Celebrating 80 Years: The ‘Shaikh of Arab Translators’

On January 4, translator-scholar Mohamed Mohamed Enani turned eighty years old. Enani has won all three Egyptian State Awards for Literature, as well as ALESCO’s Award for Translation in 2013 and the Egyptian National Council for Translation Award in 2014.

On the 20th of the month, the Egyptian Center for Translation celebrated the birthday of this “Shaikh al-Motarjmeen,” or “Shaikh of Translators”:

By Mona Elnameoury

From the event celebrating Enani.

M.M. Enani is not only a dramatist and poet, an accomplished literary translator, and a critic. He is also a great professor of English language and literature who has taught several generations of the graduates  and supervised tens of theses in his long career. Enani’s best-known translational achievements are bringing twenty six of Shakespeare’s dramatic texts into rhymed Arabic, his translation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Byron, Shelly, and Tennyson. This is not to mention other prose plays, critical works, and philosophical books he’s translated into distinguished prose.

Enani’s particular theory of literary translation highlights the translators’ realization of the source text’s “perlocutionary effect,” and the attempt to cause the same effect in translation. For this, a translator needs to adjust the target text to the acceptable norms of the target culture, depending on the usual linguistic collocations, traditional imagery, and — when it comes to translating poetry — deeply ingrained meter and rhyme. To Enani, a poem cannot be translated into prose, because it loses its “poetic meaning.” The “poetic meaning”, for Enani, is more than the theme or the ideas in a poem; it is the particular meter used, the internal music, the imagery and the place of a certain poem among the poetic tradition of its country.

For Enani, all these intricate elements should be taken into consideration when the poem is translated; the main objective of the translator, thus, is to attempt to create the same effect of the writer. For this, important concepts like fidelity are seen in different light; fidelity means being close to the effect of the source text rather than its literal words. A faithful translator, thus, is basically a perceptive reader and critic, as well as a faithful writer who has absorbed the literary tradition of his country. A translation here becomes a continuous project of “rewriting” that goes hand in hand with the original project of the author.

What is less-well-known about Enani is his literary translations into English. He translated Salah Abulsabour,  Salah Jaheen,  Farooq Guwaidah, Farooq Shooshah, Mona Ragab, and others from Arabic to English for the series of  contemporary Arabic literature in translation issued by the General Egyptian Books Organization (GEBO). That important series had a great start in 1986 and lasted for a few years, was resumed in the nineties, again at the turn of the new century, and all over again these days.

Forthcoming is Enani’s translation of Taha Hussien’s The Shaikh’s Proposal, with a new introduction. Also soon to be reissued is Naguib Mahfouz 1988 Nobel: a Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Enani with an updated bibliography that contains a look at what’s been written on him, both in Arabic and English.

Enani, who is becoming increasingly productive, is finishing a translation of Yusuf al-Qaed’s Days of Mourning, with a long introduction on narrative writing, with the belief that a translator should use their spectacular skills to enrich the cultural field with commentaries, critiques, and introductions. Throughout his career, Enani has written as a translator, and Arabic translators have been nourished by half a dozen books on translation that contain priceless practical  experience and solutions for particular problems.

Among Enani’s translations into English is this poem by Salah Abdulsabour:

Verse and Ashes

Or the Manila Wisdom

Oh, you‘ve come back at last, my lost voice!

For long have wandered in deserts of silence!

A lost shadow in nights of dark moons, my verse,

How fared you in the quotidian prose of nameless

Days-unnamed, unnamable!

Surprised my echoes of a voice talking

To me, and the voice of my soul, talking

To something, lost behind images coming

And going, radiant and fading,

Floating often times in the foam

Of distant horizons, sinking,

Or breaking as a wave, Waning, dissolving,

Then drying up as morning dew-

I asked a question.

On what wing have you flown back,

Shy as a child, delicate as a virgin?

I didn’t hear your footsteps

As you walked in again

Into the cold and dreary chambers of my heart.

Did you hide under the smile of the Manilla beauty

Whom I saw where I cannot recall—

A marked place, a reception hall?

No use! Smiles in this country fall

Like dew at all times, to greet your eye

At break of day and at nightfall.


Perhaps you came back wafted on the breath

Of that string of jasmine buds

Thrown round my neck by the kind hand

Of another beauty- another, anonymous!

In a day or two I shall be back in Cairo;

My friends will ask me to talk of Manilla;

No memories have I, no memories that is, to speak of

But a touch, be it harsh or cruel, of Manilla Wisdom


The lips are made to smile,

The heart for hearty laughter,

The eyes are a lover’s mirror,

Where images live forever,

The body for a miracle to perform

The perfection of a dancer’s rhythm,

The meaning and content of form.


The curtains are down

And shutters block my vision

My body is stiffened into

A coffin of fear and custom

I had been brought up into

A different kind of wisdom

The lore of a taboo,

Both sad and low;

The joie de vivre in me is burning out,

But I have time though,

To collect those ashes

In a poetic urn.

Too late it is for a soul to learn a lesson.


You can also watch a reading of Enani’s translation of Salah Abdulsabour’s Night Traveller:

More details about Enani’s scholarly books/ translations and creative writings can be found  in his Wikipedia page, and more on M.M.Enani’s translational theories at Slideshare.

Mona Elnamoury is a writer, scholar, and long-time contributor to ArabLit.