"Hymn of the Rain" Endures

Celebrating a century of Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab

AL-MUTANABBI STREET, BAGHDAD, 12 January — Al-Mada House, a cultural hub on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, commemorated the centenary of the birth of Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab, the pioneer of modern Arabic poetry.

Born in the Basra village of Jekor, Al-Sayyab’s legacy continues to influence generations of writers, despite his early death at the age of 38. Cultural figures called for the establishment of a study center to preserve the poet’s heritage. Critics noted that Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri, the prominent classic Arab poet known for his criticism of modern poetry, always refrained from critiquing Al-Sayyab, acknowledging his unique and profound creative influence in both the cultural and political landscapes.

Event Highlights:
Al-Sayyab, the leading figure in modern Arab poetry and a pioneer of free verse, was celebrated by intellectuals and poets at a session hosted by Al-Mada House for Culture and Arts. The session was led by critic Ahmad Hassan Al-Zufairi and featured discussions about Al-Sayyab’s impact on Iraqi and Arab poetry.

Ahmad Hassan Al-Zufairi, session moderator: “Today, we remember Al-Sayyab with love and pride. Despite the vast literature on him, we have not yet fully celebrated his monumental contribution to Arab literature. His short life carved a significant path in both Arab and global literature, making him an important pioneer in modern Arab literary school.”

Ali Haddad, critic and academic: “Celebrating Al-Sayyab is a tribute to modern Arabic poetry and true creativity. His poetic experience, intertwined with his human experience, gave him this unique status.”

Ali Al-Fawaz, President of the Iraqi Writers Union: “Our discussion about Al-Sayyab remains an open one. While we should not sanctify him and lean on him in our cultural crises, we must engage with Al-Sayyab’s phenomenon with realism and responsible historical awareness. The moment we say that Al-Sayyab’s poem is the best today, we speak of the foundational moments of real actors in their historical context. These foundational moments are crucial in methodologically establishing learning and cultural lessons. Al-Sayyab’s engagement with the new poem was intentional, marked by awareness, vision, and the ability to innovate a new form for the modern poem.”

Al-Sayyab’s Lasting Influence: The session highlighted how Al-Sayyab’s work, especially “Hymn of the Rain*,” sent to Adonis before publication, revealed a new taste and mood in Arabic poetry. Adonis himself acknowledged discovering a new spirit of language and history in it, marked by a depth of vision.

The centennial celebration of Badr Shakir Al-Sayyab serves as a reminder of his enduring influence on Arabic poetry and culture, with calls for further preservation and study of his work, mirroring global efforts to honor cultural icons.

Hymn of the Rain*

Your eyes are two palm tree forests in early light,
Or two balconies from which the moonlight recedes
When they smile, your eyes, the vines put forth their leaves,
And lights dance . . . like moons in a river
Rippled by the blade of an oar at break of day;
As if stars were throbbing in the depths of them . . .
And they drown in a mist of sorrow translucent
Like the sea stroked by the hand of nightfall;
The warmth of winter is in it, the shudder of autumn,
And death and birth, darkness and light;
A sobbing flares up to tremble in my soul
And a savage elation embracing the sky,
Frenzy of a child frightened by the moon.
It is as if archways of mist drank the clouds
And drop by drop dissolved in the rain . . .
As if children snickered in the vineyard bowers,
The song of the rain
Rippled the silence of birds in the trees . . .
Drop, drop, the rain
Dropthe rain

Evening yawned, from low clouds
Heavy tears are streaming still.
It is as if a child before sleep were rambling on
About his mother a year ago he went to wake her, did not find her,
Then was told, for he kept on asking,
‘After tomorrow, she’ll come back again . . .
That she must come back again,
Yet his playmates whisper that she is there
In the hillside, sleeping her death for ever,
Eating the earth around her, drinking the rain;
As if a forlorn fisherman gathering nets
Cursed the waters and fate
And scattered a song at moonset,
Drip, drop, the rain
Drip, drop, the rain

Do you know what sorrow the rain can inspire?
Do you know how gutters weep when it pours down?
Do you know how lost a solitary person feels in the rain?
Endless, like spilt blood, like hungry people, like love,
Like children, like the dead, endless the rain.
Your two eyes take me wandering with the rain,
Lightning’s from across the Gulf sweep the shores of Iraq
With stars and shells,
As if a dawn were about to break from them, But night pulls over them a coverlet of blood. I cry out to the Gulf: ‘O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!’
And the echo replies,
As if lamenting:
‘O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death .
I can almost hear Iraq husbanding the thunder,
Storing lightning in the mountains and plains,
So that if the seal were broken by men
The winds would leave in the valley not a trace of Thamud.
I can almost hear the palmtrees drinking the rain,
Hear the villages moaning and emigrants
With oar and sail fighting the Gulf
Winds of storm and thunder, singing
‘Rain . . . rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .

And there is hunger in Iraq,
The harvest time scatters the grain in-it,
That crows and locusts may gobble their fill,
Granaries and stones grind on and on,
Mills turn in the fields, with them men turning . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
When came the night for leaving, how many tears we shed,
We made the rain a pretext, not wishing to be blamed
Drip, drop, the rain
Drip, drop, the rain
Since we had been children, the sky
Would be clouded in wintertime,
And down would pour the rain,
And every year when earth turned green the hunger struck us.
Not a year has passed without hunger in Iraq.
Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop . . .

In every drop of rain
A red or yellow color buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves’ blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant’s lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.
Drop….. the rain . . .In the rain.
Iraq will blossom one day ‘
I cry out to the Gulf: ‘O Gulf,
Giver of pearls, shells and death!’
The echo replies
As if lamenting:
‘O Gulf,
Giver of shells and death.’
And across the sands from among its lavish gifts
The Gulf scatters fuming froth and shells
And the skeletons of miserable drowned emigrants
Who drank death forever
From the depths of the Gulf, from the ground of its silence,
And in Iraq a thousand serpents drink the nectar
From a flower the Euphrates has nourished with dew.
I hear the echo
Ringing in the Gulf:
‘Rain . . .
Drip, drop, the rain . . .
Drip, drop.’

In every drop of rain
A red or yellow color buds from the seeds of flowers.
Every tear wept by the hungry and naked people
And every spilt drop of slaves’ blood
Is a smile aimed at a new dawn,
A nipple turning rosy in an infant’s lips
In the young world of tomorrow, bringer of life.
And still the rain pours down.

Translated by: Lena jayyusi and Christopher Middleton