The HyperTexts

Fadwa Tuqan (aka Touqan or Toukan)

Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003), the Grande Dame of Palestinian letters, is also known as "the Poet of Palestine." She is generally considered to be one of the very best contemporary Arab poets. The sister of the poet Ibrahim Tuqan, she was born in Nablus in 1917. She began writing in traditional forms, but became one of the leaders of the use of the free verse in Arabic poetry. Her work often deals with feminine explorations of love and social protest, particularly of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. After 1967, she also began writing patriotic poems. Her autobiography A Mountainous Journey was translated into English in 1990. Tuqan received the International Poetry Award in Palermo, Italy. She was awarded the Jerusalem Award for Culture and Arts and the United Arab Emirates Award, both in 1990. She also received the Honorary Palestine prize for poetry in 1996. She was the subject of a documentary film directed by novelist Liana Bader in 1999. Tuqan died on December 12, 2003 during the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, while her hometown of Nablus was under siege. The poem Wahsha: Moustalhama min Qanoon al Jathibiya ("Longing: Inspired by the Law of Gravity") was one of the last poems she penned, while largely bedridden. Tuqan is widely considered to be a symbol of the Palestinian cause and is "one of the most distinguished figures of modern Arabic literature." In his obituary for The Guardian, Lawrence Joffe wrote: "The Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, who has died aged 86, forcefully expressed a nation's sense of loss and defiance. Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general, likened reading one of Tuqan's poems to facing 20 enemy commandos. In her poem 'Martyrs Of The Intifada,' Tuqan wrote of young stone-throwers:

They died standing, blazing on the road
Shining like stars, their lips pressed to the lips of life
They stood up in the face of death
Then disappeared like the sun.

Yet the true power of her words derived not from warlike imagery, but from their affirmation of Palestinian identity and the dream of return."

This page contains modern English translations of the poems of Fadwa Tuqan.



Enough for Me 

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Enough for me to lie in the earth,
to be buried in her,
to sink meltingly into her fecund soil ...
only to spring forth like a flower,
to be played with by my countrymen's children.

Enough for me to remain
in my native soil's embrace,
to be as close as a handful of dirt,
a sprig of grass,
a wildflower.



Existence

loose translation by Michael R. Burch


In solitary life, I was a lost question;
in the encompassing darkness,
my answer was concealed.

You were a bright new star
radiating light from the darkness of the unknown,
revealed by fate.

The other stars rotated around you
—once, twice —
until it came to me,
your unique radiance.

Then the bleak blackness broke
And in the matching tremors
of our two hands
I found my missing answer.

Oh you! Oh you intimate, yet distant!
Don't you remember the coalescence
Of your spirit in flames?
Of my universe with yours?
Of the two poets?
Despite our great distance,
Existence unites us.



Nothing Remains

loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Tonight, we’re together,
but tomorrow you'll be hidden from me
thanks to life’s cruelty.

The seas will separate us ...
Oh!—Oh!—If only I could see you!
But I'll never know ...
where your path led you,
which route you took,
or to what unknown destination
your feet compelled your steps.

You will depart and the thief of all beauty
will rob us of all that's dear to us,
will steal this happiness from us,
leaving our hands empty.

Tomorrow at sunrise you'll leave like a phantom,
dissipating into a delicate cloud
that dissolves quickly in the summer noon.

Your scent—your scent!—contains the essence of life,
filling my heart
as the earth absorbs the fragrant rain.

I will miss you like the fragrance of trees
when you leave tomorrow,
and nothing remains.

Just as everything beautiful and all that's dear to us
is lost—lost!—and nothing remains.



The Deluge and the Tree

When the hurricane swirled and spread its deluge
of dark evil
onto the good green land
'they' gloated. The western skies
reverberated with joyous accounts:
"The Tree has fallen!
The great trunk is smashed! The hurricane leaves no life in the Tree!"

Had the Tree really fallen?
Never! Not with our red streams flowing forever,
not while the wine of our thorn limbs
fed the thirsty roots,
Arab roots alive
tunneling deep, deep, into the land!

When the Tree rises up, the branches
shall flourish green and fresh in the sun,
the laughter of the Tree shall leaf
beneath the sun
and birds shall return.
Undoubtedly, the birds shall return.
The birds shall return.



Labor Pains

The wind blows the pollen in the night
through ruins of fields and homes.
Earth shivers with love,
with the pain of giving birth,
but the conqueror wants us to believe
stories of submission and surrender.

O Arab Aurora!
Tell the usurper of our land
that childbirth is a force unknown to him,
the pain of a mother’s body,
that the scarred land
inaugurates life
at the moment of dawn
when the rose of blood
blooms on the wound.



Longing: Inspired by the Law of Gravity

translated from the original Arabic by Chris Millis and Tania Tamari Nasir

Time's out and I'm home alone with the shadow I cast
Gone is the law of the universe, scattered by frivolous fate
Nothing to hold down my things
Nothing to weigh them to the floor
My possessions have flown, they belong to others
My chair, my cupboard, the revolving stool

Alone with the shadow I cast
No father, no mother
No brothers, no sisters to swell
The house full with laughter
Nothing but loneliness and grief
And the rubble of months, the years
Bend my back, slow my steps, blind me to the horizon

I miss the smell of coffee, the scent in the air
Its absence an ecstasy where I drown morning and night

Time's out and I'm home alone
With the shadow I cast

I miss the company of books
Their consolation through trouble and joy

I miss, how I miss my mother's ancient clock, family photos framed on the wall
I miss my oud
For all its silent, severed strings

Time's out and I'm home alone
The curfew hurts
It hurts me, no it kills me, the killing of children near my home

I'm afraid of tomorrow
I'm afraid of the unknowable resources of fate
O God, don't let me be a burden, shunned by young and old
I wait to arrive where the land is silent, I'm waiting for death
Long has been my journey O God
Make the path short and the journey end

First published as Wahsha: Moustalhama min Qanoon al Jathibiya in Al Karmel 72-73, 2002 by arrangement with the estate of Fadwa Touqan. Translation copyright 2006 by Tania Tamari Nasir and Christopher Millis. All rights reserved.



Hamza

Hamza was just an ordinary man
like others in my hometown
who work only with their hands for bread.

When I met him the other day,
this land was wearing a cloak of mourning
in windless silence. And I felt defeated.
But Hamza-the-ordinary said:
‘My sister, our land has a throbbing heart,
it doesn’t cease to beat, and it endures
the unendurable. It keeps the secrets
of hills and wombs. This land sprouting
with spikes and palms is also the land
that gives birth to a freedom-fighter.
This land, my sister, is a woman.’

Days rolled by. I saw Hamza nowhere.
Yet I felt the belly of the land
was heaving in pain.

Hamza — sixty-five — weighs
heavy like a rock on his own back.
‘Burn, burn his house,’
a command screamed,
‘and tie his son in a cell.’
The military ruler of our town later explained:
it was necessary for law and order,
that is, for love and peace!

Armed soldiers gherraoed his house:
the serpent’s coil came full circle.
The bang at the door was but an order —
‘evacuate, damn it!’
And generous as they were with time, they could say:
‘in an hour, yes!’

Hamza opened the window.
Face to face with the sun blazing outside,
he cried: ‘in this house my children
and I will live and die
for Palestine.’
Hamza’s voice echoed clean
across the bleeding silence of the town.

An hour later, impeccably,
the house came crumbling down,
the rooms were blown to pieces in the sky,
and the bricks and the stones all burst forth,
burying dreams and memories of a lifetime

of labor, tears, and some happy moments.

Yesterday I saw Hamza
walking down a street in our town —
Hamza the ordinary man as he always was:
always secure in his determination.

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