Nizar Qabbani


Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) 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

الطفل نزار قباني عام 1935
Qabbani as a youth

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.

Bibliography

Poetry

Qabbani began writing poetry when he was 16 years old; at his own expense, Qabbani published his first book of poems, entitled The Brunette Told Me(قالت لي السمراء), while he was a law student at the University of

نزار قباني
Nizar Qabani

Damascus in 1944.

Over the course of a half-century, Qabbani wrote 34 other books of poetry, including:

  • Childhood of a Breast (1948) طفولة نهد
  • Samba (1949) سامبا
  • You Are Mine (1950) أنت لي
  • Poems (1956) قصائد
  • My Beloved (1961) حبيبتي
  • Drawing with Words (1966) الرسم بالكلمات
  • Diary of an Indifferent Woman (1968) يوميات امرأة لا مبالية
  • Savage Poems (1970) قصائد متوحشة
  • Book of Love (1970) كتاب الحب
  • 100 Love Letters (1970) مئة رسالة حب
  • Poems Against The Law (1972) أشعار خارجة على القانون
  • I Love You, and the Rest is to Come (1978) أحبك أحبك و البقية تأتي
  • To Beirut the Feminine, With My Love (1978) إلى بيروت الأنثى مع حبي
  • May You Be My Love For Another Year (1978) كل عام وأنت حبيبتي
  • I Testify That There Is No Woman But you (1979) أشهد أن لا امرأة إلا أنت
  • Secret Diaries of Baheyya the Egyptian (1979) اليوميات السرية لبهية المصرية
  • I Write the History of Woman Like So (1981) هكذا أكتب تاريخ النساء
  • The Lover’s Dictionary (1981) قاموس العاشقين
  • A Poem For Balqis (1982) قصيدة بلقيس
  • Love Does Not Stop at Red Lights (1985) الحب لا يقف على الضوء الأحمر
  • Insane Poems (1985)أشعار مجنونة
  • Poems Inciting Anger (1986) قصائد مغضوب عليها
  • Love Shall Remain My Lord (1987) سيبقى الحب سيدي
  • The Trilogy of the Children of the Stones (1988) ثلاثية أطفال الحجارة
  • Secret Papers of a Karmathian Lover (1988) الأوراق السرية لعاشق قرمطي
  • Biography of an Arab Executioner (1988) السيرة الذاتية لسياف عربي
  • I Married You, Liberty! (1988) تزوجتك أيتها الحرية
  • A Match in My Hand , And Your Petty Paper Nations (1989) الكبريت في يدي ودويلاتكم من ورق
  • No Victor Other Than Love (1989) لا غالب إلا الحب
  • Do You Hear the Cry of My Sadness? (1991) هل تسمعين صهيل أحزاني ؟
  • Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat (1991) هوامش على دفتر النكسة
  • I’m One Man and You are a Tribe of Women (1992) أنا رجل واحد وأنت قبيلة من النساء
  • Fifty Years of Praising Women (1994) خمسون عاما في مديح النساء
  • Nizarian Variations of Arabic Maqam of Love (1995) تنويعات نزارية على مقام العشق
  • Alphabet of Jasmine (1998) أبجدية الياسمين

Other works

He also composed many works of prose, such as My Story with Poetry قصتي مع الشعر, What Poetry Is ما هو الشعر, and Words Know Anger الكلمات تعرف الغضب, On Poetry, Sex, and Revolution عن الشعر والجنس والثورة, Poetry is a Green Lantern الشعر قنديل أخضر, Birds Don’t Require a Visa العصافير لا تطلب تأشيرة دخول, I Played Perfectly and Here are my Keys لعبت بإتقان وها هي مفاتيحي and The Woman in My Poetry and My Life المرأة في شعري وفي حياتي, as well as one play named Republic of Madness Previously Lebanon جمهورية جنونستان لبنان سابقا and lyrics of many famous songs of celebrated Arab singers, including:

  • Mohammed Abdel Wahab
  • Abdel Halim Hafez
  • Fairuz
  • Kathem Al Saher
  • Khalid Al Shy’kh
  • Umm Kulthum
  • Latifa
  • Majida El Roumi
  • Asalah

And his verses would remain popular after his death, and put to song by Arab pop-music stars such as Kazem al-Saher and Latifa.

Other languages

Many of Qabbani’s poems have also been translated into the English language, both individually and in collections of selected works. Some of these collections include:

  • On Entering the Sea (1998)
  • Arabian Love Poems (1998) translated by Bassam Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown
  • Republic of Love (2002) translated by Nayef al-Kalali

 

 > Poems in English