from Quartet of Joy, Air Joy

Muhammad Afifi Matar
1935 – 2010


I become light; you become light;
Neither are you from you,
nor I from me;
we have ripened into one blood…

—One dead,
how will death be split into two corpses?

—It is one corpse.

—What if the kin fought to fill
two dust holes with one dust
gathered by love in the prostration
of passion?

—Soft is the clay step in the clay;
beneath us the earth gathers into a carpet,
dust flinging upon dust;
and in the passion prostration
the blood of the man prostrating
does not reveal the blood of the woman prostrator;
one blood runs aground in the darkness
of the earth
beneath the hand of God,
then tossed by the wind
in the hand of omnipotence;
it rises lightly, taking its course
in the radiant mystery
of its nocturnal journeys,
largely, as the frame
of the universe exacts,
narrower than the sigh of spirit
in spirit.

Between heavens and earth
the wind was tempted by us,
for it steps along our steps,
and we step along its steps…

Translation by Ferial Ghazoul and John Verlenden

Qadisa Burdah

We present this work in honor of the Prophet’s Birthday.

1211 – 1294


Is it because of your remembrance of the neighbours of Dhi-salam.
That tears mixed with blood are flowing (from your eyes).
Or is it because of the breeze blowing from Kaazimah.
Or it is the lightning struck in the darkness of the night Idam
What has happened to your eyes, (the more) you tell them to stop, the more they continue flowing.
What is the matter with your heart, (the more) you tell it to come to its senses, (the more it is distracted).
Does the lover think that his love can be concealed.
While his eyes are shedding tears and his heart is glowing.
Had it not been for the love, you would not have shed tears at the ruins (of your beloved).
Nor would you become restless at the remembrance of the cypress (tree) the high mountain.
How do you deny love after the testimony.
Borne against you by (such) reliable witnesses as your yours and your illness.
Love has ingrained two lines of fear, and withered your face.
On your cheeks like yellow rose and the reddish tree.
Yes! Thoughts of the beloved came to me at night and kept me awake.
And love transforms pleasure into pain.
O you who reproach me, regarding my love, excuse me.
From me to you if you do justice, you would not reproach me.
My state (of love) has been expressed to you, (now) my secret is no longer concealed.
From those who malign (me), nor is there (something to) check my agony.
You have sincerely advised me , I did not heed it.
For verily a lover is deaf to those who advise him.
I regarded with suspicion the advice of the elders in reproaching me.
(Wisdom) in the advice of the elders is above suspicion.

Verily my soul which is laden evil did not heed the advice.
Due to its ignorance, from the warning by grey hair and old age.
And I have not prepared, for good deeds, a feast,
For a guest (that) has lodged on (my) head nor did I honour (him).
Had I known that I would not be able to honour him (it).
I would have concealed my secret, which is exposed, by dyeing.
Who is there that can restrain my wayward-self from its waywardness.
Just as unmanageable horses are restrained by resins.
Do not try, through sinning, to subdue sensual desires.
For verily food, only increases sensual desires.
Your self (desires) is like when breastfed.
Loves suckling but when you wean it, will stop.
Then stop its inclinations and beware that it does not overpower you.
Verily lust whenever it overpowers (it will) kill or maim (your character).
And guard it while it is grazing in (the field of ) actions
If it enjoys pasture, do not let it roam (graze) freely.
How often has pleasure been considered good, whereas it turned out to be deadly.
Because he does not know that there is poison in the fat.
And fear the evil of (both) hunger and satiation.
For most times hungers (poverty) is more evil that overeating.
And shed tears from those eyes which have become full.
Of forbidden sights and regard it as obligatory (upon yourself) to guard your eyes from forbidden things.
And oppose (your) self (nafs) and shaytaan and disobey them both.
And if both of them give you sincere advice regard it as lies.
And do not obey them both (nafs and shaytaan) as an enemy or as a wise (person).
For you know well the deception of (such) an enemy or a wise (person).
I seek forgiveness from Allah from such sayings (preachings) which I do practice upon.
For verily I have attributed (claimed), through this, offspring from a barren woman.
I command you to do good but I do not command myself to do the same.
And I was not steadfast ( on deen) so then of what use (value) is my saying to you: “Be steadfast!” (on deen).
And I made no provisions before death of voluntary (nafl) worship.
And I did not perform salaat nor did I fast except what was obligatory.

