Abdul-Rahman al-Abnudi’s ‘The Usual Sorrows’

Abdul-Rahman al-Abnudi, born in the southern city of Qena in 1938, is one of the most important contemporary Egyptian colloquial poets. His work often returns to the joys and sorrows of the marginalized, and he has also written poetry for those struggling for positive change, including for imprisoned Alaa Abdelfattah (“The Prisoners’ Laughter”):

alabnoudiAlthough a number of al-Abnudi’s poems have been translated, mostly they have been translated in a rough and ready way by fans. “The Usual Sorrows,” which Cairokee adapted into the song “We are the People,” has also been so translated. Here, journalist Ahmed Aboul Enein gives the lyrics’ translation a go:

The Usual Sorrows

By Abdul Rahman al-Abnudi

trans. Ahmed Aboul Enein

From all corners of silent cities
Thousands of youth, crawling,
calling for the death of dawn.
Waiting dawn after dawn,
For the killing to stop,
Or at least for the grip to loosen.
And so they marched to demand
The grip be gripped,
And the palm extended.

Blood

Turned the square upside down,
As though it were molten copper.

I know of cities despised by light
And the grave that slumbers solemnly,
I know of shame and the birth of fire
And the prison in my heart has no walls.

I told him “No sir, I’m sorry,”
My country is worth the spring and morning.
The hum of spring still in my heart
The light of a lantern still in my voice.
The world still lives, it comes and goes,
Differentiating between dark and light.
No matter how much my country loses it’s never lost
Only a vast square is lost

We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips
We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips

I can only mourn my friends at night,
For I am intimate with the moon
And in it many months I’ve confided.
He who killed me is still at large,
And on the night of the funeral,
The moon was oblivious, it didn’t come
The star was ecstatic, however
It did not stop dancing in or shaking.
And when I passed away,
The door crowded, I was surrounded by loved ones
This one washes, this one shrouds, that one readies earth
I had asked that only the shoulders of brothers carry me
Brothers who ate together,
No treason or traitor among them.
Else my coffin mustn’t go through the door,
Oh how wonderful, to slumber on the shoulders of your friends,
To know who is true to you and who lies,
To look for the noblest of faces
In the time of treachery

We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips
We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips

[ABNOUDY VOICE OVER]

I looked around, thinking I’m amongst friends
Come see the world with my eyes,
The distractions of life prevented us from looking
And despite the nobility of pain and patience
We learned things, not least of which was caution
And we slept for amazing years
Passing the nights of our awaited dream
And the markets filled with convoys
Selling the pus of illusions, and boats
Offering the nation up for sale on the curb
Alongside thinking, the hungry, spiders, the humiliation of hunger

[END ABNOUDY]

You’re stagnation, we’re progress
You steal food,
We build homes.
We are sound when you demand silence
Yes, sound when you demand silence
We are two peoples, two peoples, two peoples
Look at where one is and where the other is
The line between both is drawn here
You sold the land, its tools, and people
In the market of the world,
Stipped her clothes off.
She became bare
Face, back, stomach, chest
She rotted even before she died

We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips
We are the people
Who love beauty and are destined for the relentless path
We are the people
Who get stomped with boot and heel tips

[ABNOUDY VOICE OVER]

Even if I am alone now
Soon with time
Generations will visit this cell
And definitely there will be a generation
Unlike the others
One that understands when it sees
And does not fear when it understands
You are the traitors even if I get it wrong
Take your prison keys with you and leave me my country
My country is not your country
And so he left
And I told myself
No one serves you as much as your jailer

[END ABNOUDY]

Watch the video from Cairokee:

More from al-Abnudi:

Yamna,” trans. Randa Aboubakr

“Al Midan,” trans. students in Dr. Samia Mehrez’s “Translating the Revolution”

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Categories: Egypt, poetry

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