Qabbani, Nizar


Qabbani, Nizar
▪ 1999

      Syrian poet and diplomat (b. March 21, 1923, Damascus, Syria—d. April 30, 1998, London, Eng.), was one of the most widely read Arab poets of the 20th century. Written in simple but eloquent language, his verses, some of which were set to music, won him the hearts of countless Arabic speakers throughout the Middle East and Africa. Qabbani, who was born into a middle-class merchant family, was also the great-nephew of the pioneering Arab playwright Abu Khalil Qabbani. Such early experiences as the suicide of his sister, who was unwilling to marry a man she did not love, had a profound effect on the young poet, and he began to examine the experiences of women in traditional Muslim society. His first book of poetry, Childhood of the Breast (1954), which was financed by his unschooled mother, shocked conservative urban Muslims. Nevertheless, Qabbani continued to write love poetry and verses in defense of the social and sexual liberation of women while he studied law at the University of Damascus. Upon his graduation he worked in diplomatic service. From 1945 to 1966 he held postings in Cairo; Ankara, Turkey; London; Madrid; Beijing; and Beirut, Lebanon. The latter city became Qabbani's home when he left government service, and it was there that he established a publishing house, working as both a journalist and an editor. Following the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967, Qabbani's poetry took on a new sense of political and social urgency, as evidenced in the stinging 'Al) h)mish daftar al-naksa (1967; "Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat"). In 1981 Qabbani's second wife was killed by a car bomb, and thereafter he moved to Switzerland, France, and then London.

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▪ Syrian poet and diplomat
born March 21, 1923, Damascus, Syria
died April 30, 1998, London, Eng.

      Syrian diplomat and poet whose subject matter, at first strictly erotic and romantic, grew to embrace political issues as well. Written in simple but eloquent language, his verses, some of which were set to music, won the hearts of countless Arabic speakers throughout the Middle East and Africa.

      Qabbānī, who was born into a middle-class merchant family, was also the grandnephew of the pioneering Arab playwright Abū Khalīl Qabbānī. He studied law at the University of Damascus (LL.B., 1945), then began his varied career as a diplomat. He served in the Syrian embassies in Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Britain, China, and Spain before retiring in 1966 and moving to Beirut, Lebanon, where he founded the Manshurāt Nizār Qabbānī, a publishing company. Meanwhile, he also wrote much poetry, at first in classic forms, then in free verse, which he helped establish in modern Arabic poetry. His poetic language is noted for capturing the rhythms of everyday Syrian speech.

      The suicide of his sister, who was unwilling to marry a man she did not love, had a profound effect on Qabbānī, and much of his poetry concerns the experiences of women in traditional Muslim society. Verses on the beauty and desirability of women filled Qabbānī's first four collections. Qasāʾid min Nizār Qabbānī (1956; “Poems by Nizār Qabbānī”) was a turning point in his art; in it he expressed resentment of male chauvinism. It also included his famed “Bread, Hashish and Moon,” a harsh attack on weak, impoverished Arab societies that live in a haze of drug-induced fantasies. Thereafter, he often wrote from a woman's viewpoint and advocated social freedoms for women. His ʿAlā hāmish daftar al-naksa (1967; “Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat”) was a stinging critique of unrealistic Arab leadership during the Six-Day War with Israel. Among his more than 20 poetry collections, the most noted volumes are Ḥabībatī (1961; “My Beloved”) and Al-rasm bi-al-kalimāt (1966; “Drawing with Words”). Qaṣāʾid ḥubb ʿArabīyah (“Arabian Love Poems”) was published in 1993.

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Universalium. 2010.

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