His birth distinctly showed his pure origin.
O the excellence! Of his beginning and his end.
On that day the Persians discovered that they (were going face misfortune)
Were warned with the approach of misfortune and punishment.
And the walls of the palace of Kisra trembled and crumbled.
Like how the army of Kisra was scattered never to be untied again.
And the fire (of the Persians) took a cool breath (subsided and died out), out of regret.
While the rivers (of Persia) had sleepless eyes (dries up) from excessive sorrow.
Saawah (village in Persia) became grief stricken with the drying up of its lake.
And the (thirsty) water bearer returned in anger with disappointment.
It is as though fire became wet like water.
Due to grief, while water was (affected by) the blazing fire.
And the jinn was shouting (at the appearance of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) and the NUR was glistening.
And the truth (nubuwaat) appeared with these anwaar, and with their voices.
(The kaafir) became blind and deaf, to the announcements of glad tidings.
Nor did they hear and the lighting of warning was nor seen by them.
After their fortune tellers had informed the people.
That their false religions would not stand.
And even after they witnessed shooting stars on the horizon.
Falling, just as (their) idols were (falling) on earth.
So much so that they kept running from the path of wahi
The devils (shaytaan), one after the other.
As though in running away the shaytaan were the army of Abrahah.
Or like that army (put to flight) upon whom (Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) threw pebbles.
Which he threw after their making tasbih in his (mubarak hands).
Like how (Hadhrat Yunus Alayis Salaam) when he made tasbih (of Allah) was thrown out from the stomach of the swallowing (fish).

The trees answered his call, prostrating.
Walking towards him on shins (truck) without feet.
It is though writing lines that were written.
With their branches, calligraphically writing of his perfection.
Like the cloud following him wherever he went.
Sheltering him from the intense heat, (as that) of an oven in the blazing summer.
I take an oath (of truth) by the moon that was split, it bears.
A connection with his heart (which shows) the truth of my oath.
What excellence qualities and noble deeds the cave contained (in it).
While every eye (of the disbelievers) was blind him.
The truth (sidq) and the true(siddique) in the cave were not seen (by the disbelievers).
And they were satiny “There is no one in the cave”.
They thought a wild dove and a spider would not
Lay an egg, or spin a web for the best of creation.
The protection of Allah (made him) dispensed with double.
From armours and high forts.
Whenever time caused me any distress and I took refuge in him.
I receive shelter from him which was not misused.
I did not ask for the wealth of the two worlds from his hand.
But I received a great gift the best hand that was ever kissed.
Do not deny that his dreams are revelations (wahi), for verily his
Heart does not sleep , when eyes sleep.
And this was at (the period of) puberty of his prophethood.
At that time dreams cannot be denied.
Great are the blessings of Allah that wahi is nor earned.
Nor was any Nabi accused (of lying when) giving knowledge of the unseen.
His miracles are (completely) clear, not hidden from anyone.
Without it justice cannot be established amongst people.
How often has his hand granted freedom (cure) from disease by (his) touch.
And set free the insane from the chains (fetters) of insanity.
He revived the starving year (of famine) through his dua.
Until it resembled a white spot on black times.
By means of a cloud which rained so abundantly, you would think large rivers
Gushing forth from the sea or like the torrential flood of Arim.

