Launching “Books” with Libyan Poetry

If you look to the column on the right hand side of this page you will notice a new link – “Books” – which looks to chronicle what we read. A few times in this blog we have been able to write a book review of recent reading which has aided in understanding Egyptian society. Other times we have referenced a book which we have not read, but perhaps have interviewed the author or just remembered its general usefulness. The “Books” link is an effort to congregate all this information in one place, so that you can read along with us, if you care to.

The lead item in “Books” is not of this nature, however, but rather focuses on books we have had a hand in producing. Before moving to Egypt we lived in Tunisia, where among other activities I worked with a local author and publisher to translate books from Arabic into English. The first of these has come to print, which, oddly enough, is a selection of poetry from a Libyan author, entitled “The Journey of the Blind”.

I enjoyed making the translation, and though it might seem counterintuitive, translating poetry was actually a little easier than translating prose. This might not be true with classical poetry, but this author uses a modern style, which left me free to arrange meanings keeping with his style, but without the burden of having to worry about meter or rhyme.

Below is a selection from his works, selected because it is my favorite, dealing with issues of travel, home, and belonging.

MY GRANDFATHER’S TESTAMENT

[1]

I saw in the road

My old horse

Which my grandfather gave to me

Before he died,

And after he informed me

Of the dangers of travel,

Of night, of beautiful women, and of sailing,

And after he informed me

Of the dangers of the road, and thieves.

Do not let the beautiful women

Steal your little heart in the morning.

The road is before you, my dear little boy,

The road is before you,

He informed me and then closed his eyes.

[2]

In the early morning

I saw him praying,

In the paths of my homesickness,

In the forest of names and languages,

In the very cells of my body.

And I heard him say:

The best of all homelands is my home,

And the most beautiful of seas.

You see it in the sand,

In the high palm tree,

And in the mirage.

My grandfather told me

In the language of the elderly:

Do not go away,

For the people on the other side of our sea

Walk towards a distant gloom.

Do not go away, do not go away.

Beware!

Beware of the distance of the road.

Of this he informed me

               Before he fell asleep,

                           Before he fell

                                           Asleep.

Benghazi 1968

You can see an image of the book by clicking here: Cover – Journey of the Blind

The collection is available for purchase; my parents have been kind enough to agree to mail a copy to anyone interested. Full information is found under the “Books: Translations” link. Other titles referenced there can be purchased through Amazon, which if bought through this site provides us with a small percentage of the price. Not enough to persuade you not to borrow the book from the library, but on the off chance a summary catches your fancy and you would like to see the binding on your bookshelf, if you are kind enough to consider us, we appreciate it. Thanks.

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