Three Translations of Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi’s ‘If the People Wanted Life One Day’

No one has yet submitted a re-translation of “To the Tyrants of the World.” However, we are having a miniature translation slam with Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi’s most famous work. As’ad Abu Khalil (the Angry Arab)—who has called al-ShabiThe Poet of the Tunisian Revolution—was the first to post a translation of al-Shabi’s most famous poem, which Abu Khalil titles, in English, “The Will of Life.”

I am not a translator, but I prefer something along the lines of the more literal title Marwa al-Naggar suggests, “If the People Wanted Life One Day.” Elliott Colla also sent over a translation (with no title):

إذا الشعب يوما أراد الحياة

“If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.

And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.

For he who is not embraced by a passion for life will dissipate into thin air,

At least that is what all creation has told me, and what its hidden spirits declare…”

Translated by Elliott Colla.

The Will of Life

If the people will to live
Providence is destined to favourably respond
And night is destined to fold
And the chains are certain to be broken

And he who has not embraced the love of life
Will evaporate in its atmosphere and disappear.

Translated by As’ad Abu Khalil.


And, from over at Meedan, a translation from a contributor called “YankeeJohn”:

Should the people one day truly aspire to life / then fate must needs respond / the night must needs shine forth / and the shackles must needs break / Those who are not embraced by life’s yearning / shall evaporate in her air and vanish.


فلا بــدّ أن يستجيب القــــدر             إذا الشعب يوماً أراد الحيـــــــاة
ولا بـــدّ للقيـــد أن ينكســــر                ولا بدّ للــــيل أن ينجلــــــــــي
تبـــخّر في جــوّهـا واندثــــر                 ومن لم يُعانــقه شوق الحيــاة


Please do send your own…. And, for you Ukranian readers, Bohdan has written this version.