Allow me to describe the miracles of him (Rasuluallah Sallallahu Alayhi Wassallam) exposed (performed).
Like the lighting of fires on the hillside at night for guests.
The beauty of a pearl is further enhanced in a necklace.
But its value does not diminish )in the least when not strung on a necklace).
So why should the ambitions of those who praise not increase towards
That which (him (Rasuluallah Sallallahu Alayhi Wassallam) ha of noble character and good habits.
Verses of truth from the Most Merciful (Allah Ta’aala) newly heard.
(As well as being) eternal which is quality (of Allah) Who is described with eternity.
It is not connected with any period of time, while it informs us.
About the hereafter as well as of Ad and Iram.
Which remains with us forever, therefore it is superior to every miracle.
Of the other Nabi’s (for) when (their miracles) came but did not remain.
Absolutely clear (as evidence) so it did not leave (room for any ) doubts.
By the enemies nor so they require any judge.
No one opposed it ever except for the vehement enemy.
(Due to) the enmity of the enemy towards it,(but that he) refrained from it seeking a truce.
Its eloquence refuted the accusations of its objectors.
Just as a respectable man keeps off the hand of a transgressor from his harem.
Its meaning is like the waves of the ocean in helping (one another)
And the (Qur’an) transcends the jewels of the sea in beauty and value.
Its wonders cannot be counted nor comprehended.
Nor would you (be) satiated by its constant repetition (recitation).
It cools the eye of its reciter, so I said to him
You have succeeded with the hope of Allah, therefore hold steadfast onto it.
If you recite it due to fear of the heat of blazing fire.
Then you have doused the blazing fire with its cool water.
It is the Houze-e-Kauthar with which faces are illuminated.
Of the sinners even though they came to it (with faces) black as coal.
It is like the straight bridge like the scales in equilibrium.
Justice, without which, amongst man cannot be established.
Do not be astonished if the jealous person rejects it.
(Feigning ) ignorance while they are shrewd.
Verily the eye rejects the ray of the sun due to dust.
The mouth rejects the (sweet) taste of water due to sickness.

You the best of those to whose court seekers of bounties resort.
Running the (mounted) on the backs of fast camels.
And O you is the greatest sign for he who takes a lesson.
And O you who is the greatest bounty for a person who avails himself of it.
You travelled by night from one sacred place to another.
As the full moon travels trough intense darkness.
And you continued ascending until you attained a position.
At the distance of two cubits length, as has never been attained nor sought.
And you preferred due to your position by all the Ambiyaa.
And Rasuls just as a servant gives preference to his master.
You passed the seven heavens with them.
In a procession in which you were the standard bearer.
Until you left no gaol (for) any competitor to strive for.
In closeness, nor any (room for ascent for any one to advance.
You made inferior every position by (your) advance, when.
You were invited to his majestic and unique position.
So that you may be successful in a reaching the most concealed.
From all eyes, and secrets well concealed.
So you acquired every (status) worthy of pride unrivalled.
And you surpassed every position which none other passed.
And extremely excellent are the ranks that were granted to you.
And uncomprehensible are those bounties which conferred upon you.
Glad tiding be to us o people of Islam. We have.
By the Grace of Allah a pillar which is indestructible.
When Allah called, the one who invited us (Rasuluallah Sallallahu Alayhi Wassallam) to His worship.
Because of the noblest of messengers , we are the noblest of ummats.

The hearts of his enemies were struck with terror at the news of his advent.
Just as a heedless goat that has strayed the heard becomes scared to a sudden alarm.
He never ceased to encounter them at every battle.
Until, by the effects of lances they were like meat on a chopping block.
They loved fleeing that they would envy.
The corpses which were carried away by vultures and eagles.
Nights would pass without them knowing number.
As long as it was not nights of the sacred months (Ashur-e-Horum).
It is as though the religion of Islam was a guest that visited their house.
With every brave warrior, greedy for the flesh of the enemy.
He used to lead an ocean of an army on galloping horses.
They would strike ( the enemy) with a massive wave of brave warriors.
Of every volunteer, having hope of reward from Allah.
Fighting to exterminate the roots of kufr and to destroy it.
Until the religion of Islam became of them.
Reunited after her estrangement, with her family.
Always taken care of by an affectionate father
And a loving husband, so she did not suffer from orphanhood nor widowhood.
They were mountains, so ask about them from him who fought them.
What was his experience with them in each contest (battle).
Ask (them about the condition of ) Hunain, Badr, Uhad.
The verdict death for them was more severe than an epidemic.
(They made their) white (shinning) swords red (with blood) after they were plunged.
Into every black lock of (hair) of their enemies.
And they write (with arrows) in calligraphic writing (on those of the bodies), which was left out.
By their pens (lances). Like undotted letters,
Completely clad with weapons they had characteristic marks to distinguish them.
Like arose is distinguished by (characteristic) marks from a thorn tree.
The winds of help (from Allah) would guide you to their fragrance.
So you would think every brave man to be a flower in the bud.
As though they were, when on horse back like the plants on hills.
On account of the strength and bravery, not because of the tightness of their saddles.
The hearts of the enemies flew into terror (due to their) prowess.
So they could not make distinction between a lamb and a mighty warrior.
And the person who has the help of Rasuluallah Sallallahu Alayhi Wassallam with him.
Even if a lion meets him in its den it begins to fear.
And you would never see a friend not assisted.
By him, nor would you find any enemy, but in pieces.
He lodged his ummat in the fort of his religion.
Like a lion which lodges with its cubs in a jungle.
How many queries did the words of Allah have with defiers.
Concerning him, and the clear evidence (of Allah), disputed many a plaintiff.
It is sufficient for you as a miracle (to have so vast) knowledge in an unlettered person.
In the period of ignorance, and such noble etiquettes in an orphan.

I served him with praise, by means of which I ask to be pardoned.
The sins of a life passed in poetry and serving (other)
As these two have garlanded me with that consequences which I fear.
As though I am due to it (poetry and serving others) a sacrificial animal.
I obeyed the misleading passions of youth in both conditions and I did not
I achieved but sin and remorse.
O the great regret of my soul in its transaction.
It did not purchase Deen with the world, nor had I negotiated for it.
The person who sells his future for his present.
His being defrauded in the sale and its negotiation.
If I had committed any sin my covenant is not (likely to be) violated.
With my Nabi Rasuluallah Sallallahu Alayhi Wassallam and nor is my rope broken.
For verily I have a security from him due to my name.
(Being) Muhammad, while he is the most faithful of mankind in fulfilling his promise.
If at my resurrection, he should not take me by my hand
Out of kindness, then say O the slipping of my foot.
I seek the sanctuary (in Allah) that he should deprive one who is hopeful of his graces.
Or that his neighbour (follower) returned from him dishonoured.
And since I have devoted my thoughts to his praises.
I have found him to be best sanctuary for my salvation.
His bounty will never escape from (my) hand which has been soiled.
For verily rain causes flowers to bloom on rocks
And I did seek the flowers (wealth) of the world which were plucked.
By the hands of Zuhair through his praises of Haram.

Most generous of mankind, I have no one to take refuge in
Except you at occurrence of widespread calamity.
And O messenger of Allah, your exalted status will not diminish, because of me (intercession on my behalf)
When most Bountiful (Allah Ta’alaa) will manifest (Himself) by the name of the punisher.
For verily amongst your bounties is this world, and the hereafter.
And part of your knowledge is knowledge of the Preserved Tablet (Lowh), and the Pen.
O my soul do not become despondent due to your grievous sins.
Verily major sins when pardoned are minor.
Perhaps the mercy of my Lord when distributed.,
Would be distributed in proportion to the sins.
O my Lord (Sustainer)! Make my hopes, not unfulfilled.
By you, and make my reckoning (of deeds) not destructive.
Be kind to Your Servant in both the worlds, for verily his
Patience, when called upon by hardships (calamities), runs away.
So order clouds of blessings (salutations) from you perpetually.
Upon Nabi Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam abundantly and gently
And upon his family his Sahabah, then upon those who follow them.
The people of piety, knowledge, clemency and generosity.
(Then) be pleased with Abu-bakr and Omar (Radiyallahu Anhuma).
And Ali and Uthman (Radiyallahu Anhuma), the people of nobility.
As long as the easterly breeze makes the branches of cypress rustle.
And (as long as) the camel riders make their camels march with the enchanting songs.
Forgive its writer and its reader
I ask of you all goodness O You the Most Generous and Most Munificent.

