Regarded as one of the greatest and most original writers of modern Arabic literature, the Syrian writer, playwright and poet Muhammad al-Maghut (1934-2006) was a pioneer of Arabic free verse. His literary output, often laced with dark humour and satire, was an indictment of the failings of the Arab world, especially with regard to freedom and social justice. He also wrote for theatre, TV and cinema.

The orphan

Muhammad al-Maghut

Oh, the dream! The dream!

My strong, gilded wagon

has collapsed,

its wheels have scattered like gypsies.

One night I dreamt of spring

and when I awoke

flowers covered my pillow.

I dreamt once of the sea.

In the morning my bed was rich

with shells and fins.

But when I dreamt of freedom

spears surrounded my neck

with morning's halo.

From now on you will not find me

at ports or among trains

but in public libraries

sleeping head down on the maps of the world

as the orphan sleeps on pavement

where my lips will touch more than one river

and my tears stream from continent

to continent.

Translated by May Jayyusi and Naomi Shihab Nye

*Third World Resurgence No. 307/308, March/April 2016, p 68