What Your Gaze Did

(Magadeer Min Jafnayki – Latitudes Beneath Your Eyelids)

Ahmed Shawqi

Translated from the Arabic by Eman Hassan


Is a draught that slakes. Those volumes

left me cross-eyed, condemned, naked

and bewitched. Two shots pierced— my mind,

drunk and overcome (also by AsomBroso),

dresses me up in silly costume. I wear it:

you can’t help but love this sorry outfit.

Love—what is it, but that old dialectic of master

and slave? Despite subjective meanings we give

a swell of gaze, the lure of one Ojo to another—

no matter the brouhaha—cocktail name or salt

& lemon garnish. Can’t be bought or conveyed

like a laptop or lipstick. When asked, I tell them

it’s an echo,  stretched taught like skin

pulled over a Bedouin drum, until the drummer

stops playing, leaves you outside the music

tent, alone in the desert, turned into junk.

Like that old Howard Jones song goes,

does anybody love anybody, anyway?

Or the one about if love is a red dress

then hang me in rags. Look away.

Let me hide my tattered ego from

your two glowing embers. The latitudes

of your eyes are daggers; I’m not strong

or wise. I’ve drunk my fill of their depths

until stabbed, the world spun dark, drowned

and bled— all over my funny dress.

من جفنيـك

من جَــفنَيكِ حَــوًلـنَ حَــالِـيَـــا

الهَــوَى مـن بعـــدِ مَـــا كـنتُ

عَـلَـيَّ الـلُّـبَّ بالســهـم

مَـقـضِـيّــاً، وبالسَّـيفِ قـاضِـيـا

ثــوبَ الضـنَـى فَـلـَبِـســتُــــهُ

بـهِ ثـوبـــا وإن ضـمَّ بـالـيـــــــا

الحُبُّ إلا طــاعـــــةٌ وتَـجـــــاوُزٌ

أكــثَـــروا أَوصَـــافَـــهُ

هــو إلا الـعــينُ بـالــعينِ

نـوَّعــــوا أســــبــــــابَـهُ

الهَـــوَى مَـــوصـــوفُـــهُ لا

ســألـونـي مـــا الهَـــوَى؟ قـلـتُ
مـــا بِـيــا

رَشَـــــاّ قـد كــــان دُنـيـــايَ

أشـــتـــــاقُ دُنـيـــــايَ نائيــــــا

بـروحي فــي هــواهَ رخـــيـــصَـــةً

يـهـــوَ لا يُـؤثِــر عـلـى الحُـبِّ

تَـجـــــرِ ألـفــــــاظ ُالـوُشــــاةِ

التي يَـجــري بـهــا الدمعُ واشِـــيــا

لمـــن وَدَّعــتُ والـــركـبُ ســـــائــرٌ

فــــــؤادي ســــــائــرٌ بفُــــــؤاديـــــا

لـقـلـبـي مـن جُــفـــونـكِ فـي

بالهَــوَى كــأسًــا وراحًــا وســاقِيـــا

تَـجــــــعـــلـيــه بـيـنَ خَـــــدَّيـك

الظـلـم أن يَـغــــدو لِـنارَيـنِ

يَـنـدَمِـل مـن طـعـنـةِ القَــــدِّ

بـه مـن طـعنـةِ البـــَيـنِ دامـــِيــــَا


Ahmed Shawqi (1870–1932) was born in Cairo, Egypt and is considered to have revolutionized Arabic poetry. Hailed as “The Prince of Poetry,” Shawqi studied Law in Paris and was heavily influenced by the early French Modernists. His poetic genius, which had revealed itself early on, won him a scholarship to France, where he resumed his study of law at the Universities of Montpellier and Paris, respectively. It was during his stay in France that he was heavily influenced by French drama, particularly the plays of Molière and Racine. His twofold contribution to the Arab literary tradition resides in poetry and in his pioneering introduction of poetic drama into the Arabic literary tradition.

Shawqi is most known for his work as a playwright and authored six tragedies and one comedy. Three out of the six are historical plays with patriotic themes: The Death of Cleopatra, Qambeez and Ali Bey Al-Kabeer. The other three plays are more embedded in the Arab Islamic background: Majnun Laila, Antara and The Princess of Andalusia.

Shawqi spent almost a decade in exile in Spain later in life, after speaking against the British colonial occupation of Egypt during World War One, a period that became known as his “Blue Period.” His collected poems are published in an exclusive anthology entitled Sawqiyyat. He returned to Egypt after the war, where he became a member of the Parliament. He died in 1932.

Eman Hassan received an MFA in poetry from Arizona State University. She has both Kuwaiti and American roots and has spent time growing up in both places. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blue Guitar, American Literary, Psychic Meatloaf, and Toe Good. She received a first honorable mention for her poemThe Blossoming” for CALYX’s 2010 Lois Cranston Memorial Prize.

Translator’s Note: While the poem in its original Arabic tugs at the heartstrings in a profound way, its literal translation into English is heavy-handed, with a splash of cheesy.  One of the main differences between Arabic and Western poetic aesthetic is how emotion is utilized. While Western Postmodern sensibility seek to indirectly evoke a reaction through subtle measures, Arabic poetics uses a more direct approach, unabashed in its emotional declarations, using form and heavy lyric to give rise to images and the rhetoric of love and loss.

How does one render a classical Arabic love poem into English? My approach in “What Your Gaze Did” was to maintain a fidelity to the “spirit of the language” through capturing the range of emotional tone, yet transforming some of the traditional imagery and mournful pontificating tone of pining for lost love into a humorous narrative. Drowning in the eyes or the memory of the eyes of a lover transforms into a modern narrative: the classical Arabian metaphor of being euphorically drunk from the gaze of a lover turns into the universal act getting drunk, literally and not figuratively, to forget.

In his essay On the Different Methods of Translating Friedrich Schleiermacher writes that higher discourse is born out of the spirit of the language and wants to be perceived from the emotional stance of the speaker uttering the words. Similarly, he says that the original utterance, the spirit of the language, dies out if it is exactly duplicated. In similar vein, I sought to transform the original poetic utterances of Ahmed Shawqi by maintaining the spirit of the diction in the poem and emotional stance of the voice of the speaker, with a contemporary twist.



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