Friday, March 25, 2011

Off the Shelf Archive~March

I’m doing a bit of a departure from my usual routine with the Off the Shelf page this time, and  reviewing a book I just purchased featuring the poems of Lebanese poet, Khalil Hawi, entitled: Naked in Exile, Khalil Hawi’s The Threshing Floors of Hunger; Interpretation and Translation by Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard. ( © Adnan Haydar & Michael Beard, 1984, Three Continents Press. All rights reserved.)

While randomly reading on the internet about the situation in the MidEast, I came upon an article discussing modern Arab poetry, in which was quoted a short unsourced quatrain from  Khalil Hawi (1925-1982)  which impressed me considerably. (I finally found it in this book, the first lines of Lazarus 1962.) 

In the West, we’re more familiar with one of his countrymen and predecessors, Khalil Gibran, but Hawi is a poet of a  different stripe; political, allegorical and dark. Hawi's date of birth is given variously as 1919 and 1925. He was born in a remote mountainous area of Lebanon in a small Greek Orthodox village community, and was educated first by French missionaries, then at the American University of  Beirut, followed by Cambridge University,in England, where he did his doctoral thesis on Gibran. Politically he  was an Arab nationalist by belief but unaffiliated with any party or movement, and he published a great deal of poetry, very little of which is available in translation. He taught at the A.U.B. til his suicide in 1982 on the eve of the Israeli invasion. 

You can find both my review of Naked in Exile and part of one of the poems therein called The Genie of the Beach, here, in the Off the Shelf Archive for April.

To make room for Hawi, you see below the prior Off the Shelf selection, the surreal poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, The City That Does Not Sleep. As always, feel free to comment on either the Lorca poem, or the Hawi piece here, as comments are disabled off the main page, and also feel free to make any suggestions for next time. More information on Off the Shelf and what it's about can be found on the Missionary Statement page.

The City That Does Not Sleep

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

Federico García Lorca

Image: Invention of the Monsters, by Salvador Dali, 1938
Art Institute of Chicago Collection  source link


  1. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing. I had not heard of Federico Garcia Lorca.

  2. I am dying to make some crack about Lesbianese poets. But I won't, because I know how hard you worked on this.

    Sorry to say, though, that he doesn't do much for me. I find the section of poem you shared to be a bit busy for my taste. Perhaps part of it is translation, or perhaps the lack is mine. But it just doesn't let me get close enough to it to love it. I am saddened by his end, though.

    But the Lorca! I had heard the name, of course, but had never read him, as far as I know. I am blown away by this poem! Seriously, I am off my chair and in a heap against the far wall. Only Neruda excites me this way. I would be curious to know the Spanish for "careful" since he repeats it in the poem, more than once. I expect it has a certain sound, something that sounds striking when repeated alone.

    There is so much here!

    "The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
    and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
    street corner
    the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the

    Get. out!

    "One day
    the horses will live in the saloons
    and the enraged ants
    will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
    eyes of cows."

    Who writes like that? So often, in so much of what is written and called poetry, the poetic image is missing. OR, it is there but seems random. Lorca strikes a perfect balance. The images are almost hallucinogenic, but they mesh ideally with the larger work. Zounds!

    This is just stunning, and I thank you for the introduction. Do you know who else he reminds me of, at least in this poem, in its structure and its singular images? You. Seriously. You write like this, at your best, as in Hedgerider's Lament.

    I will be seeking out more of Mister Lorca.

  3. Glad you like the Lorca. The word for careful is cuidado, if I'm not mistaken. It does have a lovely sound rolling off the tongue, but then so does most Spanish, for me. He was an immensely gifted poet, and has a way of transcending translation similar to Neruda--where the words and meaning just defy being mangled and shine out.I'm very flattered by the allusion, as well.Certainly this kind of imagery is to die for in one's work.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

Comment Moderation Has Been Enabled