From ‘A Song for Mankind’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika

Emily Drumsta was, as part of her Q&A about Nazik al-Mala’ika’s revolutionary romantic poetry, kind enough to share an excerpt of a poem she’s now working on translating:

nazikFrom ‘A Song for Mankind’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika

The heaped ruins tell stories heard only by shadows and ghosts.

They tell of songs that once floated among these pillars,
through drawing rooms drowning in warmth and dreams.
They remember cries of delight, drunken lines and melodies
plunging into cavernous pleasures
where beauty’s mystery, reckless youth, the temptation of love
lie sleeping—

Life’s veins have dried up here
All that’s left are tuneless memories.

The heaped ruins tell stories heard only by shadows and ghosts.

They tell of those who returned from the war as remnants,
mere fragments, a handful of wounds
chanting a hymn of death,
filling the air with psalm after chilling psalm—
How years of deprivation cast a shadow
over their eyes, their lips,
the echo of their falling footsteps
filling the air like a death knell
as they sang their canticles of chaos,
their black, funereal songs.

Is there any glimmer of light
behind the ashen secrets of these silent eyes?
Stories of the nights that passed slowly
and the thick, heavy snow?
of a sleepless sadness in the eyes of the watchmen
who kept vigil in the bloody trenches
while night shed snow on their eyelids
and they lost feeling in their feet?

They watched over the catacombs of night,
drunk with insomnia and the promise of victory,
as the sinews of feeling in their memories died
in a cold, naked silence.
They watched over life with a weariness
bitterly twisted, anciently shackled—
a story unfolding in every pair of eyes,
told to a night of restless dust.

And the soldiers who slumbered with the dead,
sleeping on the frozen earth—
Their dreams are nightmares full of fire,
cadavers, savagery and sickness,
till morning returns, and death with its blackened fangs
passes through again, reaping,
leaving nothing behind but the silence of ruins.

Evening is lost to a thousand dawns,
and morning to a thousand nights—
Everything withers and crumbles; nothing remains
but a memory and a shadow.

Also by al-Mala’ika:

Revolt Against the Sun,” trans. Emily Drumsta, on Jadaliyya

New Year,” trans. Rebecca Carol Johnson, on WWB

Love Song for Words,” trans. Rebecca Carol Johnson, on WWB

Previous Thursdays:

August 1: Basim al-Ansar: ‘Poetry Is the Source of All the Arts’ 

August 8: Khaled al-Maaly: Poetry Worldwide Has No Boundaries

August 15: Between Iraqi and Scottish Poetries: The Closest Thing to Magic One Could Hope to See 

August 22: Ghareeb Iskander on Iraqi Poetries and the ‘Third Language’ of Translation

August 29: Dunya Mikhail: Writing Without Falling Into Narrow ‘Political Poetry’ 

Emily Drumsta is a Ph.D. student and Jacob K. Javits fellow in Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley. Her research interests include modern Arabic poetry, literature in French and Arabic from the Maghreb, postcolonial theory, and translation studies. Her translations have previously been published in Jadaliyya and Circumference magazine.