Even If You are Not With Me

We present this work in honor of the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Mahmoud Mohammed Shaker
1909 – 1997


Even if you are not with me, the memories of you are with me.
My heart sees you, even if you are made vanished from my vision.
The eye sees who it loves but will end up losing the sight of them.
But the one who sees with their heart, will never lose the sight
(of the people they love).


In honor of Revolution Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Egypt’s most evocative poets.

Mostafa Ibrahim
b. 1986


To know the strength of things, sometimes we need to break them.
To know we want some things, sometimes we need to lose them.
Craving certainty, how many friends did you call liars?
Attaining certainty, you lost your friends.
How many balloons did you burst inflating them beyond their limit?
Discovering that limit, you found regret.

I now know why I burst balloons:
I longed for something never-ending –
or with an end I’d never reach.
Walls that have my back.
Walls that will stay standing, even when I knock them down.
Something certain that, when tested, will not break.

Translation by Nariman Youssef

A Rose That Died

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

07-01-22 Moutran
Khalil Mutran
1872 – 1949


O questing birds, what seek you in your wanderings?
They made answere:
We are the hopes of youth; and here our beloved
lived and suffered.
She was the rose in our garden, reigning
justly with the submission of all therein.
Yet all too soon we saw her fall from her throne,
then disappear.
And so you see us ever searching for some trace of her,
Or flocking where once she was wont to be.

Drink Delirium

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 90th birthday.

06-01 Surur
Naguib Surur
1932 – 1978


There will be anger
Followed by the deluge.
We know we will be among the drowned.
But we will take the devil with us down
To the deepest of deeps:
Our end will be his…
But slowly… What will be said
Of us when they look back on it all?
What will be said
Of us after the deluge,
After the coming drowning, after the coming anger,
What will be said of us poets and writers?
Were we men in truth,
Or mere shadows?
Fear of the sword,
Made of us something unspeakable —
Except in the vulgar tongue.

What will be said?
Will it be said we chose silence
For fear of death?
The letter has an edge like a sword,
Can turn against its speaker.

What will be said?
Will it be said that we chose to speak in symbols,
Whispers, silent gestures,
In all the arts of coded speech?
We said it all — in vino veritas,
But people
Had other concerns:
Their daily bread,
A kilo of meat.

You who always come after the deluge:
A plague is a plague —
It always comes on the tail of a famine.
It snatched your daughter, and many other daughters
As the wolf was standing guard.

I hereby solemnly swear, Maqrizi,
Not to leave this world
Without scandal.
I ask no one for justice:
True justice is not to be begged.
Our judges are high priests,
Our high priests are distant
And all are traitors.
Let someone else write poetry,
I am writing the Chronicles of Maqrizi.

I drink, day
And night I drink.
Sinking… I sink into my depths.
There I see him,
In my heart a holy pearl,
Even if a giant mountain falls upon it.
When I sober up, I float to the surface, lose my pearl.
Was it lost? No. It was me who was lost—
When I sobered up I floated to the surface.
For sure the pearl is down there in the depths…
It is between two thighs, trampled under feet
Shod in military or civilian boots,
Under the wheels of petro-dollar cars.

Usually I drink from two glasses…
My comrade in the madhouse died.
He used to share my drink
And share my grief.
We had no time for joy:
He used to share my past anger,
And present anger — and that to come.
Usually I drink from two glasses,
The second to toast him.
But tonight I drink from one glass:
It seems my friend, upon his death,
Had given up drinking;
Or maybe it was me who gave up.
Then let me drink to giving up drinking
Until the last of all the Noahs’ arks has left
With all those who will be saved from the coming deluge.

I sink and sink
And see in my glass
Monkey fornicating with rat
Or rat fornicating with wolf
Or wolf with owl.

