[Art by Wasima al-Agha, Iraq’s Fine Arts Gallery.]

[Note: This is the second in a series of translations of selected letters of the noted Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab.]

Letter #2
Abu al-Khaseeb: 4/ 20/1946

My Beloved Brother, Khalid (al-Shawwaaf),

A grim and suffocating event has made me hate writing letters even to those dearest and closest to me. No doubt, you remember the encounter…my encounter… with my first love; you recall what she said to me…. “Bring me all the poetry you write…by way of Miss …..”

I have completed the poem, “The Song of Encounter,” which reached a hundred and nineteen lines in length. I proceeded to copy it into a small and elegant notebook which I devoted two long days to do in order to also decorate and beautify it, and I sent it to Miss….imploring her to deliver it to my ladylove and to hurry back and inform me of the effect that my poem has left on her soul.

Burdensome days and long weeks have passed, and no answer has come back to me… neither from Miss…, nor from my lady, although I have informed her of my address on the last page of the unfortunate notebook.

Let your heart be free of love for even if the most difficult calamities and the most severe pain befall you, you will remain happy and envied.

I live these days with the poet, “Lamartine,” on the shores of the beautiful lake, and in the home of the old physician, or (among the gulfs, the valleys, the vineyards and the banks of the lake and the summits of the mountains… the wild -??——–, the roaring waterfalls in the cracks of the rocks. -??——)

God, grant me such joy, even if it is short lived and hopeless, for these memories fill the emptiness of my days and prevent love from visiting anew.

Oh, Khalid! How much I promised myself in the deep silence of the night to quiet the chant of despair in my poems and erase the image of death from my thoughts so that my poetry does not reveal my suffering to the ears and eyes of others. – But, what a pity – I have returned empty-handed and disappointed. I have dedicated myself to pain and misery, despair and annihilation.

How ignorant is he who blames me for entitling my poetry collection, “Withered Flowers.” I wish he were with me now…so he could witness that the whole universe, the earth and the sky, the soil and the water, the rocks and the air, are nothing more than withered flowers in my dim eyes and in my lifeless and abating soul.

Oh, My Dear! What can I talk about?? Alas, the fountain of my speech has gone dry, and my feelings have withered and my emotions have died. Do I speak of the roaring river, Dijla, and of the conspicuous faces? Or of her, the distant and oblivious one?… [Two poems omitted]
I hope that you will send me your response when you finish your work and that you will be a harsh critic of these two poems. Send me the latest poems that you have composed.

My greetings to your distinguished father…

Your brother,
Badr al-Sayyab

[From the book, al-Sayyab’s Letters, by Majid al-Samurra’i, (Beirut: Al-Mu’assasa al-‘Arabiya li-al-dirasat wa-al-Nashr, Second Edition, 1994, p. 89) Translated from the original Arabic and with an introduction by George Nicolas El-Hage, Ph.D., Columbia University.]