“To the Tyrants of the World.” This poem was circulated and chanted during the Arab Spring, first at demonstrations in Tunisia and then in Egypt. Al-Shabbi was born in 1909, trained as a lawyer but never practiced, and died of heart disease in 1934 before completing his one collection of poetry, Songs of Life, which was first published in 1955. Parts of his poem “The Will to Live,” written in opposition to French colonial rule, became the final verses of the Tunisian national anthem.
Lover of darkness
Enemy of life
You have ridiculed the sighs of the weak people;
Your palm is soaked with their blood.
You deform the magic of existence
And planted the seeds of sorrow in the fields.
Wait! Don’t be fooled by the spring, the clearness of the sky,
or the light of dawn;
for on the horizon lies the horror of darkness, rumble of thunder,
and blowing of winds.
Beware, for below the ash there is fire;
And he who grows thorns leaves wounds.
Look there, for I have harvested the heads of mankind and the flowers of hope.
And I watered the heart of the earth with blood.
I soaked it with tears until it was drunk.
The river of blood will sweep you,
and the fiery storm will devour you.
Translated by Adel Iskandar. “The Role of Old and New Media in Egypt.” Hosted by Melissa Block, All Things Considered, January 28, 2011. © 2011 by Adel Iskandar. Used with permission of Adel Iskandar.