A poem written by May Ziadeh under her pen-name I Copia from her first book of poetry, Flowers of a Dream, Fleurs 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