By George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D.
[For Part 1 of this essay, click here. For Part 2, click here.]
7. Sabour’s Departure from Traditional Arabic Poetry
Up until now, I tried to demonstrate Eliot’s influence on Abdel Sabour’s poetry, especially with regard to his themes and techniques. Because of the vast gulf that separates the two poets culturally, spiritually, and educationally, it seems a vain effort to look for absolute similarities. On the other hand, it is easier for the critic with an adequate knowledge of the traditional models of Arabic poetry to notice that Sabour’s modern poetry departed almost completely from the classical tradition.
Prior to his exposure to the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Sabour wrote traditional poetry using the classical meters. After reading Eliot, the Egyptian poet adopted new themes, techniques, and structures. He no longer used traditional meters with the long, heavy lines, built on two hemistiches and rhyming with each other throughout the poem. This new type of poetry was able to come into existence and flourish after a long struggle led by contemporary poets like Abdel Sabour. (19)
Starting in the late 1950s, the experience of writing in free verse became a familiar occurrence. In the poetry of Sabour, not only the mood, style, use of myth and illusion, and the interior monologue resemble Eliot’s, but “we have a sense of aimlessness and isolation, of memory and futility, it is definitely the mood of The Wasteland and the Hollow Men.” (20) Moreover, there are clear-cut images in Sabour’s poetry which demonstrate Eliot’s great influence on the Arab poet’s attitude toward life and death. Sabour also makes use of Eliot’s theme of alienation and of his description of empty rooms. In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot says:
“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes.
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes.”
Sabour says, echoing Eliot in his “My Peerless Star”:
“Fingers of an eastern wind
Rub the window-panes.” (more…)