Our sorrows and deaths repeat themselves

Antara by Nizar Qabbani (English Version)

It’s a real shame that the works of Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) haven’t been translated much and that he is so little known outside the borders of the Arab world. He conquered the hearts of the Arabs with words of impassionate love, and when he lost his dear Balqis in a bomb blast, his love turned into an enduring pain and his poetry became an army of words combatting the numerous ills of the Arab world. Needless to say that Qabbani’s poetry was banned in the region until recently (and remains so in certain countries). The poet passed away in exile in London, far away from the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad, who was then at the helm of the country. Bashar al-Assad, his son, is now in power but nothing has really changed in the country of ”Antara” except for the bloody unrest, as would have written Qabbani.

Antara was an Arab hero from the pre-Islamic era. He was the despised son of a black slave who made his fortunes through acts of bravery and won the heart of the beautiful Abla. Centuries later, and as Qabbani once wrote, ”in an Arab era which has specialized in assassinating poems,” Antara became, under the pen of the poet, the prototype of the almighty and omniscient dictators who ruled or are still ruling so many countries across all continents.

Antara

This country is a furnished apartment
 Owned by a man called Antara

He gets drunk all night long at its gates
And collects the rent from the tenants
He asks its women for marriage
And shoots on its trees, on its children, on its eyes
And on its scented fingers

This land is a private farm belonging to Antara
Its sky, wind and women
Its green pastures
All windows bear Antara’s picture
All public squares carry Antara’s name
Antara lives in our clothes
In the loaf of bread, in the bottle of cola
And in our dying dreams
In the lettuce and watermelon carts
In the buses and in the train station
In the airport customs and on the postal stamps
On the football fields
In the pizza restaurants
And on all the denominations of forged currencies

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