Russian Influences on the Poetry of Mikhail Naimy and Naseeb ‘Adeedah

By Maria Swanson
Submitted to Session P4999 (Nahda, Translation, and the Transnational, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Russian influences on Arabic literature have almost been completely ignored or dismissed as Soviet propaganda in previous studies. And yet Russian literature played a formative role in the founding of Arabic literature (cf. Ali-Zade, Badawi, Bell, Bilyk, Dolinina, Hasan, Imangulieva, Jayussi, Khalifa, Krachkovskii, Mahamid, Moreh, N.Naimy, Nijland, Starkey, Swanson, and Tamer), for which I give several undisputed reasons in my paper.
Because of the limited time, we will explore this relationship by examining the impact of Russian literature on the poetry of Mikhail Naimy and Naseeb ‘Areedah, Levantine Arab emigrants and graduates of Russian schools in the Levant at the turn of the twentieth century. They were exposed to both Arabic literature and language and Russian culture, language, literature, and religion at Russian Orthodox religious institutions. They were also both familiar with Russian and Arabic folk songs.
We examine specific examples of this impact on their translations, imitations, and “arabizations” of Russian poetry in their verses, and briefly touch upon the main innovations that they introduced into modern Arabic poetry, such as changes to the prosodic meters of traditional Arabic qasidah, the borrowing of devices from Romanticism, and the emphasis on the unity of poetic form and content.
We also provide reasons why Naimy and ‘Areedah turned to specific Russian poets, literary genres, and currents.
Naimy and ‘Areedah embraced and transformed the achievements of different world literatures in their poetry, including the Russian literary tradition, and they synthesized these accomplishments with the best of the Arabic literary traditions. They helped raise Arabic literature to a new level by diversifying themes in their poetry and following new literary currents that had never been explored in Arabic literature before. They created new forms of artistic expression. They not only helped advance modern Arabic poetry, but they also influenced other literary schools and built an information channel through which Eastern and Western literature could exchange cultural, spiritual, and moral values.
This topic, which scholars have recently expressed a renewed interest in, is an excellent point of departure for studies and classes devoted to comparative literature, modern Arabic literature and poetry, and Russo-Arabic political, social, and cultural relations.