Al-Quds/Jerusalem between the East and the West: Images of the Holy City in Arabic and English Poetry

By Nasser Athamneh
Submitted to Session P4991 (Poetics of the Political, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Al-Quds/Jerusalem between the East and the West: Images of the Holy City in Arabic and English Poetry

This paper examines representations and treatments of Jerusalem in selections of poetry in English and Arabic. The paper argues that these poems not only differ in language, but in far more significant ways as well. First all of the Arabic poems, even from widely different time periods, visualize the city as an actual city lived in by actual people, while the English poems represent Jerusalem in almost complete allegorical and symbolic ways. But even more important, it also becomes evident, in terms of the very real contest for identify that Jerusalem is now undergoing, the Arabic poems express the voices of actual inhabitants of the city while the English poems represent an imposed identity derived from the dominant discourse of the colonial powers whose helicopter gunships, teargas and bulldozers are in the process of erasing the Arab character of the city and impose an image derived from Western and ultimately Biblical resources.
Though these Arabic poems are universally known, sung, listened to and wept over in the Arab world, they are unknown in the West except to a small number of people who have been educated in the contemporary culture of Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. This paper challenges the dominant discourse, i.e., to control the relevance of popular poetry with their cultural archetypes and myths to the actualities of what Foucault defined as the discourse of power. The dominant discourse, as Keith Whitelam has expressed it so eloquently has excluded the voices of the people of Al-Quds, the real city, in favor of an allegorical and a historic notion of Jerusalem as a useful tool of imperial designs on the Middle East. The paper stretches the discourse and brings these voices into immediate confrontation with the more central poetry of that canon.

The Arabic poems the paper examines are: “On al-Quds” by Shiha ad-Din al-Mujawir, “he Night Song of the Bow Strings” by Muzzafer Al-Nawwab, the third and fourth poems are two popular songs sung by the widely known contemporary Lebanese female singer Fayruz: “The Flower of Cities” and “The Ancient al-Quds,” and finally “The Sorrowful City” by the contemporary Palestinian poet Harun Hashim Rashid. The English poems are: “Psalm 137” by William Blake, “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge,” and “The Holy City” by Frederick E. Weatherly.