Egypt’s Prince of Refuseniks: The Poetry of Amal Dunqul

Amal Dunqul, one of Egypt’s most significant 20th century poets, has been little-translated and little-recognized outside the Arabic-reading world. While Youssef Rakha here classes Dunqul with Mahmoud Darwish in his critique of “Unfree Verse,” Darwish is widely-known in Anglo poetry-reading circles. Dunqul, I think not.

Whether “the Price of Refuseniks” was ultimately as innovative and wide-ranging as Darwish is not my focus here. Instead it’s to say, “Look! A new translation of ‘A Special Interview with Noah’s Son,’ trans. Gaelle Raphael, that originally appeared on Jadaliyya!” Well, and to generally turn your mind to thoughts of Dunqul, whose poetry can be found in translation here (trans. Dr. Ferial Ghazoul) and here (trans. Nada Hegazy). Find much more in Arabic on Jehat.

Raphael requested that the poem be centered here, as she said, centering “gives an image of the flood coming toward the reader.”

Noah’s flood is coming nearer!

The city is sinking little…by little

Birds flee

And water rises

On the steps of houses


The post office


Statues (of our immortal ancestors)


Wheat sacks

Maternity hospitals

The prison gate

The State House

The corridors of fortified barracks.

Birds are leaving



Geese on the water float

Furniture floats…

And a child’s toy…

And a gasp of a sad mother

Young women on the roofs waver!

Noah’s flood is coming nearer

Here are “the wise men” fleeing to the ship

The singers, the prince’s horseman, the usurers, the judge of judges

(And his Mamlouk…),

The sword bearer, the temple dancer

(She rejoiced when she picked up her wig…)

Tax collectors, weapons importers,

The princess’s lover in his radiant effeminate manner

Noah’s flood is coming nearer.

Here are the cowards fleeing to the ship

While I was…

The city’s youth were

Bridling the unruly horse of the water

Carrying water on both shoulders.

And racing time

They were building stone dams for themselves

Hoping to save the bosom of youth and civilization

Hoping to save…the homeland!

…the master of the Ark shouted at me—before the advent

Of quietude:

“Escape from a country…where the spirit is no longer!”

I said:

Blessed are those who ate its bread…

In days of prosperity

And turned their back on it

In times of adversity!

Glory to us, we who have stood

(God has obliterated our names!)

to defy destruction…

And seek refuge in a mountain that doesn’t die

(They call it ‘the people’!)

We refuse to flee…

And we refuse to wander!

My heart, knit with injuries

Cursed by commentaries

Is resting, now, on the city’s remains

A blossom bland


After it said “No” to the ship …

and loved the homeland

And the Arabic original:

جاء طوفانُ نوحْ!

المدينةُ تغْرقُ شيئاً.. فشيئاً

تفرُّ العصافيرُ,

والماءُ يعلو.

على دَرَجاتِ البيوتِ

– الحوانيتِ –

– مَبْنى البريدِ –

– البنوكِ –

– التماثيلِ (أجدادِنا الخالدين) –

– المعابدِ –

– أجْوِلةِ القَمْح –

– مستشفياتِ الولادةِ –

– بوابةِ السِّجنِ –

– دارِ الولايةِ –

أروقةِ الثّكناتِ الحَصينهْ.

العصافيرُ تجلو..



ويطفو الإوز على الماء,

يطفو الأثاثُ..

ولُعبةُ طفل..

وشَهقةُ أمٍ حَزينه

الصَّبايا يُلوّحن فوقَ السُطوحْ!

جاءَ طوفانُ نوحْ.

هاهمُ “الحكماءُ” يفرّونَ نحوَ السَّفينهْ

المغنونَ- سائس خيل الأمير- المرابونَ- قاضى القضاةِ

(.. ومملوكُهُ!) –

حاملُ السيفُ – راقصةُ المعبدِ

(ابتهجَت عندما انتشلتْ شعرَها المُسْتعارْ)

– جباةُ الضرائبِ – مستوردو شَحناتِ السّلاحِ –

عشيقُ الأميرةِ في سمْتِه الأنثوي الصَّبوحْ!

جاءَ طوفان نوحْ.

ها همُ الجُبناءُ يفرّون نحو السَّفينهْ.

بينما كُنتُ..

كانَ شبابُ المدينةْ

يلجمونَ جوادَ المياه الجَمُوحْ

ينقلونَ المِياهَ على الكَتفين.

ويستبقونَ الزمنْ

يبتنونَ سُدود الحجارةِ

عَلَّهم يُنقذونَ مِهادَ الصِّبا والحضاره

علَّهم يُنقذونَ.. الوطنْ!

.. صاحَ بي سيدُ الفُلكِ – قبل حُلولِ


“انجِ من بلدٍ.. لمْ تعدْ فيهِ روحْ!”


طوبى لمن طعِموا خُبزه..

في الزمانِ الحسنْ

وأداروا له الظَّهرَ

يوم المِحَن!

ولنا المجدُ – نحنُ الذينَ وقَفْنا

(وقد طَمسَ اللهُ أسماءنا!)

نتحدى الدَّمارَ..

ونأوي الى جبلٍِ لا يموت

(يسمونَه الشَّعب!)

نأبي الفرارَ..

ونأبي النُزوحْ!

كان قلبي الذي نَسجتْه الجروحْ

كان قَلبي الذي لَعنتْه الشُروحْ

يرقدُ – الآن – فوقَ بقايا المدينه

وردةً من عَطنْ


بعد أن قالَ “لا” للسفينهْ

.. وأحب الوطن!


Ahram Online: Unknown Poems by Donqol to be published

Youssef Rakha: Unfree Verse


  1. Thanks for the introduction to a poet, I was unaware of, I shall enjoy checking out other poetry by this writer. Also love the idea of centering the poem to provide a visual as well as the verbal image.

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