Poetic and Poignant: Lebanese Hymns of Love and War
Thirty years of prosperity, patriotism, harmony and florescence, ruined in one year, it is true that destroying is easier than building, but it is also true that a year in which the masks fell and the buffoons stepped from their disguises into the shadows, was more real to them and to us than the thirty years they masked themselves in falsehood, hypocrisy and exploitation.
There were those who sold Lebanon and lost their families, their children and their villages. Then the strangers spit in their faces and cursed them. Their shekels were plundered, the price of treason. Do not ask those of their honor and patriotism. How can they give you what they do not possess?
The youth of Lebanon who abandoned their books and embraced rifles, know that they will triumph, because those who know how to live life, know how to live death and resurrection.
Glory is for children, olives and the earth. Each child in my homeland is a maker of glory, a genius. Each olive branch is a story of salvation and peace and under every clump of earth lie a lily and a rifle.
However much conspiracy has torn the Lebanese, and however much hardship divided them, in the end they will meet and shake hands, for they know that all things cease and that nothing remains except Lebanon’s enduring face.
To those whom hatred blinded and savagery possessed, who burned the books in Lebanon, I say: wretched are you. He, who invented the letter once and bestowed the alphabet of civilization, is capable of creating the book once more, for civilization is a continuing conversation, and we are the people of culture and conversation.
I, like you, my friend, have hidden the wound and worn the smile, because it is a mirror of hope and a grave of tears… It is not with tears that nations are built.
Our land, which has sprouted only men, will not be harmed if quenched in blood, for blood is the sweat of heroes.
When I stare into your eyes, I see the ocean riding on a ship of lily sails. I see the sky of my country and the fields of color and joy. I hear the murmuring of the streams and the singing of the children. You are one of our youths who were not taught other than love, freedom and beauty.
The day I traveled to America I carried the best of my hometown in my suitcase. I carried olives and oil, wild thyme and plums. In my heart I carried the prayers of my mother, my family and my kinsmen. On my cheek, I left my brother’s and sister’s tears, and in my conscience my father’s will: be an upright man. That day, it was hard to leave the sun of Lebanon, carrying it on my forehead. In my eyes I took the almond orchards, the cedar forests and the stands of pine. Thirty years later, I don’t know if I’ve been away; Lebanon has always been with me and I always have been in her heart.
When you smile at me the meadows laugh, blessings overflow the rivulets of the streams and spring approaches. Now I have understood the secret of the season’s fickleness.
The second I met you I felt that I am. Today I am one year old.
Your lips and the pomegranate flower are two stories of pleasure and ecstasy. The most intoxicating part of the story is the season of kissing.
Each time I gazed into the mirror, I saw your face engraved in its pores. Yesterday it told me that it wore your shadow to regain its splendor and radiance. By God, I do not know if it is the mirror which reflects the light of your face or if it is your face which reflects the purity of the crystal in the mirror.
When first I heard your voice I felt that I had finally found you. Where have you been? I exhausted my years traveling on the train of loneliness and never did the train stop at the station of love and you were waiting for me.
I have the addresses of all the women on earth. Yesterday I visited all the addresses and you weren’t there. Yesterday I also gathered all the roses of the world and read on their petals the names of women, but I didn’t locate yours. I stared in the eyes of every narcissus and didn’t find the color of your eyes, until I returned to myself and awake from my anxiety and saw you teetering between my imagination and my reality, between my eyes and my lips. I am totally confused. I no longer know anything except that I love you, I love you, I love you.
Each time I look to the moon, its nearness increases. Yesterday, while glancing at it through the eyelashes of our cedar colored pine, it smiled at me. I extended my hand and plucked it, but I soon remembered that the moon belongs to everyone, and I am not selfish in nature. I returned and sowed it upon the face of the sky, a story of love and light from my country.
The wound is a wail and the tear is sadness colored. The sidewalk of my village reveals its breast to the birds of death to which the night has given its gown. This nightmare which embraces horror, when will it pass, and when will the wings of evil crouching in our red roof tiles depart? We will be waiting patiently, for we are greater than catastrophe and affliction and because patience is the key to salvation.
The sun of Lebanon has melodies and poems sung, our summer yards are verses of joy and memories. Lebanon, the sea and the mountain, is the park of love, the garden of the East and its gate, the charmer of the West drowning in temporal complications and mundane burdens. It is a shame for the smell of decay and corpses to overcome the fragrance of incense, perfume and truth. The whole world knows this, is convinced of this. But the entire world started diffusing from its corners the epidemic of deception, selfishness and death. There are evil consequences, no doubt, and they are not far off.
Our abundant seasons, the crops of fruit and tourism, we will not harvest this summer for we have not plowed or sown our seeds. Our fields rebuke us, and no doubt, so do those apple trees, plums, cherries and pears. Oh fields of goodness, blessed trees, I promise you that next season will be wonderful because we will have been victorious and we will have looked again into the quality of the seed. And oh, our fields, you shall not thirst henceforth. We have watered you from our veins, our foreheads and out hearts. I promise you that we will only host the visitor who is worthy of hospitality.
[Translated from the original Arabic by George El-Hage and Allan Lederman.]