by Zeina Azzam
Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003) was born to a prominent family in the West Bank city of Nablus during the year of the Balfour Declaration, which presaged the eventual dispossession of the Palestinian people of their homeland. Her poetry reflected the pain, loss, and anger of the Nakba, the experience of fleeing war and living as a refugee, and the courageous aspirations of the Palestinians to nationhood and return to their homeland. She also wrote about resistance to Israel’s injustices and life under Israeli military occupation, especially after Nablus fell to Israeli forces in 1967, heralding Israel’s long-term occupation of the West Bank, which remains to this day.
Tuqan’s early writings spoke about her personal struggle as a woman in Arab society, a subject she also discusses in her autobiography. Her poetry evolved from the more formal and structured style of the first half of the twentieth century to verse that was freer in its presentation and form. Tuqan has been described as one of three major female Arab poets—with Iraqi Nazik al-Mala’ika and Palestinian Salma Khadra al-Jayyusi—who “embraced the modern poem.” Al-Jayyusi writes that Tuqan “was one of the first major poets to work toward emotional veracity, laying the foundation for feminine explorations of love and social protest.” Palestine’s national poet, Mahmoud Darwish, named her “the mother of Palestinian poetry.”
Fadwa Tuqan was influenced greatly by her brother, Ibrahim Tuqan, one of Palestine’s most famous nationalist poets. She studied English literature at Oxford University and won several international literary prizes. She published over a dozen diwans, or collections of poetry, as well as a two-part autobiography, the first part translated as A Mountainous Journey: A Poet’s Autobiography. A list of her writings appears here. In 1999, Palestinian writer and filmmaker Liana Badr wrote and directed a film about her titled, “Fadwa: A Tale of a Palestinian Poetess.” For more about Tuqan’s life, read this profile and obituary.
There are many poems by Fadwa Tuqan, translated from Arabic into English, which can be found online. Here are a few selections:
1. “Enough for Me”
Enough for me to die on her earth
be buried in her
to melt and vanish into her soil…
2. “The Deluge and the Tree”
When the hurricane swirled and spread its deluge
of dark evil
onto the good green land…
3. “A Prayer to the New Year”
In our hands is a fresh yearning for you,
in our eyes songs of praise and unique melodies,
into your hand as choral offerings we will thrust them…
4. “Longing Inspired by the Law of Gravity” (one of the last poems that Fadwa Tuqan
wrote before she died in 2003)
Time’s out and I’m home alone with the shadow I cast
Gone is the law of the universe, scattered by frivolous fate
Nothing to hold down my things…
Zeina Azzam is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.