Poetic Interlude
Published on September 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

Last week the New York Times printed an obituary for Nazik al-Malaika, one of the Arab world's most famous poets. Here's an excerpt:

"In a country riven by sectarian strife, her life and work as a poet and a literary critic were poignant reminders of Iraq’s cultural renaissance in the mid-20th century. Baghdad was then considered the Paris of the Middle East, and poets and artists flocked here to work.

Ms. Malaika was one of a small group of Iraqi poets who broke away from classical Arab poetry, with its rigid metric and rhyme schemes. Influenced by the writing of Shakespeare, Byron and Shelley as well as by classical Arabic poets, these poets took up modern topics and used lyrical language that spoke with the immediacy of life on the Arab street."

The Times also printed al-Malaika's poem "To Wash Disgrace," which the paper describes as a "searing poem about honor killings." Here it is:


Oh mother, a rattle, tears and darkness

Blood gushed out, and the stabbed body trembled.

“Oh mother!” Heard only by the executioner

Tomorrow the dawn will come and roses will wake up

Youth and enchanted hopes will ask for her

The meadows and the flowers will answer:

She left to wash the disgrace.

The brutal executioner returns

And meets people

“Disgrace!” He wipes his knife

“We’ve torn it apart.”

And returned virtuous with a white reputation.

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