Syrian diplomat, poet, essayist and playwright, one of the most popular love poets in the Arab world. Qabbani wrote over 50 books of poetry. His central theme in his early erotic works was the physical attractiveness of women. He also revealed chauvinist attitudes of men towards women and urged women to rebel against their status in society. Later he portrayed the complex relationships between men. In the 1950s, Qabbani was with 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayyati among the pioneers, who started to use the simple language of everyday speech in verse.
Who are you
woman entering my life like a dagger
mild as the eyes of a rabbit
soft as the skin of a plum
pure as strings of jasmine
innocent as children's bibs
and devouring like words?
Nizar Qabbani was born in Damascus as the son of a rich merchant. He studied law at the University of Damascus, graduating in 1945, and then started his career as a diplomat. He served in the Syrian embassies in Egypt (1945-48), Turkey (1948), Lebanon, Britain, China, and Spain. In 1954, the Syrian parliament considered demoting him from his diplomatic post due to his poem, 'Bread, Hashish, and the Moon'. In 1966 Qabbani retired and moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where he worked in literary journalism and eventually founded Manshurat Nizar Qabbani publishing house.
Qabbani's first collection of poems appeared in 1942, when he was nineteen years old. Qasa'id min Nizar Qabbani (1956) is his most outstanding early collection, in which he assumed a female persona in three poems, 'Pregnant,' 'A Letter from a Spiteful Lady,' and 'The Vessels of Pus'. In the following collections Qabbani also wrote from a woman's viewpoint and urged women to fight against discrimination and defend their social freedoms. This theme his readers generally paralleled with the fate of the Arab people. Among his most famous poems is 'Bread, Hashish and Moon,' in which he castigated Arab societies for their weakness, drug-induced fantasies, and stagnation. "In the night of the East and when / the moon grows full / the East is stripped of all dignity / and initiative to struggle."
In the Palestine Liberation Movement Qabbani saw new hope for wider political and social transformation. Ala hamish daftar al-naksa (1967) was born under the devastating shock of the Six Day War. Qabbani criticized Arab leadership during the war. "The stage is burned / down to the pit / but the actors have not died yet." (from 'The Actors') After the war, the poet moved from love themes to political ones. In a poem written immediately the June defeat Qabbani used the image Harun al-Rashid in a negative sense, as a symbol of tyranny, although in popular memory this famous caliph was the archetype of a great ruler. In 'Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat' from 1967 he wrote: "My master Sultan, / You have lost the war twice / / because half of our people have no tongues. / And what is the worth of a voiceless people?"
However, when many other poets found their main subjects from the world politics and the fight for human dignity, Qabbani still revisited his love poems. Oabbani's political verse from this period were mostly collected in Al-A 'mal al-styasiyya (1974). His stand against dictatorship is seen in the bitter lines: "O Sultan, my master, if my clothes / are ripped and torn / it is because your dogs with claws / are allowed to tear me. And your informers every day are those / who dog my heels, each step / unavoidable as fate." Qabbani was married twice. With his first wife he had two children, one of whom died in a car accident. His second wife was Balqus al-Rawi, an Iraqi schoolteacher, who much inspired his love poems. Qabbani's poem 'Choose' has been read as his marriage proposal. Balqus was killed in 1981 at her Beirut office in a bomb attack by pro-Iranian guerrillas. In the 1980s, Qabbani wrote poems, which celebrated the teenage rebels of the Palestinian intifadah. 'I Am a Terrorist' was directed against Western media for labelling Arab men terrorist when they defend their homes and their people's dignity.
After Balqus's death, Qabbani wrote several poems dealing with his grief and loss. He left the Arab world, and lived during the subsequent years in Geneva, Paris, and London. Qabbani died of a heart attack in London on May 1, 1998. His body was flown to Damascus for burial. Qabbani's works has been translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, Persian and Russian. Many of his lyrics have been popularized by Lebanese and Syrian vocalists. The Iraqi born the top-selling singer Kazem al-Saher acquired the rights to many of Qabbani's lyrical works, such as 'The Impossible Love,' Qabbani's last poem.
Qabbani's poems continue the sixteen centuries old tradition of Arabic love poetry, but they are updated with modern experience and echo the rhythms, intonations, and idioms of everyday language. His early works Qabbani wrote in classical forms. Love is for Qabbani something that is mystical, but at the same time very sensual. "Strip naked... disrobe. / I am mute - / Your body knows all languages." (from 'The Book of Love') Qabbani could also use Christian images: "... I bleed in your love / Like Christ." ('Book of Love') Influenced by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce, he saw a poem as a painting- one collection was even entitled 'Drawing with Words' (Al-rasm bi-al-kalimat, 1966). Parvin Loloi has considered in Contemporary World Writers (1993), that Qabbani's "artistic achievement lies, in a manner familiar from classical Arabic poetry, in the creation of variations on the same theme-through its musicality, and in its variety of tone. Above all he has trodden ground where no Arab poet had dared to step before - seeking to revolutionize women's attitude towards their own sexuality." Salma Khadra Jayyusi wrote in her introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry: "His abundant love poetry is the major source of hope that the human heart can finally transcend pain and fear and dare to assert its capacity to summon joy and engage passion. His poetry brings freedom from tension, liberation from gloom, a refreshing release of laughter and gaiety. Above all, it proudly proclaims a new reverence for the body; it washes away the traditional embarrassment, now many centuries old, which was linked to woman's physical passion."
Qalat li al-samra, 1944
Tufulat nahd, 1948
Anti li, 1950
Qasa'id min Nizar Qabbani, 1956
Al-Shi'r qindil akhdar, 1964
Al-rasm bi-al-kalimat, 1966
'Ala hamish daftar al-naksa, 1967
Yawmiyyat imra'a la mubaliya, 1968
Al-Mumaththilun, al istijwab, 1969
Kitab al-hubb, 1970
Qasa'id mutawahhisha, 1970
Qasa'id mutawahhisha, 1970
Ash'ar kharija'ala al-qanun, 1972
Al-a' mal al-siyasiyya, 1974
Al-kitaba 'amal inqilabi, 1978
Shay' min al-nathr, 1979
Qamus al-ashiqin, 1981
Qasidat Balqis, 1982
Ash'ar majnunah, 1983
Al-hubb la yaqif 'ala al-daw' al-ahmar, 1983
Al-Sirah al-zatiyah li-sayf, 1987
Jumhuriyyat Jununstan (Lubnan sabiqan): masrahiyya, 1988
On Entering the Sea: The Erotic and Other Poetry of Nizar Qabbani, 1996 (trans. by Lena Jayyusi, Sharif Elmusa, Jack Collum, Diana Der Hovanessian, W. S. Merwin, Christopher Middleton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jeremy Reed)
Arabian Love Poems, 1998 (by Nizar Qabbani, et al.)