Translating Amal: Prologue

Dedicated to the martyrs of January 25th, 2011, who dared to dream of a better life for others, and lost their lives in vain; and to my dear friend Janice Wheeler, for seeing what no one else could see — Wael


This is my tribute to honor Amal Donqol (1940–1983), who, in my opinion, is the greatest poet and philosopher in the history of contemporary (I realize the oxymoron) Arabic language. I believe the beauty, depth and eloquence of his work should be shared and savored by all humanity; not just Arabic-speaking people; and for that I chose to use Middle English since I believe it is the most poetic form of English. I will try to translate one poem every month. It might take me 10 years to finish Donqol’s work, but I will get there. I owe it to those who dared to dream of a better life for others, and lost their lives in vain.

The name Amal in Arabic means hope. Amal spent his life fighting injustice and hoping for a better life for the oppressed, the poor and the marginalized; only to die to cancer at 43. He had two nicknames — (1) The Southern, since he was born in upper Egypt, and because of his famous poem The Southern; and (2) The Prince Of Poets of Refusal, since he objected to the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.

The Southern, Amal Donqol

Needless to say, translating poetry is like an orchestra conductor playing Bach’s musical notes, which infamously had little annotations to help interpreting Bach’s masterpieces; perhaps to even make the work more magical and timeless. Further, translation is not necessarily an endorsement of ideas. I hope I do his work the justice it deserves.

Donqol was, is and will probably always be controversial and, for that, I decided to start with his most controversial poem, The Last Words of Spartacus.

Wael AbdAlmageed

Pittsburgh, October 9, 2021