Friday Finds: Nazik al-Mala’ika’s ‘To A Girl Sleeping In The Street’

Emily Drumsta is at work on a collection of poetry by Iraqi poet Nazik al-Mala’ika (1923-2007):

Asymptote has brought out a new translation by Drumsta, “To a Girl Sleeping in the Street.”

Drumsta writes, in part, of her decision-making:

To honor al-Mala’ika’s belief in meter’s vitality—the way it can anchor meaning in the body, transforming ordinary speech into a form of incantation—I have rendered her metered, rhymed Arabic verse into English metrical forms that reproduce, in some form, the music of the Arabic. Where al-Mala’ika uses the mutadarik or “continuous” meter in Arabic, for example, I use anapestic hexameter, English’s answer to Arabic’s most galloping verse form. Al-Mala’ika’s poetry, with its balance between tradition and innovation, ultimately teaches us not to deal so violently with the past, but rather to tread lightly in poetry’s ancient footsteps. My hope is that my English renderings of her verse might begin to do precisely this.

The poem opens:

In Karrada at night, wind and rain before dawn,
when the dark is a roof or a drape never drawn,

when the night’s at its peak and the dark’s full of rain,
and the wet silence roils like a fierce hurricane,

the lament of the wind fills the deserted street,
the arcades groan in pain, and the lamps softly weep.

A guard frowns as he passes with trembling steps,
lightning shows his thin frame, but shadows intercept.

Read it in full at Asymptote.

Also by al-Mala’ika:

The Train Passed By,” trans. Drumsta, on ArabLit

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

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

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

From ‘A Song for Mankind,’ trans. Drumsta, on ArabLit

Q&A with Drumsta about al-Malaika’s revolutionary romantic poetry