Monday Poetry: Ghareeb Iskander’s ‘Great Perplexity’

Iraqi poet and scholar Ghareeb Iskander lives and writes in London:

Great Perplexity

By Ghareeb Iskander

Translated by Salma Harland


In translating Derek Walcott,

Words stalk

Like egrets do

In his later poems,

Where he wanted

To speak of regret

But was overshadowed with delight

In a frenzy “like a shallop with a staved-in hull.”


This time I had no need

For Ezra Pound’s “betrayals,”

Where ashes become trees

And rivers a silent abyss,

No magic of transfiguration

But the rites of poetry

And of translation

Found in the covert dictionaries 

Of light and half-light.

This is the way the blind flood 

Becomes a contemplating cane;

Wherever adventure

Draws near,

The golden apple dissolves

Into a spiraling echo.

Words yet to be written disappear,

But letters endure,

Like a primordial fire.

Here is the great perplexity. 


Together we encounter what is born

And what shall die.

We cross the dream 

Along the reaches of the night.

Like an open book without end

Is this cosmic tree

Of poetry:

All poetry

Is but one poem.


Ghareeb Iskander is an Iraqi poet living in London. He published serval books including A Chariot of Illusion (Exiled Writers Ink, London 2009); Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems, a bilingual collection, which won Arkansas University’s Arabic Translation Award for 2015 (Syracuse University Press, New York 2016); English Poetry and Modern Arabic Verse: Translation and Modernity (I. B. Tauris, London 2021). He was the featured writer of Scottish Pen in 2014. Ghareeb received his PhD from SOAS, University of London in comparative literature with an emphasis on literary translation.  

Salma Harland is an Egyptian-born, UK-based translator and academic researcher. She holds an M.A. in Literature and Philosophy from the University of Sussex, a PGCert in Translation and Interpreting from the American University in Cairo, and a BA in Translation from October 6 University. She was also a recipient of the Chancellor’s Postgraduate International Scholarship from the University of Sussex and two Academic Excellence Scholarships from October 6 University. Her literary translations (from and into English and Arabic) have appeared or are forthcoming in ArabLit Quarterly, Jadaliyya, Banipal, Eurolitkrant, Romman Magazine, Turjoman, and Egyptian Researchers.


More poetry:

“Song of Myself,” tr. Hassan Abdulrazzak

A Letter to Adil,” tr. Abdulrazzak


Ghareeb Iskander on Iraqi Poetries and the ‘Third Language’ of Translation

Reading T.S. Eliot in Arabic: A Talk with Ghareeb Iskander


Af’a Gilgamesh / Gilgamesh’s Snake (excerpt) by Ghareeb Iskander