Friday Finds: A New Translation of Amal Dunqul’s ‘The Book of Exodus’

Over at Jadaliyya, the culture editors have published Salma Harland’s translation of Amal Dunqul’s (1940-1983) “The Book of Exodus“:

The poem has previously been translated by Ferial Ghazoul, who wrote about Dunqul’s poetics for Arab World Books. There, Ghazoul wrote:

The two poems translated here, “The Book of Genesis” and “The Book of Exodus” are from Dunqul’s collection, The Coming Testament (1975). In her fascinating biography of Dunqul and the account of their unconventional relationship entitled The Southerner (1985), Abla al-Roueni, drama critic, journalist and the poet’s widow deems this collection his best.(3) Significant as these poems are, they have not before been translated into English, although some of his poems have been co-translated into English by the Palestinian poet Sharif Eimusa and tote Canadian poet Thomas Ezzy.(4) His poems have also been translated into German, Spanish, Turkish and Greek.

Ghazoul adds:

The title, “The Book of Exodus,” was added when the poem was included in Dunqul’s collection, The Coming Testament. Although the poem does not depend on the structure or style of the Biblical Exodus, in contradistinction to his poem “The Book of Genesis,” it does borrow the pregnant term “exodus” (khuruj) to indicate a mass departure — that of the rebellious students — from the social norm. The departure motif is reinforced by the farewells enunciated in Chapter III of the poem, just before the massacre of the youth by the police force. Thus the nature of the departure is a march out and forward. The patriotic thrust of such an exilic move from one’s community is crystallized in the unfolding of the poem.(7)

There is no book-length translation of Dunqul’s poetry to English. However, several poems have been translated in recent years, including Robin Moger’s much looser translation of the “Book of Genesis,” which works to build poetry from poetry:

In the beginning I

was a man a woman a tree

I was a father and son and holy spirit I

was morning evening the round fixed eye

Ghazoul’s translation, by contrast, reads more like prose: “In the beginning I was man, woman and tree / I was father, son and holy ghost /I was morning, evening and the circular fixed gaze[.]”

Harland’s new translation of “The Book of Exodus” opens more declamative than does Ghazoul’s, carrying over Dunqul’s punctuation: “O you, standing on the verge of the massacre, / Brandish your weapons!”

Read them all:

The Book of Genesis,” translated by Robin Moger

The Book of Genesis,” translated by Ferial Ghazoul

The Book of Exodus,” translated by Salma Harland

The Book of Genesis,” translated by Ferial Ghazoul


Spartacus’ Last Words, trans. Suneela Mubayi

A Special Interview with Noah’s Son, trans. Ghada Mourad

Koleib’s Murder (The Ten Commandments), trans. Nada Hegazy