The Stone Serpent, Barates of Palmyra’s Elegy for Regina his Beloved – An Eastern Serenade

The Stone Serpent, Barates of Palmyra’s Elegy for Regina his Beloved – An Eastern Serenade
by Nouri Al-Jarrah
ISBN: 9781913043292

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The Stone Serpent, Barates of Palmyra’s Elegy for Regina his Beloved – An Eastern Serenade

by Nouri al-Jarrah

Translated from the Arabic by Catherine Cobham

Photo: Nouri Al-Jarrah reading beside the tombstone of Regina at Fort Arbeia in South Shields on publication day, 12 October 2022

Syrian poet Nouri al-Jarrah brings to life a story that can never again be lost in time after a single line in Aramaic on a tombstone fired his imagination. This inspiring epic poem awakens two extraordinary lovers, Barates, a Syrian from Palmyra, and Regina, the Celtic slave he freed and married, from where they have lain at rest beside Hadrian’s Wall for eighteen centuries, and tells their unique story. Barates’ elegy to his beloved wife, who died young at 30, is, however, not about mythologising history.

With the poet himself an exile in Britain for nearly 40 years from his birthplace of Damascus, the poem forges new connections with today, linking al-Jarrah’s personal journey with that of his ancient forebear Barates, who resisted slavery with love.

Barates’ Eastern Serenade also questions whether the young Celtic fighters, the Tattooed Ones, were really barbarians, as they emerged from forest mists to defend their hills and rivers and their way of life from the Romans, and died or lay wounded at the twisting stone serpent that was Hadrian’s Wall.

In this episode of Mary Beard's series BEING ROMAN, she looks at "Love in the Borderlands", talking with Nouri Al-Jarrah, with Samira Kawar interpreting, about his book on the love story of Barates, the Syrian from Palymra and his love, Regina,

The Stone Serpent, Barates of Palmyra’s Elegy for Regina his Beloved – An Eastern Serenade

The programme describes the episode as follows: On Hadrian’s Wall a slave girl from Hertfordshire and a lonely traveller from Syria meet and marry. Their story inspires poets and artists, but is this true love or exploitation?

After translating the poems Catherine Cobham wrote:
"These poems say so much in such concentrated lyrical ways about exile, empire, migration, borders – not to mention the visceral evocation of northern English weather."

While Nouri Al-Jarrah has commented:
“Mythologies can no longer be reproduced as they are without a reinterpretation. The poet must range between the epic text, in its own time, and today”

Professor of Arabic at Rome's LUISS Guido Carli Francesca Maria Corrao writes:
“Nouri Al-Jarrah is not an antihero but a modern hero representative of a new generation in search of space to create a future in a world filled with the overwhelming presence of the fathers”

And writing about an earlier collection, Abdo Wazen, cultural editor of Independent Arabia says:
"Nouri Jarrah’s poem, A Boat to Lesbos, immediately found its place at the vanguard of the tragic poetry that has been written within Syria, in the Syrian exile and in the Arab world. The work has become part of world poetry, not just through the medium of translation but through its poetic lexicon, which fuses the universal, as expressed through the legacy of ancient Greece, with the Syrian and Arab dimension."


Nouri al-Jarrah was born in Damascus in 1956. He attracted attention with his debut collection of poems, The Boy, published in Beirut in 1982 and has become an influential poetic voice on the Arab literary scene. Since 1986 he has lived in London, publishing 16 further collections, and founding and editing a number of Arabic literary magazines. His poetry draws on diverse cultural sources, and is marked by a special focus on mythology, folk tales and legends. Selected poems have been translated into a number of Asian and European languages. A Boat to Lesbos and other Poems (Banipal Books, 2018) was his first collection in English translation, joining the original Arabic book’s translations into French, Spanish, Turkish, Italian, Greek and Farsi.

In June 2023 Nouri Al-Jarrah was awarded the 2023 French Max Jacob Poetry Prize for his collection in French translation entitled Le Sourire du dormeur (Actes Sud / Sindbad), translated from the original Arabic by Antoine Jockey. The annual Le prix Max Jacob was founded in 1951 by the Association des Amis de Max Jacob to award a a French work of poetry, and since 2004 also a published collection of poetry in French translation from any other language. 

More about Nouri Al-Jarrah here and here

Translator Catherine Cobham taught Arabic language and literature at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, for many years, and has translated works of a number of Arab writers, including poetry by Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, Ghayath Almadhoun and Tammam Hunaidy, and novels and short stories by Naguib Mahfouz, Yusuf Idris, Hanan al-Shaykh and Fuad al-Takarli.

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Nouri Al-Jarrah examining the tombstone of Regina at the Roman Fort Arbeia in South Shields

The Stone Serpent is published during the year-long cultural project, the 1900 Hadrian's Wall Festival.
We are pleased to have the book listed as one of the Festival's activities, along with Nouri Al-Jarrah's
with The Stone Serpent at Banipal's Celebration of 25 years publishing Arab literature in English translation
on 30 November at the Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle