Last night was the spring, or vernal equinox. In astrological terms that makes today the first day of the new astrological year. The first month of the Zodiac calendar is Aries, the Ram. We all love to make fun of horoscopes and the notion that you can predict your future from the rotation of the planet and the precession of the stars.
At the same time the human brain is pre-programmed to seek patterns in nature. Random chance is a frightening threat, so we seek solace in order and causality. Reading horoscopes is simply a manifestation of the real human need to make sense of our world.
Today is also the first day of the new year in the Bahá’í calendar, a religion from Iran. Year 1 of this calendar begins in 1844 CE making this year 175BE. Though it originates in Iran it is most heavily persecuted there. It is sad that Islam, which was once renowned for its tolerance of other faiths, has become so prohibitive of other peoples beliefs.
So to poetry and today I have a poem from one of the most famous and best loved Syrian poets. Nizar Qabbani was born on March 21st 1923 in Damascus which he described in his will as “the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine“.
The suicide of his older sister when he was aged 15 had a profound influence on the young Qabbani. She made the ultimate refusal to an arranged marriage. All his life he advocated feminism and an examination of the relationship between men and women in Arabic society.
The defeat of Syria and the Arab allies in the 6 day war by Israel also had a profound effect on his work and shifted his focus from the poetry of love to the poetry of politics.
A lesson in Drawing; by Nizar Qabbani
My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
‘… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?’
And I tell him: ‘Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.’
My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheatstalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
‘Don’t you know, Father, the difference between a
wheatstalk and a gun?’
I tell him, ‘Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheatstalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheatstalks
and armed religion
you can’t buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can’t pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can’t buy a book
that doesn’t explode between your fingers.’
My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
‘But this is a tear, father, not a poem!’
And I tell him:
‘When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.’
My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping.