Mask of Songs
In the name of his own history,
in a country mired in mud,
when hunger overtakes him
he eats his own forehead.
The seasons never find out how.
He dies behind the interminable mask of songs.
The only loyal seed,
he dwells alone buried deep in life itself.
In the City of the Partisans
Open your arms
O city of Partisans.
Welcome him with thorns
or with stones.
Bind his arms above his head,
stretch them into an archway to the grave,
tattoo upon his head
graven images, brand him with glowing coals
and let the flames consume Mihyar.
More than an olive tree, more
than a river, more than
bounding and rebounding,
more than an island,
more than a forest,
that skims across his leisurely path:
all and more
in their solitude
are reading his book.
He doesn’t speak this language.
He doesn’t know the voices of the wastes—
a soothsayer in stony sleep,
he is burdened with distant languages.
Here he comes from under the ruins
in the climate of new words,
offering his poems to grieving winds
unpolished but bewitching like brass.
He is a language glistening between the masts,
the knight of strange words.
Adonis (pen-name of Ali Ahmad Said, b. 1930) is perhaps the most widely respected and influential modern Arab poet. Founder and editor of two important journals in Lebanon, Shi’r (Poetry) and Muwâqif (Positions), and author of numerous major works of criticism, he has been a shaping force on Arab modernism for decades. The poems translated in this issue are from Aghânî Mihyâr al-Dimashqî (Mihyar of Damascus, his Songs), a 1961 collection which famously reshaped the possibilities of Arabic lyric poetry.
Adnan Haydar teaches Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Arkansas and Michael Beard teaches in the English Department at the University of North Dakota. Together they co-edit the series Middle East Literature in Translation for Syracuse University Press, and the two collaborate frequently on translations from Arabic. The contribution to this issue of Guernica is from their forthcoming collection, Mihyar of Damascus, his Songs, to be published by BOA Editions.