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5 Arab Poems that Redefine Love 

posted on: Feb 14, 2024

By: María Teresa Fidalgo-Azize / Arab America Contributing Writer

For many, Valentine’s Day has become more than the day designated for the loosely defined term love and one of the commercialized cliches where love is gifted with a dangling price tag. Poetry, a vessel of human expression encompassing both joy and defeat, acknowledges the complexities of what it means to love beyond material possessions and gratification.

Arab poets Etel Adnan, Elia Abu Madi, Khalil Gibran, Shibah Aziz, and Mahmoud Darwish speak of love beyond reciting pretty words. These poets of multiple disciplines meditate on love’s chaotic and imaginative nature. Hence, the passage of love becomes limitless- transcending language specifications. Look at these five poems that showcase non-conformist ways of expressing the tormenting yet life-changing emotion of what it means to love someone, a place, or a state of mind. 

1. Etel Adnan- 27 October 2003

I pass by the trees of this 

 season as I pass by 

men and women…

I believe it’s possible to 

have loved only shadows.


 Etel Adnan, Paris, 27 October 2003

Poet, essayist, painter, sculptor, and weaver Etel Adnan trailblazed surrealist imagery throughout her work, encapsulating a nomadic and multi-lingual experience. The poem Paris, 27 October 2003, part of the poetry recompilation Time, translated by Sarah Riggs, oscillates between time zones regarding the notions of identity and space. 27 October discovers how love works under the mechanisms of memory- one that can strangle you into a stationary mindset or move you into the unknown. Overall, 27 October 2003 beautifully conveys how love becomes a memento as time passes. 

2. Elia Abu Madi, Be Like Balsam

Were it not for feelings, people would be like dolls. 
 Love, and by dawn the whole cosmos will fill your dwelling.

 Elia Abu Madi, Be like Balsam

Arab poet and journalist Elia Abu Madi is recognized as a poet of dissent. His work is associated with the notions of faith and optimism despite the anguish of his exiled identity. Like Balsam details how love should persevere hardship- if not, one becomes monotone and lifeless. Throughout the poem, love is combative against numbness and indifference. 

3.. Khalil Gibran, On Love

For even as love crowns you so shall
he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth
so he is for your pruning.

Khalil Gibran, On Love

World-renowned for his philosophical intuition, Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese-American essayist, poet, and artist, wrote in Arabic and English, where his outpour mysticism influenced his voice on love, home, and death. His most acclaimed work is The Prophet, a 26 prose-poetry fable. 

In On Love, divine love holds a dual nature: endurance of pain in the name of celestial reward. The poetic voice communicates how love grinds you while its passion overpowers. Thus, it transcends the well-advised recommendation of soothing and comfort to the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of change. 

4.. Aziz Shiobah, When One is So Far from Home, Life is a Mix of Fact and Fiction

Naomi Shihab Nye’s Transfer poetry book was originally a “dialogue” with her father’s work; after his passing, it evolved into an elegy that included his notebook reflections on life and sickness. In When One Is So Far from Home, Life is a Mix of Fact and Fiction, Aziz speaks on how there exists a myth-making of home to cope with its tormented truth. The chorus of the same memory keeps those far away from leaving. A memory continuously rebuilt that encloses a love of country and a will to live.  

5. Mahmoud Darwish, If I Were a Stranger

If I were another I would have belonged to the road, 
neither you nor I would return.

Mahmoud Darwish, If I Were Another

Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet and author, lived most of his life in exile. The separation from homeland to surrogate lodgings veined a simultaneously lyrical and fragmented style. Mahmoud wrote thirty poetic manuscripts and prose works such as The Butterfly’s BurdenUnfortunately, it was ParadiseSelected Poems, and Leaves of Olives

In the poem, If I Were Another, the poetic voice yearns to look forward to the untraced journey. Who they speak to is who they allow themselves to let go of- a release from possession and understanding. In the verse “I am only my steps, you are both my compass and chasm,” love undertakes the role of an imaginary homecoming- what one moves towards regardless of distance. Mahmoud’s poetry is rooted in the love of country, a homeland denied him.  

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