The life and times of Nizar Qabbani

LAHORE – Syrian poet Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani’s a autobiography originally written in Arabic now has been translated in Urdu language by a translator Abu Amash.

Qabbani was born in 21st March, 1923 in Damascus and breathed his last on 30th April, 1998.

Qabbani was a Syrian diplomat and considered to as Syria’s National Poet who was a fierce opponent of dictatorship. He wrote poems on the topics of love, religion, feminism and Arab nationalism.

Saya Publications published the 240-page book titled ‘Nizar Qabbani’.

This book is one of the rare translated books which does not disrupt the flow of writer’s original thoughts. The biggest challenge of the translation is to maintain the original spirit in which the author wrote the book.

Qabbani’s was actually a poet before he was a diplomat in which he spent 20 years as consul or cultural attaché in  Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Madrid, and London. He was first Vice-Secretary in China for United Arab Republic when it was formed in 1959.

As a diplomat he was also a fond of leaning Spanish. He leant the Spanish during 1963 to 1966 in Madrid. “In my first experience I was attached to Spanish language and then came a time when I actually fell in love with this language. Spanish is language of contradictions and it is a language of love and revolution at the same time.   

His first collection of poetry ‘Samra told me’ was published in September 1944 and only 300 copies were published. A review in Egyptian magazine completely rejected his initiatives as a poet.

Qabbani married twice and his second marriage was with an Iraqi schoolteacher Balqis al-Rawi with whom he met at a poetry recital in Baghdad.

Unfortunately Balqis died in 1981 Iraqi embassy bombing in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War on 15th December, 1981. The death of Belqis imprinted unforgettable memories in his mind.  He wrote a famous poem in which he blamed the entire Arab world for his wife’s death. After the death of his wife Qabbani moved between Geneva and Paris but eventually settled in London where he spent last 15 years of his life.

In his book, he wrote a separate chapter on his diplomatic service in different countries from 1945 to 1966, a year in which he gave up his diplomacy and settled in Beirut.

To know how and where he attributed his poetry, in his own words “I belong to the class of poets who are like gypsies, who keep on roaming different lands in quest of love and liberty carrying their guitar, vehicles and wine.” 

This translated book maintains the continuity of thoughts about his life that the author wanted to convey to his readers.  Qabbani wrote his first couplet at the age of 16.

Qabbani had unique kinds of motivations to flourish in his life. “At the time of World War II, I completed my law degree from Damascus University. I dd not want to become a lawyer but the degree was for my future.

“I never took up any case and I feel pride that all I as a lawyer pleaded for beauty through poetry and as poet,” Qabbani explained in his book.  He is referred as most feminist poet of his time.

Interestingly, Qabbani while writing about his journey of life explained why he always strived for love and why the theme of love overwhelms his poetry. “My sister could not meet her love and never married. I remember her falling health due to trauma and shock. She eventually died. I attended her funeral,” Qabbani said.

Qabbani’s poetry’s keywords could be childhood, revolution and passion.   Commenting on the Arabic poetry author writes that poets who write in contemporary era were rarely acceptable among the well groomed poets.  

“Arabic poetry had been going through the state of schizophrenia. Any modernism in Arabic poetry has been considered as wrong step and discussions to introduce new trends in the poetry were considered as taboo,” he said.  

In 1954 his first volume of verse, “Childhood of a Breast,” made ripples in the conservative Arab poetry.

The Arab defeat in 1967 Six-Day War also made huge impact on his poems and he started writing political poems. He wrote a poem ‘Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat’ which sparked immense criticism from Arab conservatives but was appreciated by Arab intelligentsia.    

As a diplomat he termed the diplomatic world as fake. “Everything in the world of diplomacy is artificial and unreal and it is like artificial flowers which are bright in colours but they lack fragrance. His second poetry collection was inspired from Cairo where he served as diplomat at the age of 22. He again and again referred the time spent as diplomat in Spain from 1962 to 1966. “I completely fell in love with Granada, the fountains of Alhamhra Palace and much more about the magical place where one can easily get lost in the history while wandering through the Granada palaces,” Qabbani explained.


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