There is just a breath of Purtianism lurking in most American poetry. We admire the winnowing of excess words, the spareness of poets like Frost and Sandburg and the prose of Hemingway and Steinbeck. American poets who proclaim themselves as Poets or Artists are a little embarrassing, regarded as juvenile or pretentious. No question, the American style has power – these lean poems can build to thunderclaps that blow our minds wide open – but it’s far from the only way to make poetry.

In the Middle East, there is a much older and very different tradition in poetry, which favors a lushness of language and an unabashed proclamation that Here is The Poet.

“It’s too bad if a heart lacks fire,
and is deprived of the light
of a heart ablaze.
The day on which you are
without passionate love
is the most wasted day of your life.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .― Omar Khayyám

American poets should take note of something else that’s different: poets in Arabic-speaking countries are taken a lot more seriously than poets are in America. As Thomas Gray warns in his famous Elegy, there’s a danger in being self-effacing:

“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its fragrance on the desert air.”

This week’s Syrian poet was never in danger of wasting his talent on the desert air. Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998) has been both revered and reviled in the Middle East for his erotic romantic verse, and his biting political poems. His work, often banned by authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries, even gained some popularity in Israel, in spite of his anti-Israeli stance, because he also criticized Arab policies and military failures. And lovers from all over the world have found his romantic poetry moving and inspirational.


In the Summer 

In the summer
I stretch out on the shore
And think of you
Had I told the sea
What I felt for you,
It would have left its shores,
Its shells,
Its fish,
And followed me

Maritime Poem

In the blue harbor of your eyes
Blow rains of melodious lights,
Dizzy suns and sails
Painting their voyage to endlessness.

In the blue harbor of your eyes
Is an open sea window,
And birds appear in the distance
Searching for islands still unborn.

In the blue harbor of your eyes
Snow falls in July.
Ships laden with turquoise
Spill over the sea and are not drowned.

In the blue harbor of your eyes
I run on the scattered rocks like a child
Breathing the fragrance of the sea
And return an exhausted bird.

In the blue harbor of your eyes
Stones sing in the night.
Who has hidden a thousand poems
In the closed book of your eyes?

If only, if only I were a sailor,
If only somebody’d give me a boat,
I would furl my sails each evening
In the blue harbor of your eyes.



Qabbani studied law at the University of Damascus, then went into the Syrian diplomatic service, at embassies in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Britain, China, and Spain, before retiring while still in his forties, and moving to Beirut, Lebanon. 

He had begun writing poetry when he was 16 years old; he paid to publish his first book of poems, entitled The Brunette Told Me (قالت لي السمراء), while he was a law student in 1944. Qabbani would write 34 more books of poetry.

Two things had a profound impact on Qabbani; the suicide of his 15-year-old sister, because she wasn’t allowed to marry for love, but forced instead toward an arranged marriage; and his decades far from his homeland, some of them while in exile.

After the Arab defeat in 1967’s Six Day War, Qabbani became a powerful voice of lament and advocacy for Arab unity and causes – including more freedom for Muslim women. In 1981, he moved to London, and founded the Nizar Qabbani publishing house, which greatly expanded his readership.


A Letter From A Stupid Woman

(A Letter to a Man)


My dear Master,
This is a letter from a stupid woman
Has a stupid woman before me, written to you?
My name? Lets put names aside
Rania, or Zaynab
or Hind or Hayfa
The silliest thing we carry, my Master – are names


My Master:
I am frightened to tell you my thoughts
I am frightened – if I did –
that the heavens would burn
For your East, my dear Master,
confiscate blue letters
confiscate dreams from the treasure chests of women
Practices suppression, upon the emotions of women
It uses knives…
and cleavers…
to speak to women
and butchers spring and passions
and black plaits
And your East, dear Master,
Manufactures the delicate crown of the East
from the skulls of women


Don’t criticize me, Master
If my writing is poor
For I write and the sword is behind my door
And beyond the room is the sound of wind and howling dogs
My master!
‘Antar al Abys is behind my door!
He will butcher me
If he saw my letter
He will cut my head off
If I spoke of my torture
He will cut my head off
If he saw the sheerness of my clothes
For your East, my dear Master,
Surrounds women with spears
And your East, my dear Master
elects the men to become Prophets,
and buries the women in the dust.


