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||Nazik al-Mala'ikah (1922-2007; also Nazik Malaikah)|
Iraqi poet and critic, one of the most important Arab women writers. Al-Mala'ika was a major advocate of the free verse movement in the late 1940s with Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. Her poetry is characterized by its terseness of language, eloquence, original use of imagery, and delicate ear for the music of verse.
Stay as you are, a secret world our souls can't comprehend,
Nazik al-Mala'ika was born in Baghdad into a cultured and literary
Shia family. She was the oldest of seven siblings. Her father, Sadiq al-Malaika, was a
the editor of a 20-volume encyclopedia. Um Nizar al-Mala'ika, her
mother, wrote poetry against the British rule under the pseudonym Omm
Nizar al-Malaika. Al-Mala'ika published her poems and articles under
her own name. She started to write already in her
childhood, and at the age of ten she composed her first poetry in
Classical Arabic. All her life, al-Mala'ika kept a diary. Her mother's
poetry she collected and edited in Unshudad al-majd (1968).
Al-Mala'ika was educated at the Higher Teachers' Training College in
Baghdad, earning her B.A. in 1944. While still in college, she
published poems in newspapers and magazines. As a student she
registered in the musical instrument oud (the Middle-Eastern
lute) department of the Fine Arts Institute, and attended classes in
the acting department. Many of her early poems contrasted the
oppressiveness of the city and the beauty of the countryside and
nature. Musical metaphors repeatedly surfaced in her writings.
winning a Rockefeller scholarship to Princeton University in 1950, al
Mala'ika spent a lonely year there – she was the only female in the
she continued her studies on Iraqi government scholarship at the
University of Wisconsin, obtaining an M.A. incomparative literature. On
her return to Baghdad al-Mala'ika worked as a university lecturer and
professor. In 1961 she
married Abdel-Hadi Mahbouba, her colleague in the Arabic department at
the Education College in Baghdad. They had one son. With her husband, she helped found
the University of Basra in the southern part of Iraq.
As a writer al-Mala'ika made her debut in 1947 with A'shiqat Al-Layl
(The woman lover of the night). In these poems, 'Night' represents a
friend, who has to power to ease her pain. The themes of despair and
disillusion were familiar from the Arabic literary romanticism of the
1930s and 1940s, but she also drew inspiration from the English
Romantic poets, exemplified in her version of Keats's 'Ode to a
Shazaya wa ramad (1949, Splinters and ashes), al-Mala'ika's second collection, helped launch free verse as a new form for avant-garde poetry. For fifteen centuries, the old two-hemistich mono-rhymed form had flourished unchallenged. Experiments outside the rigid structures started in the beginning of the 20th century, but it was not until the mid-forties that poets succeeded in creating an acceptable form of free verse. Al-Mala'ika's book contained eleven poems and an introduction, in which she explained the advantages of the new rhyme patterns as opposed to the old. The critic 'Abd al-Jabbar Dawud al-Basri called the introduction "the first manifesto" issued by the free-verse movement.
Qararat al-mawya (1957),
al-Mala'ika third collection, contained poems written between 1937 and
1953. In the 1950s al-Mala'ika secured her place as one of the most
prominent figures of
Iraqi modernism in literature. She backed the free-verse movement with
her critical writings, when
arguments were thrown for and against metrical poetry.
One of her
best-known poems, 'al-Kulira' (The Cholera, in Sparks and Ashes), took the subject from
recent history - it
was based on the emotional effect of the cholera epidemic that arrived
from Egypt to Iraq in 1947. "The night calmed down / Listen to the fall
of the sighs' echo, / In the deep darkness, under the lull, on the
(Listen to the Mourners: the Essential Poems of Nāzik Al-Malā'ika, edited and translated by 'Abdulwāḥid Lu'lu'a, 2021) Although this poem still followed a certain rhyme scheme, the lengths of the lines vary. With this poem she
demonstrated the possibilities of the modern verse. Her father did not like
the new direction she had taken. Moreover, the Arab modernist Jabra
Ibrahim Jabra criticized her argumentation on the new style.
collected articles, Qadaya 'l-shi'r al-mu'asir (1962),
continued the debate for more sophisticated expression, and developed
further some of the principles formulated in the introduction of Shazaya wa ramad. Yughayyir alwanahu al-bahr (1977) and Lil-Salah Wa-al-Thawra (1978) were written entirely in free verse.
Why do we fear words
With her move in Lebanon at the start of the 1960, al-Mala'ika entered a new phase in his literary career. Many
of her works were published in Beirut, where she resided
for two years. Following
the rise of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, al-Mala'ika left her
homecountry with her husband. For twenty years, she taught at the
University of Kuwait. After Hussein's invasion of the country, al-family fled to Cairo.
By 1978 al-Mala'ika had published seven volumes
of verse. A festschrift, entitled Nazik al-Mala'ika, Dirasat Fi'el-Shi'r Wal-Sha'ira,
appeared in her honour in 1985. Edited by Abdullah
al-Muhanna in Kuwait, it contained twenty articles on her work.
