Poem: From ‘A Song for Mankind’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika

November 11, 2020 | Filed Under Poem for Hela | No Comments

My note: This poem fits well with today being Veterans Day.

From ‘A Song for Mankind’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika

Emily Drumsta was, as part of her Q&A with ArabLit Quarterly about Nazik al-Mala’ika’s revolutionary romantic poetry, kind enough to share an excerpt of a poem she’s now working on translating:

From ‘A Song for Mankind’ by Nazik al-Mala’ika

The heaped ruins tell stories heard only by shadows and ghosts.

They tell of songs that once floated among these pillars,
through drawing rooms drowning in warmth and dreams.
They remember cries of delight, drunken lines and melodies
plunging into cavernous pleasures
where beauty’s mystery, reckless youth, the temptation of love
lie sleeping—

Life’s veins have dried up here
All that’s left are tuneless memories.

The heaped ruins tell stories heard only by shadows and ghosts.

They tell of those who returned from the war as remnants,
mere fragments, a handful of wounds
chanting a hymn of death,
filling the air with psalm after chilling psalm—
How years of deprivation cast a shadow
over their eyes, their lips,
the echo of their falling footsteps
filling the air like a death knell
as they sang their canticles of chaos,
their black, funereal songs.

Is there any glimmer of light
behind the ashen secrets of these silent eyes?
Stories of the nights that passed slowly
and the thick, heavy snow?
of a sleepless sadness in the eyes of the watchmen
who kept vigil in the bloody trenches
while night shed snow on their eyelids
and they lost feeling in their feet?

They watched over the catacombs of night,
drunk with insomnia and the promise of victory,
as the sinews of feeling in their memories died
in a cold, naked silence.
They watched over life with a weariness
bitterly twisted, anciently shackled—
a story unfolding in every pair of eyes,
told to a night of restless dust.

And the soldiers who slumbered with the dead,
sleeping on the frozen earth—
Their dreams are nightmares full of fire,
cadavers, savagery and sickness,
till morning returns, and death with its blackened fangs
passes through again, reaping,
leaving nothing behind but the silence of ruins.

Evening is lost to a thousand dawns,
and morning to a thousand nights—
Everything withers and crumbles; nothing remains
but a memory and a shadow.

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