Silence in Modern Arabic Poetry by Ann Tahseen Al-Chalabi


In poetic terms silence can refer to a static and invisible light behind the words of the poetic text. This is  also a key a feature of postmodernism, which considers silence significant as it embodies contemporary human isolation and frustration. When silence plays an active role in enriching the poetic text the poet adopts silence as a form of metaphor, the poet often lives in this world alone in spite of his surroundings. Silence is a form of self-discourse, it is his mother tongue, for the history of silence is deeper, richer and more extensive than the history of speech.

In the Islamic tradition man recognises that the curse of Satan and the sin of Adam are due to their penetration of the wall of silence and, therefore, of the will of the divine power. This led ultimately to the banishment from Eden. In this tradition silence is a part of human memory.

Silence does not mean merely a lack of speech, it is the silence of every sound. It probes the labyrinths of human self. Language determines and builds our notions of reality, therefore, silence is the key aspect of framing the words that are often hidden or absent in poetic discourse. Silence can be seen as a subliminal text in its own right, no less important and influential than the written text. The interrogation of silence is, then, important when reading a poem.

This is significant in studying poems such as Abdullah A. Hawar’s  A Memory of Almoravid Era. Hawar delves both myth and religion to find new possibilities in imagery. Thus, a human world is explored within his text. Hawar’s poem raises questions regarding the absent, hidden and the implicit in the text to support ambiguities and to access the depths of the poem, by exploring its enigmas.

This is clearly manifested in his intense exploration of presence and absence in the Koran and Islamic heritage.  The most intense images pertain to death, immigration, renewal and mutiny. Hawar maintains this contemplative register  throughout the poem. There is at all times a confidential tone of privacy. He deliberates on the reality of an event in order to recreate, in poetic terms, a clarity of expression.

The parabalic essence of sin is a major theme, with Cain’s murder and treachery as a motif:

As a way, he takes sun / an ink to Cain/Painting world and wisdom

The threshold of good and evil is dwelt upon, and the first murder becomes an enduring cipher:

Blood knocks the mud gate / on an earth travels on clouds
Body parts, as twins, hug each other

Human rebelliousness is foregrounded:

There is a strange palm tree with hanging sands
As hands of oblations
Crown the city ritual

A land/I am dwelt with its mineral wing
Feminine transformations while it writes fire
On its shoulders, night sparrows foliate

Here the focus on the relationship between the female and the earth is a polyphony of fertility, growth, famine, drought and infertility. Life is created, but at the same time it is burned and purified. Corruption and injustice are the handmaidens of a restoration of divine justice.

Between the strings of revelation and lines of the country
There is a blood
Land / a cloud of hope
followed by olive and willow  trees
what star can I be guided by
What a hope can I ask for assistance?

The search for salvation can reveal the proximity of the unseen.

Oh , the shirt of flesh, how much you are pierced with sparks and tears!
Land swims in the age of waste
Land is germinated by waiting
It is an ember hanging from the sky branch
It is a stage of patience and jars

The eternal quest to pass the threshold of the unknown and defy fate, oppression is a liminal act of freedom.

Poetry is a flavor in my blood and its prophetic wings, I say
Poetry is my palms
Breeding as amoeba in the desolation of the place
Poetry is the elixir of accessing the day flower

Hawar constructs his world among the destruction, ruin, departure, murder and blood. He chooses poetry as salvation from the desolation of the a state of earthly ignorance and exile. In this way poetry is the elixir. It is the solid ground on which he stands to build above its present.

Thus, The Memory of Almoravid Era becomes a means of expression and reference through which the poet can express his contemporary predicament. Hawar attempts through an acknowledgement of silence, to cohere a sense of vision and hint at spiritual purpose that can assist man to transcend his misery.

By Dr Ann Tahseen Al-Chalabi