Don’t become annoyed!
My dear Master, from these lines
Don’t become annoyed!
If I smash the complaints blocked for centuries
If I unsealed my consciousness
If I ran away…
From the domes of the Harem in the castles
If I rebelled, against my death…
against my grave, against my roots…
and the giant slaughter house….

Don’t become annoyed, my dear Master,
If I revealed to you my feelings
For the Eastern man
Is not concerned with poetry or feelings
The Eastern man – and forgive my insolence – does not understand women
but over the sheets.


I am sorry my master –

If I have insolently attacked the kingdom of Men
for the great literature of course –
is the literature of men
And love has always been
the allotment of men…
And sex has always been
a drug sold to men

A senile fairytale, the freedom of women in our countries
For there is no freedom
Other than, the freedom of men…

My Master
Say all you wish of me. It does not matter to me:
Shallow.. Stupid.. Crazy.. Simple minded.
It does not concern me anymore..
For whoever writes about her concerns…
in the logic of Men is called
a stupid woman
and didn’t I tell you in the beginning
that I am a stupid woman?


Clarification To My Poetry-Readers

And of me say the fools:
I entered the lodges of women
And never left.
And they call for my hanging,
Because about the matters of my beloved
I, poetry, compose.
I never traded
Like others
In Hashish.
I never stole.
I never killed.
I, in broad day, have loved.
Have I sinned?

And of me say the fools:
With my poetry
I violated the sky’s commands.
Said who
Love is
The honor-ravager of the sky?
The sky is my intimate.
It cries if I cry,
Laughs if I laugh
And its stars
Greatens their brilliance
One day I fall in love.
What so
If in the name of my beloved I chant,
And like a chestnut tree
In every capital I, her, plant.

Fondness will remain my calling,
Like all prophets.
And infancy, innocence
And purity.
I will write of my beloved’s matters
Till I melt her golden hair
In the sky’s gold.
I am,
And I hope I change not,
A child
Scribbling on the stars’ walls
The way he pleases,
Till the worth of love
In my homeland
Matches that of the air,
And to love dreamers I become
A diction-ary,
And over their lips I become
An A
And a B.



The old word is dead.
The old books are dead.
Our speech with holes like worn-out shoes is dead.
Dead is the mind that led to defeat.

Our poetry has gone sour.
Women’s hair, nights, curtains and sofas
Have gone sour.
Everything has gone sour.

My grieved country,
In a flash
You changed me from a poet who wrote love poems
To a poet who writes with a knife

What we feel is beyond words:
We should be ashamed of our poems.

Stirred by Oriental bombast,
By boastful swaggering that never killed a fly,
By the fiddle and the drum,
We went to war,
And lost.

Our shouting is louder than our actions,
Our swords are taller than us,
This is our tragedy.

In short
We wear the cape of civilisation
But our souls live in the stone age

You dont win a war
With a reed and a flute.

Our impatience
Cost us fifty thousand new tents.

Dont curse heaven
If it abandons you,
Dont curse circumstances,
God gives victory to whom He wishes
God is not a blacksmith to beat swords.

It’s painful to listen to the news in the morning
It’s painful to listen to the barking of dogs.

Our enemies did not cross our borders
They crept through our weaknesses like ants.

Five thousand years
Growing beards
In our caves.
Our currency is unknown,
Our eyes are a haven for flies.
Smash the doors,
Wash your brains,
Wash your clothes.
Read a book,
Write a book,
Grow words, pomegranates and grapes,
Sail to the country of fog and snow.
Nobody knows you exist in caves.
People take you for a breed of mongrels.

We are a thick-skinned people
With empty souls.
We spend our days practicing witchcraft,
Playing chess and sleeping.
Are we the ‘Nation by which God blessed mankind’?

Our desert oil could have become
Daggers of flame and fire.
We’re a disgrace to our noble ancestors:
We let our oil flow through the toes of whores.

