Ahmed Fouad Negm: ‘Who Are They and Who Are We?’

Al Fagoumy, looking fit as a fiddle.

Walaa Quisay (@WalaaQuisay) continues her project of translating “revolutionary Arab poets.” First, she worked her way through twenty-nine of Ahmed Fouad Negm’s colloquial poems, and now she’s holding a vote as to which poet’s work she should translate next.

Translation of colloquial poetry is one of the more difficult tasks out there. How to transmit or rebuild Negm’s contemporary Egyptian humor in English? The rhythm of it? The bite?

I might suggest some tightening to preserve rhythm (“They’re one specie; we are another” could be “They’re one species; we’re another”) but I think this is in large part working.

Feel free to share your comments here or on Walaa’s blog, add your own translation, or, hey, your own poem.

( Who are they and who are we?) هما مين و إحنا مين?
by Ahmed Fouad Negm, trans. Walaa Quisay

Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is governing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the constructing, we are the workers
We are Al-Sunna, We are Al-Fard
We are the people both height and breadth
From our health, the land raises
And by our sweat, the meadows turn green
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who serves whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the mansions and the cars
And the selected women
Consumerist animals
Their job is only to stuff their guts
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is eating whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the war, its stones and fire
We are the army liberating the land
We are the martyrs
Defeated or successful
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is killing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are mere images behind the music
They are the men of politics
Naturally, with blank brains
But with colorful decorative images
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is betraying whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They wear the latest fashions
But we live seven in a single room
They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans
They walk around in private planes
We get crammed in buses
Their lives are nice and flowery
They’re one specie; we are another
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who will defeat whom?

هما مين و إ حنا مين .. ؟
هما الأمرا و السلاطين ..
هما المال و الحكم معاهم ..
و إحنا الفقرا المحرومين
حزر فزر شغّـل مخك
شوف مين فينا بيحكم مين ؟!!
…………..
إحنا مين و هما مين ..
إحنا الفعلا البنايين
إحنا السنة و إحنا الفرض
إحنا الناس بالطول و العرض
من عافيتنا تقوم الارض ..
و عرقنا يخضر بساتين
حزر فزر شغل مخك
شوف مين فينا بيخدم مين ..؟؟!!
…………….
هما مين و إحنا مين ؟؟
هما الامرا و السلاطين
هما الفيلا و العربية
و النساوين المتنقية
حيوانات استهلاكية
شغلتهم حشو المصارين
حزر فزر شغل مخك
شوف مين فينا بياكل مين ..؟؟!!!
………………..
إحنا مين و هما مين
إحنا قرنفل على ياسمين
إحنا الحرب : حطبها و نارها
و إحنا الجيش اللي يحررها
و إحنا الشهدا بكل مدارها
منكسرين أو منتصرين
حزر فزر شغل مخك
شوف مين فينا بيقتل مين ..؟؟!!!
…………….
هما مين و إحنا مين
هما الامرا و السلاطين
هما مناظر بالمزيكا
و الزفة و شغل البوليتيكا
و دماغهم طبعاً استيكا
بس البركة بالميازين
حزر .. فزر شغل مخك
شوف مين فينا بيخدع مين ..؟؟؟!!!
…………………
هما مين و إحنا مين
هما الامرا و السلاطين
هما بيلبسوا أخر موضة
و إحنا بنسكن سبعة في أوضة
هما بياكلوا حمام و فراخ
و إحنا الفول دوخنا و داخ
هما بيمشوا بطيارات
و إحنا نموت بالاوتوبيسات
هما حياتهم بامب جميلة
هما فصيلة و إحنا فصيلة
حزر فزر .. شغل مخك
شوف مين فينا حيغلب مين

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One comment

  1. A valiant enterprise. But the English result is SO disappointing. Where is the cadence, where is the underlying drumbeat that is so audible in Arabic? Where is the “vernacularity” if I may coin such a term? For a translation to “work”, conveying meaning is only half the task. The musicality, the rhythm, the pulse, the beat of the piece are the other half. Especially in poetry. As with the realm of law, there is the letter and the spirit – and this is is all letter and no spirit.

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