Al-Bayati’s ‘Western Civilization’

Amr El-Zawawy has translated a poem, “حضارة الغرب”, by celebrated Iraqi poet Abdel-Wahhab Al-Bayyati:

By Amr El-Zawawy

images (1)The celebrated poet Abdel-Wahhab Al-Bayyati was born in Baghdad on Dec. 19, 1926 and died in exile on August 3, 1999.

As a young man, he joined Baghdad University, and in 1950 became a teacher. In the same year, he published his first collection under the title Mala’ika wa Shayatin (Angels and Devils). Being a staunch communist, he was expelled from all his positions soon after, in 1954, and he left Iraq and moved to Damascus.

In 1958, having stayed in Lebanon and Egypt, al-Bayyati returned to Iraq. In 1961, he moved to Russia, where he taught at the Asian and African People’s Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1964, he moved to Cairo, Egypt once more. In 1968, he returned to Iraq, but escaped after a vicious campaign against him by the government. He returned in 1972 to receive honors from the new Iraqi government. In 1980, he served as a cultural attaché and was sent by Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi embassy in Madrid. But when Hussein’s government invaded Kuwait in 1990, Al-Bayati left Spain and took refuge in Jordan and later in Syria. In 1995, Hussein stripped al-Bayyati of his Iraqi nationality, and he died in exile in Damascus in August 1999.

This is the translation of the poem حضارة الغرب:

Western Civilization

Civilization is collapsing.

A heart moulded of mud

Two bottomless eyes

In their two wells, a river is drying.

A harlot abandoned by a train

Amid Europe’s night, without clothes

Dying under chill and rain.

I wished

I had shouted at her:

‘O, old woman,

You, clad in tatters:

You’ve missed the train.’

حضارة الغرب
حضارة تنهار
قلب من الطين
وعينان بلا قرار
يجف في بئريهما النهار
عاهرة خلّفها القطار
في ليل أوروبا بلا دثار
تموت تحت البرد والأمطار
لو صحت بها:
أيتها العجوز
يا هتيكة الإزار
قد فاتك القطار

Amr El-Zawawy is a doctor of linguistics and translation at Alexandria University, Egypt.