We run wildly through the streets
Dragging people with ropes,
Smashing windows and locks.
We praise like frogs,
Turn midgets into heroes,
And heroes into scum:
We never stop and think.
In mosques
We crouch idly,
Write poems,
Beg God for victory
Over our enemy

If I knew I’d come to no harm,
And could see the Sultan,
This is what i would say:
Your wild dogs have torn my clothes
Your spies hound me
Their eyes hound me
Their noses hound me
Their feet hound me
They hound me like Fate
Interrogate my wife
And take down the name of my friends.
When I came close to your walls
and talked about my pains,
Your soldiers beat me with their boots,
Forced me to eat my shoes.
You lost two wars,
Half of our people are without tongues,
What’s the use of a people without tongues?
Half of our people
Are trapped like ants and rats
Between walls.’
If i knew I’d come to no harm
I’d tell him:
‘You lost two wars
You lost touch with children.’

If we hadn’t buried our unity
If we hadn’t ripped its young body with bayonets
If it had stayed in our eyes
The dogs wouldn’t have savaged our flesh.

We do not want an angry generation
To plough the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants.

Arab children,
Corn ears of the future,
You will break our chains,
Kill the opium in our heads,
Kill the illusions.
Arab children,
Don’t read about our suffocated generation,
We are a hopeless case.
We are as worthless as a water-melon rind.
Dont read about us,
Dont ape us,
Dont accept us,
Dont accept our ideas,
We are a nation of crooks and jugglers.
Arab children,
Spring rain,
Corn ears of the future,
You are the generation
That will overcome defeat.


We Are Accused Of Terrorism

We are accused of terrorism
If we dare to write about the remains of a homeland
That is scattered in pieces and in decay
In decadence and disarray
About a homeland that is searching for a place
And about a nation that no longer has a face

About a homeland that has nothing left of its great ancient verse
But that of wailing and eulogy

About a homeland that has nothing in its horizons
Of freedoms of different types and ideology

About a homeland that forbids us from buying a newspaper
Or listen to anything
About a homeland where all birds are always not allowed to sing
About a homeland that out of horror, its writers are using invisible ink

About a homeland that resembles poetry in our country
Improvised, imported, loose and of no boundaries
Of foreign tongue and soul
Detached from Man and Land, ignoring their plight as a whole

About a homeland to the negotiating table moves
Without a dignity or shoes

About a homeland
That no more has steadfast men
With only women therein

Bitterness is in our mouths in our talk in our eyes
Will draught also plague our souls as a legacy passed to us
from ancient times?

Our nation has nobody left, even the less glorified
No one to say “NO” in the face of those who gave up our
homebread and butter
Turning our colorful history into a circus

We have not a single honest poem
That has not lost its virginity in a ruler’s Harem

We grew accustomed to humiliation
Then what is left of Man
If he is comfortable with that?

I search the books of history
For men of greatness to deliver us from darkness
To save our women from fires’ brutality

I search for men of yesterday
But all I find is frightened cats
Fearing for their souls
From the authority of rats

Are we hit by national blindness
Or are we suffering from color blindness

We are accused of terrorism
If we refuse to perish
Under Israeli tyranny
That is hampering our unity
Our history
Our Bible and our Quran
Our prophets’ land
If that is our sin and crime
Then terrorism is fine

We are accused of terrorism
If we refuse to be wiped out
By barbarians, the Mongols or the Jews
If we choose to stone the fragile security council
Which was sacked by the king of caesuras

We are accused of terrorism
If we refuse to negotiate the wolf
And reach out for a whore

America is fighting the cultures of Man
Because it lacks one
And against the civilizations because it needs one
It is a gigantic structure but without a wall

We are accused of terrorism
If we refuse current times
Where America the arrogant the mighty the rich
Became a sworn interpreter of Hebrew.


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.
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.