The University of Basrah gave her in 1992 an honorary doctorate.
By nature, al-Mala'ika was melancholic and she avoided publicity. She shared with Schopenhauer (and the British Romantics) the belief that death is a liberator. "I do not remember ever seeing the poet smile, let alone laugh" recalled her colleague professsor emeritus 'Abdulwāḥid Lu'lu'a in Listen to the Mourners: the Essential Poems of Nāzik Al-Malā'ika (2021). When the family's car was stolen in 1992, Hussein gifted them a brand-new Oldsmobile, in recognition of al-Mala'ika achievements. She entered the literary scene again in 1999 with a new book of verse, Youghiyar Alouanah Al-Bahr, which also contained an autobiographical sketch. The bulk of the poems were written 25 years ago in 1974. For many years, Al-Mala'ika suffered from Parkinson's disease. Early in 1993 the news spread in the Arab press that al-Mala'ika was dead. She died on June 20, 2007, in self-imposed exile in Cairo.
Al-Mala'ika was a strong defender of women's rights. Her two
lectures from the 1950s about women's position in patriarchal society,
'Woman between passivity and positive morality' (1953) and
'Fragmentation in Arab society' (1954), are still topical.
Al-Mala'ika's poem about Jamilah Buhrayd, a young girl and a hero
of the Algerian Revolution, who was captured and tortured by the French
army, greatly influenced the younger generation of her readers.
However, in general she was more concerned with her personal experience
or nature than with nationalist issues in the 1950s and '60s. Starting
with the collection Shaýarat al-qamar (1968, The moon tree)
al-Mala'ika began to distance herself from experimentalism and developed more moralistic,
conservative views - she
wrote religious poems and often used the two-hemistich form. Iraqi
nationalism and solidarity with Palestinian people blended with broader
struggles for freedom and social justice. She also wrote about the
defeat of the Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War.
In the lecture 'Literature and the Intellectual
[Western] Invasion ' (1965), presented at the Fifth Conference of Arab
argued that the influence of the West and its literature on the Arab
culture is an invasion more dangerous than military invasion. Moreover,
translations of European literature, done by incompetent translators,
weaken the Arabic language. Al-Mala'ika's nationalist views were
criticized by the journalist and writer Salama Musa, who said that
"'The worst thing that I am scared of is, that we conquer imperialism
and drive it away. We conquer the exploiters and subdue them, but we
will not be able to conquer the Middle Ages in our life andd return to
the call 'Go back to the ancient.'" (Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970 by Shmuel Moreh, 1976, p. 274)
Al-Mala'ika also translated poems by such writers as Byron, Thomas
Gray, and Rupert Brooke, but in the 1960s she criticized young writers
who have embraced too uncritically Western models. Al-Mala'ika
played the oud she
had studied in her youth, and sang the songs of Omm Kulthoum and
Mohamed Abdel-Wahab. In the poem 'Lament of a Worthless Woman'
(1952) she expressed her sorrow for women whose fate is
to fall into oblivion: "She left, no cheek turned pale, no lip
trembled. / The doors did not hear the story of her death... / The news
tumbled down the avenue its echo not finding a shelter / So it stayed
forgotten in some hole, its depression the moon lamenting." ('Nazik al-Malaika, 83, Poet Widely Known in Arab World, Is Dead' by Alissa J. Rubin, The New York Times, June 27, 2007)
For further reading: 'Nazik Al Malaika's Life and Her Poetic Common Themes with ParvinEtesami' by Ashraf Roshandel Pour, Azam NikAbadi, Fariba Hemati, in International Journal On New Trends In Education And Literature, Vol 1, No 3, Sep (2014); Nāzik al-Malāʼikah: ḥayātuhā wa-shiʻruhā by Yūsuf ʻAṭā al-Ṭarīfī (2011); 'Ambivalent Attitudes Toward Nature in the Early Poetry of Nazik Al-Mala'ika' by R. Husni, in Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. 38, Numb. 1 (2007); The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology, edited by Nathalie Handal (2000); Zwischen Zauber und Zeichen. Moderne arabische Lyrik von 1945 bis heute, ed. by Khalid Al-Maaly (2000); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature: Volume 2: L-Z, edited by Julie Scott Meisami & Paul Starkey (1998); 'Nazik al-Mala'ika's Poetry and Its Critical Reception in the West' by Salih J. Altoma, in Arab Studies Quarterly (09/22/1997); 'Death in the Early Poetry of Nazik al-Mala'ika' by Ronak Hussein and Yasir Suleiman, in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1993); Reflections and Deflections by S. Ayyad and N. Witherspoon (1986); Women of the Fertile Crescent: Modern Poetry By Arab Women, ed. by Kamal Boullata (1981); Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak, eds. E.W. Fernea and B.Q. Bezirgan (1977); Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry by Salma Jayyusi (1977); Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970 by Shmuel Moreh (1976); 'Convention and Revolt in Modern Arabic Poetry', by M.M. Badawi, in Arabic Poetry: Theory and Development, ed. G.E. von Grunebaum (1973); Literatura árabe by J. Vernet (1968) - See also: 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati