One Poem. One Resisted Temptation


On December 31st, 2014, I submitted my thesis on the political agency of poetry. This date marked the conclusion of a long journey towards a Graduate Degree in Cultural Studies. It was a journey, a quest, in search of the deep connections between the daily practices of social change and the transformative power of literary texts. It was a journey seeking to bring together my practical knowledge as a social change activist, and my evolving knowledge as cultural critic. It was a journey in search of theoretical grounding to what I always knew to be true; that poetry matters. That poetry is important to our lives as individuals and as a society.

I love poetry for its complexity; for its ability to spark conversations. I love it for its integrity and illusiveness. The first encounter with a poem I love is like is like a gift; when you can’t wait to untangle it. This is how I felt when Marzuq Al-Halabi, a dear friend, a poet, scholar and activist, sent me his poem Deceit!

I placed the poem close to me and let it breathe. I waited for the moment when I will have time to write about it in peace and quiet. But these are not peaceful nor quiet time, so the poem lingered with me. Until now.

When writing about political agency of poetry one must resist the temptation not to enlist the poem for a specific political cause. I promised myself to resist. Not to speak too much about or for the poem. I wanted to let each reader find him or herself between the lines. So I will only say this: I love this poem because it looks the reader in the eye; because it endows the words with their deep meaning.

The original poem was written in Arabic. My dear friend, Rachel Tzvia Back, a wonderful poet and most gifted translator of poetry, made it possible for me to share this poem in English.

DECEIT! / Marzuk Alhalabi

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

Deceit! 1

Not a single one will go to hell

Or burn

Not a single one will go to heaven

And not one will return

No beautiful woman waits

No grace will reign

The entire thing is language’s deceit.

Deceit! 2

Not a single one rose into the sky

Not a single one flew swiftly in the night

Not a single one walked on water

Not a single one returned from beyond.

The whole thing is deceit of grammar rules

In the naming of active subject and verbs!

Deceit! 3

Not a single one is pleasing his god

Not a single one disobeys him

Not a single one will earn his favor

Not a single one will forget him

The entire thing is mind deceit

Trickery of spirits weak!

Deceit! 4

Not a single one is martyred

All are murdered

There is no beautiful death

Every death is ugly

There is no heroism in this death

It is the ruse of words on this death in vain.

Deceit! 5

Not a single one is marking the borders

Not a single one will set up the scales

Not one will be just toward you,

Not a single one will determine your end

The entire affair is a decrepit old clock

From which time has run out.

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