I wept until my tears were dry
I prayed until the candles flickered
I knelt until the floor creaked
I asked about Mohammed and Christ
Oh Jerusalem, the fragrance of prophets
The shortest path between earth and sky
Oh Jerusalem, the citadel of laws
A beautiful child with fingers charred
and downcast eyes
You are the shady oasis passed by the Prophet
Your streets are melancholy
Your minarets are mourning
You, the young maiden dressed in black
Who rings the bells in the Nativity
On Saturday morning?
Who brings toys for the children
On Christmas eve?
Oh Jerusalem, the city of sorrow
A big tear wandering in the eye
Who will halt the aggression
On you, the pearl of religions?
Who will wash your bloody walls?
Who will safeguard the Bible?
Who will rescue the Quran?
Who will save Christ?
Who will save man?
Oh Jerusalem my town
Oh Jerusalem my love
Tomorrow the lemon trees will blossom
And the olive trees will rejoice
Your eyes will dance
The migrant pigeons will return
To your sacred roofs
And your children will play again
And fathers and sons will meet
On your rosy hills
My town
The town of peace and olives.


The Trial

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.

Woman’s rebellious heart I have supported
ready to pay the price – content to die
if love should slay me, for I am love’s champion
and if I ceased, then I would not be I.


I Conquer The World With Words

I conquer the world with words,
conquer the mother tongue,
verbs, nouns, syntax.
I sweep away the beginning of things
and with a new language
that has the music of water the message of fire
I light the coming age
and stop time in your eyes
and wipe away the line
that separates
time from this single moment.


And yet, I am just another sentimental and self-restraining American, because the poems of Nizar Qabbani that stick with me the most are the love poems – the language dances on the edge of Going Too Far, but who has not felt a little bit of madness in the first throes of a romance?

When I Love

When I love
I feel that I am the king of time
I possess the earth and everything on it
and ride into the sun upon my horse.

When I love
I become liquid light
invisible to the eye
and the poems in my notebooks
become fields of mimosa and poppy.

When I love
the water gushes from my fingers
grass grows on my tongue
when I love
I become time outside all time.

When I love a woman
all the trees
run barefoot toward me…

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.

Every Time I Kiss You

Every time I kiss you
After a long separation
I feel
I am putting a hurried love letter
In a red mailbox.

As William Shakespeare so aptly tells us in As You Like It:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts . . .

Nizar Qabbani in his time played lover, diplomat, husband, father, political activist, feminist, exile and poet, but I have no doubt he will be remembered best for his extravagance in verse. He died in London at age 75, of a heart attack.



  • All Poetry: https://allpoetry.com/Nizar-Qabbani
  • Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizar_Qabbani
  • Jadaliyya: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/1754/nizar-qabbanis-poetry-buses
  • Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nizar-Qabbani



  • 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 الهوامش
  • 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


  • My Story with Poetry قصتي مع الشعر
  • What Poetry Is ما هو الشعر
  • 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
  • The Woman in My Poetry and My Life المرأة في شعري وفي حياتي
  • A play, Republic of Madness Previously Lebanon جمهورية جنونستان لبنان سابقا
  • Lyrics of many famous songs written for celebrated Arab singers


  • Beach at Latakia Syria
  • Blue-Eyed Woman
  • Nizar Qabbani
  •  The Arabian Nights by Aton Pieck
  •  Middle Eastern night sky
  •  Ruins Of Kalkiliya after Six-Day War – David Rubinger
  • Hungry cats in Aleppo
  • Drawing a gun and a bird
  • Morning on the Mount Zion in Jerusalem – Alex Levin
  • Arabian Nights illustration by Milo Winter (1914)
  • Fiery Flowers
  • The Enchanted Horse – artist not credited
  • Bracelets
  • Woman’s lips

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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2 Responses to Word Cloud: EXTRAVAGANT

  1. Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film maker who directed this short video was murdered because of his work. It is called “Submission.” It was first shown on the Dutch public broadcasting network, VPRO, on August 29, 2004. One month later, he was gunned down by an assassin on November 2, 2004.

    It was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      I knew about the murder of Theo Van Gogh, but hadn’t seen the film. Very hard to watch.

      In college, my future husband once challenged a Muslim student who was arguing that Islam was a religion of love and compassion to open the Koran at random pages, and find one page that didn’t incite war, killing or violence upon the unbelievers. He gave up after 40 tries.

      There are many good people who are Muslims, but the religion itself is one of the hardest for me to understand. And as a woman, I have to see it as an enemy of my half of humanity.

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