Remembering the Poet of Egypt’s (Previous) Revolution

Today in Al Masry Al Youm, Heba Afify has an essay about colloquial poet Salah Jaheen (accompanied by a terrible, depressing photo of the rotund revolutionary).

Jaheen—officially Mohammed Salah el-Din Helmi Bahgat—was dubbed “poet of the revolution” in the 1950s for the patriotic poems he wrote, many of which were set to music and sung by the beloved Abdelhalim Hafez.

Afify quotes from one of Jaheen’s most famous poems, “In Egypt’s Name“; she also quotes a poem about power (translator not noted):

They said politics is generally lethal, and its seas are rough my son not made of ostrich feathers, dive in and you’ll find all those who drowned carrying fortunes, and those who remained light are the ones who floated.

Jaheen, a big force in Egyptian colloquial poetry and in cartooning, is one of the few colloquial poets to have a book-length work in English. His Ruba’yat was translated by Nihad Salemnll and published by Sphinx Books in 2009.  I have not picked up a copy, but I’m interested to see what Salemnll has made of Jaheen’s work.

In Al Ahram back in 2001, Amina Elbendary translated a section of Jahin’s “Angham Sebtembariya” (September Songs):

September Tunes

The film stopped, frozen
Now we can ponder the image
No detail missing.
Everything speaks, articulate
wordless, voiceless.
The instant death pushed down —
gentle yet omnipotent, one desultory day —
On a button in this kingdom
The film stopped, frozen.

Let the projectionist rewind the scene
I want to see myself in the old days — young
among the ranks of the revolution — proud,
Impressed by neither king nor father
I want to see again and remember
Why one of my blows hit,
one of them missed
And one stopped the film, froze it.

The projectionist said: No return
Live as long as you have breath enough to live
And look and see.
Where the young sit — row after row —
Where the young sit in the cinema whistling
No stopping.
Where the young sit there are a thousand million
Impressed by neither king nor father.
Look at them
And you will remember

“Soura,” (Picture), written by Jaheen and sung by Abdelhalim Hafez: