Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi: The Poet of the Tunisia and Egyptian Revolution

At many of the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere people have been chanting the verses of a Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi. During the Tunisian anti-colonial uprising in the early 1900s his poem "The Will to Live" became famous and it is now being repeated.

إذَا الشَّعْبُ يَوْماًً أرَادَ الْحَيَـــــــاةَ فَلَا بُــدَّ أن يَسْتَجِيبَ القَــــدَر وَلاَ بُدَّ لِلــــيْلِ أن يَنْجَلِــــــــــي وَلاَ بُـــدَّ للقَيْـــِد أن يَنْكَسِــــر وَمَنْ لَمْ يُعَانِــقْهُ شَوْقُ الْحَيَــاةِ تَبَـــخَّرَ في جـَـوَّهَـا وَانْدَثـَـــر

If the people will to live Providence is destined to favorably respond And night is destined to fold And the chains are certain to be broken And he who has not embraced the love of life Will evaporate in its atmosphere and disappear

This translation was done by As’ad Abu Khalil. The poem is actually much longer. For those who want to see the entire thing you can download it as a PDF here.

Another poem, "To the Tyrants of the World" is good too:

ألا أيها الظالم المستبد حبيب الظلام عدو الحياه سخرت بأنات شعب ضعيف و كفك مخضوبة من دماه و سرت تشوه سحر الوجود و تبذر شوك الاسى في رباه رويدك لا يخدعنك الربيع و صحو الفضاء و ضوء الصباح ففي الافق الرحب هول الظلام و قصف الرعود و عصف الرياح حذار فتحت الرماد اللهيب و من يبذر الشوك يجن الجراح تأمل هنالك انى حصدت رؤوس الورى و زهور الأمل و رويت بالدم قلب التراب اشربته الدمع حتى ثمل سيجرفك سيل الدماء و يأكلك العاصف المشتعل

Oppressive tyrant Lover of darkness enemy of life You have ridiculed the sighs of the weak people Your palm is soaked with their blood You deformed the magic of existence and planted the seeds of sorrow in the fields Wait. Do not be fooled by the spring The clearness of the sky or the light of dawn For on the horizon lies the horror of darkness the rumble of thunder and the fierce blowing of wind Beware for below the ash there is fire And he who grows thorns eats wounds Look there for i have harvested the heads of mankind and the flowers of hope And I watered the heart of the earth with blood I soaked it with tears until it is drunk The river of blood will sweep you And the fiery storm will devour you

Translated by Adel Iskandar

AJ Arberry offers another translation, more poetic in style:

Imperious despot, insolent in strife, Lover of ruin, enemy of life! You mock the anguish of an impotent land Whose people’s blood has stained your tyrant hand, And desecrate the magic of this earth, sowing your thorns, to bring despair to birth, Patience! Let not the Spring delude you now, The morning light, the skies’ unclouded brow; Fear gathers in the broad horizon’s murk Where winds are rising, and deep thunders lurk; When the weak weeps, receive him not with scorn— Who soweth thorns, shall not his flesh be torn? Wait! Where you thought to reap the lives of men, The flowers of hope, never to bloom again, Where you have soaked the furrows’ heart with blood, Drenched them with tears, until they overflowed, A gale of flame shall suddenly consume, A bloody torrent sweep you to your doom!

Thanks to Elliot Colla and Lynx Qualey for their work in compiling much of the readily accessible translations of al-Shabbi's poetry.