Ahmed Fouad Negm has been a prominent protest poet in the Arabic world for decades, and a bit of a folk hero in Egypt. He was born in a village in Sharqiya on the Nile Delta, to a peasant family. He was one of 17 children, and an already challenging upbringing was made worse when his father, a policeman, died . From the age of seven Ahmed was brought up by relatives and at an orphanage, failing to complete a formal education. That didn’t stop him from becoming one of Egypt’s greatest poets.
Since the publication of Pictures from Life in Prison, which he wrote during a three-year prison sentence for counterfeiting forms in the early sixties, he has been a forceful voice for the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. His work has been translated into multiple languages and demonstrates an inherent connection between the oppressed peoples of the world.
He died last December, but it’s necessary to keep his work alive. So, I wanted to pay my dues with this post. Here is a small selection of his poems, translated in English. For more, go to revolutionary arabic poetry.
O maidens, the Nile is thirsty
For love and with nostalgia
The shore has
Not a single breeze
O light of the meadows
O Egypt, you are full of the imprisoned
And your clothing is all
If the sun drowns in a sea of clouds
And extends a wave of darkness onto the world
And vision dies in the eyes of the vigilant
And the road is lost in lines and circles
O shrewd traveler in straight lines and in circles,
You have no guide but the eyes of speech.
ومدت على الدنــيا مــوجة ظــــلام
ومات البصر في العيـون والبصايــــر
وغاب الطريق في الخطوط والدواير
يا ساير يا دايــر يا ابــو المفهومــــية
ما فيش لك دليـل غير عيون الكلام
Negm was also known for his wit and sarcasm.
“Sunnis can seek help from the US; Shias have Russia; but atheists have no protector other than God.”
Bow your head, bow
You are in a democratic country
We bless you with freedom
Under the condition that you bow.