Friday Finds: An Excerpt from ‘Al Hallaj’

Egyptian poet and playwright Salah Abdel Sabour (1931 -1981) published his first collection of poems in 1957, followed by a number of plays in verse. His first was The Tragedy of al-Hallaj (1965), for which he won the 1966 Egyptian State Incentive Award for Theatre:

In his youth, Abdel Sabour was known a poetic innovator, part of the “free verse” movement that marked a seismic shift in literary Arabic poetry. Like a number of other poets of his age, the work of T.S. Eliot left a deep mark on his writing. He was also interested in the people of the countryside — he was himself from Zagazig — as well as the poor and marginal.

Abdel Sabour wrote five plays, which were recently brought out in a new Arabic edition. Abdel Sabour continues to be quoted and celebrated, and was the “person of the year” at this year’s Cairo International Book Fair.

According to Ahram Online, his The Tragedy of al-Hallaj was “written after two failed attempts to write poetic plays.”

Robin Moger tells us that the two characters, Shibli and Hallaj, are in the house of Hallaj. “Hallaj and his friend Shibli are talking. Both are dressed in the rags of a Sufi. Two sheikhs of advanced age.”

In it, Hallaj asks:

But, truest of companions, tell me,
………………How do I kill the light in mine?
………………This sun, snared in the folds of days,
………………is ponderous rising, then,
………………………..clearing the sleep from its gaze
………………………………………………(and with sleep, pity),
………………pursues its heartless course over the lanes,
………………over the courts and marts and hospitals and baths,
………………and gathers from the burning world
………………in its red, ardent fingers,
………………images,
………………and spectres,
………………and weaves them into shirts
………………(blood running through their warp and weft)
………………with which it strokes my eye each evening, waking me
………………from meditation on love’s glory, then returns
………………to its captivity.
…………………………………Shibli, tell me,
……………………………Are my eyes burnt out?

 

Elsewhere, PoemHunter has gathered a number of Abdel Sabour translations, including “The Sun and the Woman,” translated by Lena Jayyusi and John Heath-Stubis.

From “The Sun and the Woman“:

She arises from her bed when night falls
Laves her old age in water of the sea
and sleeps, to be born a virgin in the approaching morning.
She shakes her pendulous breasts
Searches between them for the key to the room
Looks about her feeling her way through the sands,
And gets up, worn and gray.
From the nearest shop she buys
Bread for her needs, and cigarettes and wine,
Goes back again and drowses in her past
Making it anew.

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Categories: Egypt, poetry

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