Poems from Syria
Two examples of the changing forms of poetry in war-torn Syria
In stark contrast to the flowery, metaphorical poetry common in Syria before the revolution began, today’s poems emerging from the war-torn republic are explicit and visceral, graphic and raw. Fear and oppression dominated artistic expression in the past, and while these writers still risk danger and even death for their work, a layer of that fear has vanished. Their words speak for the millions of Syrians who have faced unimaginable suffering, and whose voices may never be heard.
Ghada Alatrash, a Syrian-Canadian poet, immediately saw the significance of this dramatic evolution, and translated the poems coming out of Syria so that they could gain as much exposure as possible.
I Am Syrian
By Youssef Abu Yihea, Translated by Ghada Alatrash
I am a Syrian.
Exiled, in and out of my homeland, and
on knife blades with swollen feet I walk.
I am a Syrian: Shiite, Druze, Kurd,
and I am Alawite, Sunni, and Circassian.
Syria is my land.
Syria is my identity.
My sect is the scent of my homeland,
the soil after the rain,
and my Syria is my only religion.
I am a son of this land, like the olives
apples pomegranates chicory cacti mint grapes figs …
So what use are your thrones,
and your elegies?
Will your words bring back my home
and those who were killed
Will they erase tears shed on this soil?
I am a son of that green paradise,
but today, I am dying from hunger and thirst.
Barren tents in Lebanon and Amman are now my refuge,
but no land except my homeland
will nourish me with its grains,
nor will all the clouds
in this universe
quench my thirst.
. . .
When I am overcome by Weakness
By Najat Abdul Samad, translated by Ghada Alatrash
When I am overcome with weakness, I bandage my heart with a woman’s patience in adversity. I bandage it with the upright posture of a Syrian woman who is not bent by bereavement, poverty, or displacement as she rises from the banquets of death and carries on shepherding life’s rituals.
She prepares for a creeping, ravenous winter and gathers the heavy firewood branches, stick by stick from the frigid wilderness. She does not cut a tree, does not steal, does not surrender her soul to weariness, does not ask anyone’s charity, does not fold with the load, and does not yield midway.
I bandage it with the steadiness of a child’s steps in the snow of a refugee camp, a child wearing a small black shoe on one foot and a large blue sandal on the other, wandering off and singing to butterflies flying in the sunny skies, butterflies and skies seen only by his eyes.
I bandage it with December’s frozen tree roots, trees that have sworn to blossom in March or April.
I bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by a proximate desolation.
I bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil.
I bandage it with what was entrusted by our martyrs, with the conscience of the living, and with the image of a beautiful homeland envisioned by the eyes of the poor.
I bandage it with the outcry: “Death and not humiliation.”
. . .
Many Syrians have discovered a new awakening for freedom of expression, even as bombs are falling around them. Their words bleed passion, as themes of unity and defiance become more and more frequent. We are amazed and inspired by these courageous individuals and by all of the innocent people holding onto hope in a place where there seems to be none. Poets like Youssef and Najat, and so many more, are a source of hope and strength for their readers, providing a symbol of tenacious resistance against despair, against hatred, and against fear.