Biography of Nizar Qabbani
Qabbani was revered by generations of Arabs for his sensual and romantic verse. His work was featured not only in his two dozen volumes of poetry and in regular contributions to the Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat, but in lyrics sung by Lebanese and Syrian vocalists who helped popularize his work.
Through a lifetime of writing, Qabbani made women his main theme and inspiration. He earned a reputation for daring with the publication in 1954 of his first volume of verse, "Childhood of a Breast," whose erotic and romantic themes broke from the conservative traditions of Arab literature. The suicide of his sister, who was unwilling to marry a man she did not love, had a profound effect on Qabbani. Thereafter, he expressed resentment of male chauvinism and often wrote from a woman's viewpoint and advocated social freedoms for women.
He had lived in London since 1967 but the Syrian capital remained a powerful presence in his poems, most notably in "The Jasmine Scent of Damascus."
After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he founded the Nizar Qabbani publishing house in London, and his became a powerful and eloquent voice of lament for Arab causes.
Qabbani was a committed Arab nationalist and in recent years his poetry and other writings, including essays and journalism, had become more political. His writing also often fused themes of romantic and political despair.
Qabbani's later poems included a strong strain of anti-authoritarianism. One couplet in particular -- "O Sultan, my master, if my clothes are ripped and torn it is because your dogs with claws are allowed to tear me" -- is sometimes quoted by Arabs as a kind of wry shorthand for their frustration with life under dictatorship.
His second wife, Balqis al-Rawi, an Iraqi teacher whom he had met at a poetry recital in Baghdad, was killed in a bomb attack by pro-Iranian guerrillas in Beirut, where she was working for the cultural section of the Iraqi Ministry.
Nizar Qabbani died in London of a heart attack at the age of 75.
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Nizar Qabbani Poems
In The Summer
In the summer I stretch out on the shore And think of you Had I told the sea
Every Time I Kiss You
Every time I kiss you After a long separation I feel I am putting a hurried love letter
Light Is More Important Than The Lantern
Light is more important than the lantern, The poem more important than the notebook, And the kiss more important than the lips. My letters to you
When a man is in love how can he use old words? Should a woman desiring her lover
Oh, My Love
Oh, my love If you were at the level of my madness, You would cast away your jewelry, Sell all your bracelets,
My Lover Asks Me
My lover asks me: "What is the difference between me and the sky?" The difference, my love, Is that when you laugh,
A Lesson In Drawing
My son places his paint box in front of me and asks me to draw a bird for him. Into the color gray I dip the brush and draw a square with locks and bars.
Barada, oh father of all rivers Oh, horse that races the days Be, in our sad history, a prophet
Bread, Hashish And Moon
When the moon is born in the east, And the white rooftops drift asleep Under the heaped-up light,
The East receives my songs, some praise, some curse To each of them my gratitude I bear For I've avenged the blood of each slain woman and haven offered her who is in fear.
I Have No Power
'I have no power to change you or explain your ways Never believe a man can change a woman Those men are pretenders
On Entering The Sea
Love happened at last, And we entered God's paradise, Sliding Under the skin of the water
The Epic Of Sadness
Your love taught me to grieve and I have been in need, for centuries a woman to make me grieve
I wept until my tears were dry I prayed until the candles flickered I knelt until the floor creaked
Oh, My Love
Oh, my love
If you were at the level of my madness,
You would cast away your jewelry,
Sell all your bracelets,
And sleep in my eyes.
Translated by B. Frangieh And C. Brown
Submitted by Noele Aabye