Nizar Qabbani

(1923 - 1998 / Damascus / Syria)

A Lesson In Drawing - Poem by Nizar Qabbani

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.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
'… But this is a prison, Father,
Don't you know, how to draw a bird?'
And I tell him: 'Son, forgive me.
I've forgotten the shapes of birds.'

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
'Don't you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?'
I tell him, 'Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can't buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can't pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can't buy a book
that doesn't explode between your fingers.'

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
'But this is a tear, father, not a poem!'
And I tell him:
'When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you'll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.'

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.

Comments about A Lesson In Drawing by Nizar Qabbani

  • Kyvin Nash (7/27/2017 12:26:00 PM)

    I'm out of words, things were beautiful and real back then but now we can't tell the differences, we can tell right from wrong, everything is mixed, good with evil, light with darkness. Truth with error, well said Sir (Report) Reply

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  • Dutendra Chamling (10/21/2015 9:54:00 PM)

    Marvellous poem, Nizar Qabbani drew a door to freedom. (Report) Reply

  • Elizabeth Padillo Olesen (3/17/2015 3:56:00 AM)

    I want to weep too upon reading this poem: so powerful, so true and human in human desperation about what is happening in our world and in your own homeland, Nizar. I join with your pain and despair and yet this poem brings home a message to all the children in the world: Poetry has a voice. Poetry is also an instrument of peace in the midst of chaos, unmeasureable suffering of people caused by wars, corruption and hate. Smile and share your life and hope. (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Monday, March 22, 2010

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