I wish I can live life by Abu Al Qassim Al Shabbi translated by Fatima Al Matar

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Write Out Loud's Paul Blackburn approached Fatima Al Matar (pictured), a poet from Kuwait currently living in Coventry, with proposal for a Cross Cultural Poetry project.  As a result of discussion, two blogs were produced which should be read together (this one second).

Initially, she worked with English poet, Fred Holland, to produce a version of his poem "Unsuited" in Arabic, and versions of the poems in both languages can be found at http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=9676

More importantly, she then explains the problems she encountered with the translation process with particular reference to differences between the two cultures.

After further discussion with Paul, for the second blog she took the poem, 'I wish I can live life' by Abu Al Qassim Al Shabbi (pictured), a Tunisian Poet (1909 – 1934), and translated it into English. She then used this translation to develop some of the themes identified in the earlier blog and describes the different styles of Arabian poetry.



Cultural difference between Arabic and English Poetry:

 I have mentioned, in the previous blog, that one of the main cultural differences between Arabic and English poetry is the simplicity and the short, direct, straight to the point verse often found in English poems. I completely understand that this was not always the case, but rather the simplicity and nominal composition of verse in English poetry we have today came as a natural, and gradual evolvement in poetry to adapt to the rapid changes in life, ideology and culture.

In Arabic poetry, however, there still exists a requirement for rhyme, repetition, exaggeration of emotion, and expanded description.

I have chosen this next poem by ‘Abu Al Qassem Al Shabbi’ a Tunisian Poet (1909 – 1934) to expand my explanation further:


         ليت لي أن أعيش الدنيا  (أبو القاسم الشابي)


سَعيداً بِوَحْدتي وانفرادي

ليتَ لي أن أعيشَ هذهِالدنيّا

بينَ الصنوبّر الميّادِ

أَصرِفُ العْمْرَ في الجبالِ،وفي الغابات

نفسي عن استماعِ فؤادي

ليس لي من شواغل العيش مايصرفُ

 لحديثِ الآزال والآبادِ

                       أرقبُ الموتَ , والحياةَ و أصغي

وأصغيِ إلى خرير الوادي

                         وأغني مع البابل في الغاب

والنّهرَ، والضّياءَ الهادي

وَأُناجي النُّجومَ والفجرَ،والأَطيارَ

 بعيداً عَنْ أمتَّي وبلادي

                          عيشةً للجمالِ , والفنِ, أبغيها

فهو حيٌّ يعيشُ عيشَ الجمادِ!

                           لا أعني نفسي بأحزان شعبي

من طريفٍ مُسْتَحْدَثٍ وتِلادِ

وبحسبي مِنَ الأسى مابنفسي

بعيداً عن لَغْوِ تلك النّوادي

وبعيداً عن المدينة ،والنّاس،

ومن ذلك الهُراء العادي

فهو من معدنِ السّخافةوالإفك

وخفقِ الصدى ، وشدوِ الشادي

أين هوَ من خريرِ ساقيةالوادي

وَهَمْسِ النّسيمِ للأوْراد؟

وَحَفيفِ الغصونِ، نمَّقهاالطَّلُّ

وأدعُو لمجدهاوأنادي

                             هذهِ عيشةٌ تقّدسُها نفسي

I wish I can live life  by Abu Al Qassim Al Shabbi


I wish I can live this life in my solitude and isolation

spending my days in the mountains and the woods

between the pine trees, not having worldly cares that

can shift the self from listening to the soul

I’d await death and life, and I’d attentively listen to

the speech of forever and more

I’d sing with the robins in the woods and listen to

the lapping rivers in the valleys

I’d speak lovingly to the stars and the dawn,

the birds and the river and the calm sunlight

A life lived for beauty and art, away from my

people and my country, not weary with the cares of people,

for they live a life of the still lifeless objects 

and to live with what lays within me whether

sorrow or novel joy, away from the city and its people away

from the jargon of their societies, for they only descend from lies,

naivety, and common nonsense 

where is this life for which I long?

where I can hear the lands barmaid singing and lapping,

and the echoes of the heart and the song of the singer    

and the sounds and rustling of tree branches in their shade

and the scent of flowers, this is the life I praise,

I call for its glory and call for its brilliance


Highlighted points:

  • First I should note that every line in the original Arabic poem ends with a rhyme, each line ends with the equivalent of the letter ‘y’ to give the poem rhythm and music, this is a tradition and is still required in modern Arabic poetry.
  • The repetition of some words is evident in this poem, words such as: river, lapping, song, woods. This is a common practice and by it the poet can emphasize the importance of an image, a person, a feeling or an object in his poem.
  • Also the exaggeration that the poem reflects of the writer’s dissatisfaction and displeasure with life, and the longing for another life more close to nature, unshackled by worries or worldly concerns, this dimness could be blamed on Abu Qassim’s life long suffering of heart disease of which he also died just 25 years old, however exaggerating love, loss, and sorrow is a base on which Arabic poetry rests.
  • Expansion in description: we find here that the poet is not satisfied by only saying e.g. ‘I grow weary of people and their jargon’ but he describes further when he adds: 

‘away from the city and its people, away from the jargon of their societies, for they only descend from lies, naivety, and common nonsense’ (line 15).

Although he had mentioned this point before when he states: ‘a life... away from my   people and my country, not weary with the cares of people, for they live a life of the still lifeless objects’ (line 11). Thus here we say an emphasis and extended description, which many might argue that the poem can do without. Again this is an Arabic method to highlight and stress on certain emotions which the poet wants its reader to.

Notes on Arabic styles of Poetry

1. "AL Amoodi" (The Vertical Style):  the best example for this style is the poem I translated by "Abu Al Qassim", it is the most traditional way of writing poetry in the Arab world where each line is a verse and each line is divided into two parts, thus you don't read the first column then begin with the next, you actually read the first line which has a gap in the middle, the reason for this is that Arabic poetry rests on the music of the poem when you read it it will have a rhythm to it, the poet has to maintain that rhythm from beginning to end, every word used in this poem is studied closely and weighed in order to fit in within the poem.
2. "Al Tafeela": I couldn't find the equivalent word for this style but we could say it's a rhyming poem however the rhyme itself can change from one verse to the other, the poem here is not required to maintain the same rhythm through out, it changes from line to line, this style is not written in two column it's vertical in single lines and each line can vary in length, thus its considered more free than the prior style.
3. "Al Khatera" (prose): this moves away from rhyme and rhythm and focuses on the depth of meaning, it's the equivalent of prose, almost a beautifully written text rather than a poem.


Fatima Al Matar



◄ Unsuited by Fred Holland translated by Fatima Al Matar

Giving the world to Venus ►


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Fatima al.matar

Sat 10th Apr 2010 13:31

thank you hatta, I'm glad you've enjoyed them.. the slam was great, thank you x

<Deleted User> (7790)

Sat 10th Apr 2010 09:51

Hello Fatima, your translations are sumptuous, scintillating and have a kind of mysterious tranquility at their core. Absolutely beautiful. And huge congratulations on winning the Wigan Slam!

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Fatima al.matar

Thu 8th Apr 2010 10:47

Thank you Isobel,

Yes, I think you're right... that second 'for' was useless..

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Wed 7th Apr 2010 21:46

I think you have done an excellent job on translating this Fatima.There are just 2 changes I would suggest. Can to could in the title and 'where is this life for which I long?' - avoiding the repetition of for. I hope you won't be offended by this. I will be posting a song/poem in a foreign language at some point - I will welcome any such comments - the intricacies of foreign grammar are a minefield. It is fun to do this kind of exercise though and so enriching.

I think you have transmitted the poets feelings really well - I often wish for the same thing!

You have a lovely voice and I look forward to hearing more.

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Fatima al.matar

Wed 7th Apr 2010 21:28


Thank you for your lovely comments and your kind appreciation.. and a big thank you goes out to Paul Blackburn who has made the Cross Cultural Poetry project happen..

Fatima xx

<Deleted User> (7164)

Tue 6th Apr 2010 20:17

This is fascinating work and brilliant to listen to and to read.
I too thoroughly enjoyed the footnotes applied which give us an understanding of the different styles and forms.

I honestly cannot stress enough how much this work by Fatima has impressed me and i will be keeping an eye out for the next posts eagerly.
I agree with Chris, very well done and thankyou for sharing it with us.

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Ann Foxglove

Tue 6th Apr 2010 15:43

I've just listened to this and it is absolutley beautiful. Then read the translation, also beautiful. And what a voice she has! Exquisite!

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Chris Dawson

Tue 6th Apr 2010 15:32

I am really enjoying these CCP poems, and the notes that accompany them are fascinating - makes me really want to know more, read more, and be more involved.
Very well done,

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