Samih Al-Qasim: The End of a Discussion with a Prison Guard (From Arabic)

The End of a Discussion With a Prison-guard
By Samih Al-Qasim
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Arabic

Through the eyehole of this little cell of mine
I can see the trees all smiling at me,
The rooftops crowded with my family,
The windows breaking into tears for me
And prayers for me.
Through the eyehole of this little cell of mine
I see your bigger cell just fine.

The Original:

خاتمةُ النقاش مع سجان
سميح القاسم

من كوّة زنزانتي الصغرى
ابصُرُ اشجاراً تبْسمُ لي
وسطوحاً يملأها اهلي
ونوافذ تبكي وتُصلّي
من اجلي
من كوةِ زنزانتي الصغرى
ابصرُ زنزانتك الكبرى


  1. Who is reading? It's very good.
    Do you know Adonis's poems? I think you have, too, to work on them.
    François Nicolas

  2. Very good translation. I'd like to ask why did the translator choose to use 'The' before trees, windows and rooftops?

    The original poem lists them without the definite article:

    I can see trees all smiling at me,
    Rooftops crowded with my family,
    Windows breaking into tears for me

    Thanks for the quality translation. It is much needed.


  3. I thought about that, actually. In the original Arabic, the definite article would have been unwieldy because it would have required the insertion of the relativizer التي . (and ابصر الأشجار التي تبسم لي would have ruined his rhythm.) It seemed that prosodic concerns motivated his choice, and so could motivate mine if I wanted. Particularly in line 2, dropping the "the" from my translation would have made the "all" sound somewhat anomalous (at least to me as an American English speaker. I believe the use of "all" in that way would be more acceptable in some other versions of Engish like Australian.)

  4. beautiful work, thank you very much for this.

  5. thanks

  6. I hope you don't mind me taking some artistic license with your poem. If you hate it, I'll take it down forthwith.

    Warm regards