Capricious by May Ziadeh

A poem written by May Ziadeh under her pen-name I Copia from her first book of poetry, Flowers of a DreamFleurs de Reve (1911), translated by me from the French into English.

When I’d come upon this book of poetry of hers online by surprise last May, I’d decided to read just one poem before bed and savor it, and I’d read until the calmest part…”over the plains and the foam,” thinking the poem had ended there, not knowing it continued on, until I’d look through her poems again another time. 

I now appreciate May’s long poem, fully and intricately, even more-so with its whole length, powerful pace and compassionate and straightforward questions. It is also a philosophical poem in its many tones, narrative, and images.

Here’s May Ziadeh’s poem, “Capricious” published in French in Cairo, Egypt in 1911, my translation of it into English.

CAPRICIOUS 

by May Ziadeh   

Grandiose in the deep sky, 
the sun said its customary goodbye  
to the river, the palm trees,  
the sands of this place, 
and walked toward the other world.  

Cairo was hidden beneath a fine mist,  
the trees swirling on 
the brown banks of the Nile. 
Their shadow fell everywhere, 
finding no danger 
and covered over safely 
the plains and the foam.   

Then the whole horizon sends up a cry, 
The firmament is stained with lilac and rose 
(Quivering colors where the soft azure rests), 
And the zephyr is tender.

O Pyramids! It is then 
That, raising my thinking head, I hear 
as I wander on your strong flanks,
The echo of some melancholic voice—
But What! Would that be to you
An orphan crying 
for his mother?

Is it a hymn, is it a prayer, 
Is it a divine moan? 
But the silence has already returned
Around the great black monument. 

For a time – My heart quivers, rushes, 
Glides with the evening breeze… 
Suddenly the sounds are heard, 
Oh gods! 
Where did they come from? 
A sweet harmony melts within it…
It is Alexander’s voice.   

An echo? by Napoleon 
Is it the sword that shines? 
Is this your statue, O Memnon, 
Who falls into a steamy sweat? 
Is it a soldier’s sigh 
Dead? 
A horse that rears? 
Is it the cracking of a marble 
Who's been lying there for centuries? 
Answer, Monuments! 

Proud pyramids, Centuries past, 
Silent memory! 
Are these songs of love 
or warrior commands 
that your insides are throwing clean? 

No, on your worn-down coasts
It’s no longer the Imperial Eagle 
That marks your sacred lands 
Footsteps of his fiery horse; 
Oh! Lower your French weapons;
Your flags are barely seen… 
And Muhammad Ali is no more,
All things are English. 

These long 
echoes are floating 
and tickling my soul 
like the breath of a breeze, a breath 
of azure, a motherly kiss, a sad, pure look, the flash of a subtle flame, a child’s soft finger caressing my forehead, a bird chirping, a river whispering, a friendly smile, 
a cry from nature, or from the sun, 
a golden ray…  

It was the distant band that played 
"God Save The King."
It was the certain vibration of 
Brave hearts full of faith
Your sweet, nostalgic waves 
Harmony, Oh divine nectar, 
I let it run through my breast, 
The melancholic warmth…

Museums, Beauties, Beloved Fine Arts, 
Oceans, rivers, greenery, 
Immense azure, golden stars 
Who are adornments from heaven
To you, my young ones, 
To you, my young intelligence, 
My love and trust, 
my blue and white dreams, I send you!  
But no more transports.  

So long, Pyramides, 
And you, Lebanon, Beirut, 
Dear Antoura, Hello! 
My Syria, Hi! 
As soon as I can, 
I’ll go back 
to your clear 
horizons.

 —by May Ziadeh 
(1911, Cairo)



*
A recent poem I wrote: “In the Deep, Unexpectant Dark”

More by May Ziadeh: From the Prose Poetry of Miss May Ziadeh, Intimate Pages

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