Translations of ‘Prince of Poets’ Competitor’s Poem for the Revolution: Tahrir Square by Hesham al-Gakh

Last week, Hesham al-Gakh skipped the “Prince of Poets” competition in order to join Egypt’s new day.

The protests were a new experience for al-Gakh. While he has written and recited popular poetry—some critical of the government—he previously told Daily News Egypt that he’d never participated in a protest. Now, of course, things are different.

And, when he returned to the Prince of Poets show this Wednesday, al-Gakh came with a poem about Egypt’s revolution.

According to The National: “Applause thundered through the hall and Egyptian flags fluttered above the bleachers at Al Raha Beach Theatre as he began reciting his poem ‘Tahrir Square.'”

National writer Haneen Dajani translates the opening verse: “Hide your old poems all of them, and write for Egypt today a poem as it is.” Then: “No silence after today forcing its fear, so write peace, Egypt’s Nile and its people.”

Dajani also translates other excerpts:

“We used each other to warm ourselves and we would see you [Egypt] smiling, so we would forget its [the streets’] freeze.”

“Don’t let them tell you that I’m a rebel who betrayed the trust or forgot about it … ”

According to The National, the judges were mixed on the poem’s merits; al-Gakh now must wait for public voting to wrap up next week to see whether he’s qualified for the next episode.

Two translations from Meedan can be found here. They note: The version marked “English” is by Scott Cole, while the “English, British” is by Michael Nevadomski. Thanks, ya Meedan!

Watch in Arabic:

Other Egyptian authors and thinkers on Tahrir:

Novelist Ahdaf Soueif writes movingly in The Guardian about the changing mood last night in Tahrir following Mubarak’s non-departure statement. She writes:

The dominant feeling at that moment was of disbelief. No one could credit that after millions of people had demanded the departure of the regime and all the scandals that have erupted over the past days, Mubarak could come on and simply repeat the same tired old tropes. Adding to them a further smokescreen about not succumbing to foreign pressure. It defied belief that a president who has alienated and ruined his country by following American policies for 30 years was now staking a claim to independence of foreign influence.

Nobel-prize winning scientist and memoirist Ahmed Zewail remembers Tahrir in his autobiographical Voyage Through Time: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize:

We were on our own in America, and I had this thumped into me when I was still wearing the slick-soled dress shoes I had brought from Egypt in the snow. Walking to the lab, I slipped and landed flat on my behind while cars and other pedestrians passed me by. No one stopped! If I had fallen in downtown Cairo, on Tahrir Square, someone would have brought a chair, someone else would have brought tea with mint or put water on my face to help me recuperate.

Mohamed Salmawy’s The Last Station: Naguib Mahfouz Looking Back, translated by Andy Smart:

Naguib Mahfouz always used to wake up around five or five thirty because in his younger days he would leave his home in Agouza by six, heading south along the Nile as far as Galaa Bridge, and then east across the Gazira Island, past the new Opera House, to Qasr al-Nil Bridge. He would then cross the bridge to the Ali Baba cafeteria on Tahrir Square, where he’d go up to the first floor. he’d sit next to the window overlooking the square and read the papers over his morning coffee. Mahfouz chose this cafeteria because it was one of the few that were open at that time of morning, since it was open twenty-four hours a day.

From Radwa Ashour’s Specters, translated by Barbara Romaine:

In the evening, Mourid and I will go down to Tahrir Square: the students will be milling around the stone monument in the middle of the square, while other groups conduct discussions with passersby about economic and political conditions in the country, and explain the reasons for the sit-in. We head for the Izavich Cafe. There we find a number of our fellow writers and we hear talk of a national committee of writers and artists being formed. … We copy the petition, as do others of our colleagues. We divide up into small groups, each of which takes a copy of the petition, to gather the signatures of writers and artists. We carry out our mission and return to the square. The security forces, from a distance, are watching the students who are sitting and standing around the monument, shouting and chanting.