Maqrizi’s daughter is lost
In the plague
And the plague always comes on the tail of a famine,
When prices are measured against a kilo of meat,
Even the price of writers, novelists, poets,
Artists and scientists,
When the stuff of the dreams of the poor is meat;
And fuul beans,
Fruit for the masters.

I recall a poet’s saying:
I shall sleep not to see
My country being bought and sold.

Then drink from two glasses,
Or, if you wish, drink from one.
If my death cannot be driven away,
Then let me engage with it
With what I have at hand.


Translation by Mona Anis and Nur Elmessiri


05-10 Fathy
Safaa Fathy
b. 1958


There was a month I called May. When I buried it in papers, passion streaming down,
flooding the tiles of the rooms.
Herds of gazelles searching for mercy lap it up…and I wander about in search of a
to sharpen against my cheekbones, as I turn the pages of these moments.
You are a stranger to me, and your eyes are the foam of distances running like rivers between us.
Don’t ask me about my evaporating grief; perhaps it has become salt with which to
doctor wounds,
or maybe seeds I can scatter across the floor, to absorb the words that creep there in
search of a story.
Perhaps my sorrow was a bedsheet that couldn’t cover its old bed.
Its only pretext was to gaze at the sky and snatch up stars.
Thus, with no trace of treason.
We were sitting on the couch casting glances into the horizon, arrows of light years.
Waiting, we dified the hours.
Our revolt…ashamed to wear a mask, its savage visage.
Our feet stalked insects to crush them, while they flaunted themselves like naked words
Determined to gasp their last breaths in our sight.
Between us there are also silken buds, fluttering spring butterflies.
Their clusters are like the sun’s bashfulness when it gathers the girl’s milk teeth,
causing the seasons, and among them you, cunning Spring.
Is what’s between us the empire of Ahmad Taha?
Or those gleaming golden circles, panting behind steely eyes?
I wish I were a leaf, with cells in rows.
My splendor, seasons borne by sailboats. My ending the winter, when geckos hide away to dream of new plants growing.
From your bandaged wounds, in salt and fog,
soaring across riverbanks the morning of erupting promises,
running from shore to quay like a short story collapsing breathless on the streets,
Does anyone forbid fabrication?

Or might those cities that swallow fog conjure the word away too?
The same palm outstretched to God,
the same bare feet.
The same eyes, sparkling with poetry’s delight.
Is this why you tremble, dreading the city’s pages?
Is this why you left the streets, to seek refuge in the nightmares of years?
Will you take comfort in the disgrace of seasons,
and the vagrancy of lone words
on the sidewalks of meaninglessness?


Translation by S.V. Atalia

Song of the Stranger

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 110th birthday.

04-16 Jabes
Edmond Jabès
1912 – 1991


I’m looking for
a man I don’t know,
who’s never been more myself
than since I started to look for him.
Does he have my eyes, my hands
and all those thoughts like
flotsam of time?
Season of a thousand wrecks,
the sea no longer a sea,
but an icy watery grave.
Yet farther on, who knows how it goes on?
A little girl sings backward
and nightly reigns over trees
a shepherdess among her sheep.
Let us wrench thirst from the grain
of salt no drink can quench.
Along with the stones, a whole world eats
its heart out, being
from nowhere, like me.


Translation by Rosemarie Waldrop

A half-man

02-08 El Saadawi
Nawal El Saadawi
b. 1931


My friend is married to a man married also to another.
He divides his life fairly and squarely between them,
One half for my friend and the second half for the other woman.
A married man once came to me and said ‘I love you.’
I asked him what he wanted.
He said a lawful wife in accordance with God’s precepts.
I said being a whole woman I could not accept half a man.
He went livid and accused me of heresy.
Pointing his gun at my head, he said,
‘Death to the woman who does not know God.’
So I pointed my gun at his head saying,
‘Death to the half men.’
So he retracted and went back to his wife.


Translation by Amira Nowaira