With me is a hope that comes and goes/but I won't say goodbye. Darwish. Source.
In me is a hope that comes and goes/but I won’t say goodbye. Darwish. Source.

These two poems, one by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the other by the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, seemed to me like two halves of the same journey…or two modes of thinking about exile and rootlessness and nostalgia and homesickness, themes which appear again and again in the works of both poets, examined from different perspectives, at times positive and at other times negative and sometimes both at once.

In Darwish’s poem Nothing Pleases Me the passengers are united by their discontent, except for the pragmatic speaker who shares their bitterness about life but sees no point in carrying on the search for something beyond, “worn out from travel.” Youssef’s poem Nostalgia, My Enemy on the other hand, is both addressed to the constant travel companion, nostalgia, and casts that companion off as an enemy,  as the idealistic speaker searches for something beyond the last stop: “let me go/where no train will ever stop.”

لا شيءَ يُعْجبُني
لا شيءَ يُعْجبُني
يقول مسافرٌ في الباصِ – لا الراديو
.ولا صُحُفُ الصباح , ولا القلاعُ على التلال
/أُريد أن أبكي
,يقول السائقُ: انتظرِ الوصولَ إلى المحطَّةِ
/وابْكِ وحدك ما استطعتَ
تقول سيّدةٌ: أَنا أَيضاً. أنا لا
’شيءَ يُعْجبُني. دَلَلْتُ اُبني على قبري
/فأعْجَبَهُ ونامَ’ ولم يُوَدِّعْني
يقول الجامعيُّ: ولا أَنا ’ لا شيءَ
يعجبني. دَرَسْتُ الأركيولوجيا دون أَن
أَجِدَ الهُوِيَّةَ في الحجارة. هل أنا
/حقاً أَنا؟
ويقول جنديٌّ: أَنا أَيضاً. أَنا لا
شيءَ يُعْجبُني . أُحاصِرُ دائماً شَبَحاً
يقولُ السائقُ العصبيُّ: ها نحن
اقتربنا من محطتنا الأخيرة’ فاستعدوا
فيصرخون: نريدُ ما بَعْدَ المحطَّةِ’
أمَّا أنا فأقولُ: أنْزِلْني هنا . أنا
مثلهم لا شيء يعجبني ’ ولكني تعبتُ
.من السِّفَرْ

Nothing Pleases Me

Nothing pleases me
the traveler on the bus says—Not the radio
or the morning newspaper, nor the citadels on the hills.
I want to cry /
The driver says: Wait until you get to the station,
then cry alone all you want /
A woman says: Me too. Nothing
pleases me. I guided my son to my grave,
he liked it and slept there, without saying goodbye /
A college student says: Nor does anything
please me. I studied archaeology but didn’t
find identity in stone. Am I
really me? /
And a soldier says: Me too. Nothing
pleases me. I always besiege a ghost
besieging me /
The edgy driver says: Here we are
almost near our last stop, get ready
to get off . . . /
Then they scream: We want what’s beyond the station,
keep going!
As for myself I say: Let me off here. I am
like them, nothing pleases me, but I’m worn out
from travel.

from “The Butterfly’s Burden“, translated by Fady Joudah

Readings of the poem in Arabic then English:

Darwish reading the poem.

Saadi Youssef’s poem:

ايُّـهذا الحنينُ ، يا عـدوِّي

 لي ثلاثونَ عاماً معكْ
نلتقي مثل لصّينِ في رحلةٍ لم يُـلِـمّـا بكلِ تفاصيلها ؛
عرباتُ القطار
تتناقصُ عبرَ المحطاتِ
والضوءُ يشحبُ ،
لكنّ مقعدَك الخشبيّ الذي ظلَّ يَشغلُ كلَّ القطاراتِ ما زال محتفظاً بثوابتهِ

بـحُزوزِ السنين
بالرسومِ الطباشيرِ
بالكامراتِ التي لم يعدْ أحدٌ يتذكرُ أسماءَها
وبالشجرِ النائمِ الآنَ تحت الترابِ…
استرقْـتُ إليكَ النظرْ
ثم أسرعتُ ألهثُ نحو المقاعدِ في العرباتِ الأخيرةِ ،
مبتعداً عنكَ …


قلتُ : الطريقُ طويلٌ ؛
وأخرجتُ من كيسيَ الخيشِ خبزاً وقطعةَ جبنٍ …
وإذْ بي أراكَ
تقاسمني الخبزَ والجبنَ !
كيفَ انتهيتَ إليَّ ؟
وكيف انقضضْتَ عليَّ كما يفعلُ الصقرُ ؟
فاسمعْ :

أنا لم أقطعْ عشراتِ الآلافِ من الأميالِ
ولم أطَّـوَّفْ في عشراتِ البلدانِ
ولم أتعرَّفْ آلافَ الأغصانِ
لكي تسلبني أنتَ … الكنــزَ
وتحبسني في زاويةٍ

فاترك المقعدَ الآنَ ، واهبطْ
قطاري سيســرعُ بي ، بعد هذي المحطةِ ؛
ودعنيَ أمضي إلى حيثُ لن يتوقّفَ يوماً قطارْ …

لندن 11/12/2003

O Nostalgia: My Enemy

We’ve been at it for thirty years.
We meet like two thieves on a journey
whose details are not fully known.
With every passing station
the train cars decrease in number,
the light grows dimmer.
But your wooden seat, occupying all trains,
still has its constants.
The etchings of years—
chalk drawings,
cameras no one remembers,
and trees that lie under dirt;
I took a look at you
for a moment,
then rushed panting to the last car
far away from you.

I said: the road is long.
I took out my bread and a piece of cheese from my sack.
I saw you eyeing me, this way
sharing my bread and cheese!
How did you find me?
Jump at me like a hawk?
I didn’t travel tens of thousands of miles,
didn’t wander across many countries,
didn’t know thousands of branches
so that you could come now, steal my treasure,
and corner me.
Now leave your seat and get off the train,
my train will speed past this station
— so get off,
and let me go
where no train will ever stop.

– from Nostalgia, My Enemy, translated by Sinan Antoon and Peter Money

Nothing pleasing here. Source

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