Poetry Depot

February 28, 2011

Poetry and Arab Revolution

Filed under: Africa, Arabic, Tunisia, Tunisian — Tags: , , , , — razvan @ 1:25 am

The Will of Life

by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi

If the people will to live
Providence is destined to favourably 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

Translated by As’ad Abu Khalil.

فلا بــدّ أن يستجيب القــــدر             إذا الشعب يوماً أراد الحيـــــــاة
ولا بـــدّ للقيـــد أن ينكســــر                ولا بدّ للــــيل أن ينجلــــــــــي
تبـــخّر في جــوّهـا واندثــــر                 ومن لم يُعانــقه شوق الحيــاة

image and poem from HERE

John Lundberg wrote for huffingtonpost.com

The words of a Tunisian poet helped spark revolution in his native country, then spread to help fuel the revolution in Egypt, and continue to inspire protests flaring up throughout the Middle East. Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shabi’s poem “Will to Live,” written when Tunisia was struggling under French colonialism in the early 20th Century, captured the emotions of Tunisian protesters in their most recent struggle for democracy, and proved a powerful, unifying cry for freedom. “Will to Live” includes the following lines, which are memorized by school children throughout the Arab world (translated, of course):

If one day, a people desire to live,
then fate will answer their call
And their night will then begin to fade,
and their chains break and fall.

Protesters could be heard chanting these lines in the streets, and frequently displayed them on t-shirts and banners. A Lebanese TV anchor even used the lines to sign off of a broadcast that announced the ousting of the Tunisian President.

Al-Shabi wasn’t the only poet fueling the struggle for freedom. A contemporary Egyptian poet named Hesham al Jakh, a contestant on the Arab world’s popular “American Idol”-style program “Prince of Poets,” used the platform to recite poems critical of Egyptian leaders during the Egyptian revolution. The program’s audience — particularly its Egyptian audience — responded by voting him to the finals of the competition.

from the free Dictionary:

Born 1909 in the village of al-Shabbiya, near Tozeur; died 1934 in Tunis. Tunisian poet. One of the first romanticists in Arabic poetry; a classic author of modern Tunisian literature.

Al-Shabbi was the son of a Muslim judge who instilled in him the beliefs of M. Abdo and other Islamic reformers. In the early 1920’s he studied at the Zaytunah higher Muslim religious school in Tunis. He graduated from the Tunis School of Law in 1930. He first published his works in 1926.

Al-Shabbi had a perfect command of the classical traditions of Arabic poetry but contrasted it with the poetry of sentiment in the spirit of French romanticism, familiar to him from Arabic adaptations of the works of A. de Musset, A. de Lamartine, and T. Gautier. The romanticist rift between the ideal and the real was manifested in al-Shabbi’s works as the tragic contradiction between contemporary Tunisian society (”a dead world … of ancient tombs”) and the yearning for a spiritual rebirth and personal freedom (the collection Songs of Life, published 1955).

In 1929, in a public lecture entitled “Poetic Imagination Among the Arabs” (published 1929), Shabbi criticized the Arabic classical heritage and spoke out harshly against the prevailing traditionalism, to which he ascribed the self-isolation of Arabic literature from life and from other literatures of the world.



  1. Good evening! Great work.But i think that you forget another poem written as well by abou al kassem shabbi which celebrates freedom entitled ‘To The Tyrants of The World’.

    Comment by offa — March 13, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

  2. Nice one.keep it up.

    Comment by sufimaki — August 25, 2011 @ 11:44 am

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