We crouch idly,
Write poems,
And beg God for victory
Over our enemy.


If I knew I’d come to no harm,
And could see the Sultan,
I’d tell him:
Your wild dogs have torn my clothes
Your spies hound me
Their eyes hound me
Their noses hound me
Their feet hound me
They hound me like Fate
Interrogate my wife
And take down the names of my friends,
When I came close to your walls
And talked about my pains,
Your soldiers beat me with their boots,
Forced me to eat my shoes.
You lost two wars.
Half of our people are without tongues,
What’s the use of people without tongues?
Half of our people
Are trapped like ants and rats
Between walls´.
If I knew I’d come to no harm
I’d tell him:
‘You lost two wars
You lost touch with children’


If we hadn’t buried our unity
If we hadn’t ripped its young body with bayonets
If it had stayed in our eyes
The dogs wouldn’t have savaged our flesh.


We want an angry generation
To plough the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants.


Arab children,
Corn ears of the future,
You will break out chains.
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.
Arab children,
Don’t read about our windowless generation,
We are a hopeless case.
We are as worthless as water-melon rind.
Don’t read about us,
Don’t ape us,
Don’t accept us,
Don’t accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.
Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are a generation
That will overcome defeat.

(Translation by Abdullah al-Udhari)

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2009 10:15 am


    What a wonderful post this was, to read i was refreshing, MashaAllah

    How wonderfully he has written about truth, It is very ahrd for people to write truth without fear of execution from the government or vice versa. I particularly like the last bit, which said arab children, but how he may ahve lamented today when he would learnt hat todays arab generation is thousand times WORSE than his generation of which he thought so low.. At least they fought, the new generation is not even rady to fight for their ideals as Jihad has been made to appear as something taboo and old fashioned while they themselves try and present “civilised” reasons to just goa nd trample on any nation. How sad!

    Thank you for sharing this Ayesha, I always love coming back here..

  2. August 6, 2009 10:16 am

    13, 14, 15, 16… I am speechless!!!

    • Ayesha permalink
      August 6, 2009 2:23 pm

      I am glad you liked it! It is a stunning poem so I thought to share it with you all.

      In fact, when I read Faiz his words sounds so true as well… and it breaks my heart to realize that nothing has been changed for good in this world all those decades. Instead, things have worsen and we are living in such disheartening times. But poetry can act as a magical potion that can heal the broken spirits.

  3. August 12, 2009 11:06 pm

    he’s been a favourite. good, you shared his work with others 🙂

  4. June 28, 2011 1:36 am

    Thanks for the link, although I’ve read it before. Its saved on my blog under the title of ‘Verse’; not sure which title is correct 🙂

    Another poem of Nizar that you may like is Five Letters to My Mother:


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