I roamed the hills
on the grey horse of a dream
fled the outstretched vistas,
fled the marketplace teeming with vendors,
fled the weary morning,
the barking night, the quiet passers-by,
the gloomy light,
fled the wine-drenched landlord,
fled the shame decked in flowers
and death in its leisurely stroll
along the river’s drowsy currents.
If only its waters would wake up,
if only the Virgin would come to drink,
if only the blood-drenched setting sun
would immerse herself within these banks,
or else just rise.
And if only the branches of night
would burst into leaf,
if the brothel would close its door to its customers.


Under the sun of the green east –
on the grey horse of a dream,
through Jaykur’s bounteous summer
I rushed along distant roads,
between flowers, dew and water,
searching the horizon for a star,
a birthplace of the soul beneath the skies
for a spring to slake the flames of thirst,
searching for the exhausted traveller.


Jaykur, Jaykur – where is the bread?
Where is the water?
Has night taken over?  Are the guards asleep?
Travellers, sleepless with thirst and hunger –
the wind moans on,
fills the horizon with its echoes.
A desert, vast, nowhere a road to be found.
Night’s skies are blind.
Jaykur, stretch the door open for us to enter
or entertain us with the luminous dance of stars.


Who will hear my poems
when death’s silence dwells inside my home,
when night settles in my fire?
Who will lift the burden of my cross
in this long night of dread?
Who would cry out, who would answer to the hungry,
care for the destitute?
Who would lower Jesus from His cross,
who would drive the vultures from His wounds,
remove the lid of darkness from His dawn?
Who would replace His thorns with a crown of laurels?
Jaykur, if you would only hear –
if you would only just be there –
if you would only give birth to a soul,
even an aborted, stunted soul,
as travellers could behold a star
to illuminate the night.
For those without a path


Death struggle
no death.
no sound.
no birth.
In Baghdad who crucified the poet?
Who auctions off his poems?
Who invests in his eyes?
Who garlands him with thorns?
Jaykur, Jaykur, the threads of light
have tethered the swing of dawn.
Let the birds,
let the ants feast
on my wound.


This is my cave of Hira.
The spider has worked its web
all the way to its mouth,
leading the people to me.
I die.
While light, enmeshed in its own jungle,
sows the dinars of avaricious Time
from a balcony in the thick of palm branches.
Jaykur, Jaykur – water and vinegar
flow from my heart,
from my festering wound,
from deep inside,
oh my people, oh my people –
Jaykur, Jaykur, are you listening?
Let your doors fling open to the conquerors.
This very evening
round up your children
playing in the village square.
Here is the harvest of the years.
Water is wine.
The jars are full of nourishment.
This is the green season of sickness.


Jaykur, your past has come back.
This is the crowing of the roosters.
The film of sleeplessness has dissolved.
I have come back from my great night journey:
the sun
mother of green wheat stalks.
Behind the buildings
is a loaf of bread
still forgotten on the sidewalk,
but dearer than jewels.
And love:
“Do you hear this thunderous applause?
And what of it?
Abd al-Latif knows that we . . .
What are you so apprehensive about?”
And my soul was abducted
and the train screamed.
Tears ebbed in my eyes,
a cloud holding me up.
The train began to move.
O sun of my days,
is there a return?

Jaykur, sleep in the darkness of my years.

from ‘Unshudat al-Matar’ (1960)


Day has gone.
See.  Its wick has died
on a horizon glowing, fireless,
and here you sit, waiting
for Sindbad to return.
Behind you the sea cries out
in tempests, in thunder.
He will not return.
Haven’t you heard?  The sea gods
have imprisoned him in a black castle,
in islands of blood, of oyster shells.
He will not return.
Day has gone
so go now, go.
He will not be back.

The horizon –  forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

As though your left wrist,
as though your left arm were waving
behond his hour of death,
as if it were a lighthouse
on some shore, reserved for death,
a shore which dreams of ships
always in wait.
Day has gone.
If only time would stop, but no.
Time’s little steps are heard
even in the grave,
even by the stones.

Day has gone.
Day has gone.

The horizon –  forests of swollen clouds, of thunder.
Their fruits breed death, breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Death rains down from them, breeds a handful of day’s ashes.
Their threatening colours spell fear and breed a handful of day’s ashes.
Day has gone.
Day has gone.

Sinbad could not ward off ruin
from your golden hair.
Your locks reached down and drank the brine.
The ocean salt turned gold to white,
and all your love letters are washed away,
the glitter of vows dissolved.
And here you sit waiting,
dazed, with whirling thoughts:
“He will come back. No, his ship has gone down headlong.
He will come back.  No, the wailing winds have detained him.
O Sindbad, will you ever come back?
The time of my youth has almost run out.
Lilies have wilted in my cheeks.
So when will you come back?

Stretch out your hands –
The heart will use them to  fashion its new world.
It will destroy the world of talons,
of frenzy and blood.
It will, if only for a while,
build its own universe.

Oh, when will you come back?
Will you know, I wonder, when daylight fades,
how much the fingers’ silence knows
about the flashes of the unseen
in life’s darkness?
Oh, let me have your fists.
They fall as snow falls,
no matter where I look,
as snow descends upon my palms
and falls headlong into my heart.
How often have I dreamed about those fists,
as two flowers growing by a stream
unfolding where my loneliness wanders, lost.”
Day has gone.
And the ocean, empty, vast,
no singing save the roar of waves.
There appears only one sail
inebriated by the lashing winds.
Nothing flutters on the water’s face
except your waiting heart.
Day has gone
So go now, go.
Day has gone.

Beirut, 27 June 1962

from ‘Mansil al-Aqnan’ (1963)

Both poems translated by
Adnan Haydar and Michael Beard