Friday, September 21, 2007

Poem: Saadi Youssef

YoussefIt feels like it's been eons since I last blogged, and an even longer interval since I've posted a poem, so here's one by a potential candidate for this year's Nobel Prize, the exiled Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef (Sa'di Yûsuf, 1934-, photo © Graywolf), translated by Libyan-American poet Khaled Mattawa. Mattawa translated and published a selection of Youssef's poems in 2002 called Without an Alphabet, Without a Face: Selected Poems (Graywolf), and though I know no Arabic, my impression of the collection is that simple lyricism of Youssef's poetry has not been lost.

My classes begin next week, all three of them in fiction writing, so I want to keep some lyric poetry in my ears (and eyes). (I've borrowed the poem below from the excellent resource site Words Without Borders.)


Winds that do not blow in the evening,
and winds that do not blow at dawn
have burdened me with a book of boughs.
I see my cry in the silence.

Night descends, blue, between staircases and stars. I see
blue trees, abandoned streets, and a country
of sand. I had a home and lost it. I had a home
and left it. How close the stars are!
They cling to my steps. O blue trees, blue
woods, night! we have ended up in a world
collapsing or beginning or dying.

Trees for severed hands. Trees for the eyes
that were gouged. Trees for the hearts turned to stone.
In the city, in the cemetery, trees sway in their blueness.
The severed hands do not wave, the gouged eyes
do not waver, the hearts turned to stone
do not move. Will they come,
the strange winds? The gardens are inhabited by silence.
The minarets have the color of old waters, people have the color
of old horses. And the Tartar books are branded
with the stamp of censorship.
Which country have you come to now? Here, you will open
a door to a torture chamber. And one day in a garden
you will see your arms, your eyes, or your speeding heart.
But you are strong today, say your word. Say it,
for after tomorrow you will begin to die.

The winds that do not blow in the evening,
the winds that do not blow at dawn.

I am beautified with the book of boughs;
and I see my cry in others' eyes.

November 3, 1974

Copyright © 2002, 2007, Saadi Youssef, translated by Khaled Mattawa.


  1. A New Monograph on Saadi Youssef :

  2. A New Monograph on Saadi Youssef: