By Nazik al-Malaika
The Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika (1923-2007) was moved to write the following poem in the time of another devastating disease outbreak the 1947 cholera epidemic in Egypt which claimed more than 10,000 lives.
It is night.
Listen to the echoing wails
rising above the silence in the dark
the agonised, overflowing grief
clashing with the wails.
In every heart there is fire,
in every silent hut, sorrow,
and everywhere, a soul crying in the dark.
It is dawn.
Listen to the footsteps of the passerby,
in the silence of the dawn.
Listen, look at the mourning processions,
ten, twenty, no countless.
Everywhere lies a corpse, mourned
without a eulogy or a moment of silence.
Humanity protests against the crimes of death.
Cholera is the vengeance of death.
Even the gravedigger has succumbed,
the muezzin is dead,
and who will eulogise the dead?
O Egypt, my heart is torn by the ravages of death.
Translated from the Arabic by Husain Haddawy, with Nathalie Handal
*Third World Resurgence No. 345/346, 2020, p 115