A Google Doodle for May Ziadeh

Tell me, O tell me! by the planets that are above
Who is the heavenly herald who is the dove
That thrilled to our midst from yon horizon and sea
To cry live Egypt live independent and free
-Jawdat R. Haydar, in his poem “May Ziadeh” (1931)

After celebrating Khalil Gibran’s 125th anniversary last month, Google has turned its gaze on a poet Gibran greatly admired: Palestinian May Ziadeh.

Ziadeh was born in Nazareth on February 11, 1886.

Ziadeh was an important literary figure both in the Levant and in Egypt, where she immigrated with her family in 1908. She was a prolific poet, translator, short-story writer, essayist, letter-writer, and critic, as well as host to an important literary salon. While her first collection of poetry (Fleurs de Rêve, 1911) was in French, she devoted most of her time and energy to writing in Arabic.

Ziadeh’s poetry and essays were pioneering. She  wrote numerous editorials and, in the words of scholar Antje Ziegler, “courageously took a stand against European colonial politics and defended the freedom of the press and other basic democratic rights.” But she was perhaps best-known for hosting a Tuesday salon, visited and admired by the young Taha Hussein, among others. 

Ziadeh’s life has been fodder for rumor, at least one bad TV serial, and study. Her rise and fall has provided an ongoing attraction. In “Rediscovering May Ziadeh,” Ziegler writes:

Numerous biographical studies of May Ziadeh have appeared in Arabic during the past five decades, and the steady flow of articles in Arabic journals and newspapers suggest the impression that Arab authors continuously feel tempted to interpret the contrasts in her life — her rise and fall from the heights of celebrity to the depths of supposed madness and complete isolation.

Youssef Rakha, writing about Ziadeh in 1999, notes that her work retains an immediate and readable character:

…Ziyada’s admirably level-headed sensibility, the depth and breadth of the sympathy she displays for her subjects and her consistently articulate tone all render the historical gap ultimately negligible.

But, while Ziadeh was a widely respected thinker and writer, after the death of her parents, she found herself in difficult straits. Because she was unmarried, social mores apparently made it impossible for her to continue hosting her salon. Then, according to Ziegler:

When she fell into a temporary depression around 1935, her relatives had her legally declared incompetent and committed her to a hospital for mental diseases in Beirut. A handful of remaining friends, one of them the famous mahjar literate Amin al-Rihani, finally obtained her release with the help of a press campaign in leading Lebanese journals like al-Makshuf.

But, even during the last years of her life, Ziadeh continued to write. Her work is not, to my knowledge, available in English.

More:

A few of Ziadeh’s earliest poems, in French 

May Ziadeh Rediscovered

Al Ahram Weekly: The mirror of Mai

Al Ahram Weekly: Introducing Miss Mai

If I Were Google… (a blogger’s suggestion heard)

Love on Paper: On the relationship between Gibran and Ziadeh

A poem for May:

From Lebanese admirer Jawdat R. Haydar (1905 – 2006)

May Ziadeh

Me thinks that perfection descended from the skies
That is a nymph with a twin of dark piercing eyes
Paraissent le Dimanche in the French Images
As the quessn thought of all bards in all languages

Tell me, O tell me! by the planets that are above
Who is the heavenly herald who is the dove
That thrilled to our midst from yon horizon and sea
To cry live Egypt live independent and free

She is Venus and the marrow of liberty
She came to carve with letters of perpetuity
Over Egypt in the sky withal on the sea
Live Egypt down the ages and God be with thee

Nablus,
1931



Categories: Egypt, PalFest, women

8 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Milenanik3's Blog and commented:
    This is the most interesting and amazing blog about Arab literature(in English) written by interesting Lady.I am honored to read about Miss May Ziadeh.Thanks for writing.

  2. Each time when I come here I know I am going to enjoy reading Your amazing blog.Today I am thrilled..Theme is so brilliant,there is so little I knew about Miss.Ziadeh.Thank You for sharing Your knowledge with us,thank You for writing here at WordPress.
    With regards,
    Milena Nikolić

  3. Hi,

    thank you for this very informative post! It was a good read for me!

    I like the todays doodle, too. So I’ve created a short video with some facts on May Ziade.
    If you like it, feel free to embed it in your article, I think it will be a good ressource for your readers, too.

    Here is the youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1DiQD2bZts

    Kind regards,
    Patrick

    P.S. I’m planning to do some more videos on Doodles in the future. Please contact me, if you like to become further updates🙂

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