Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry

By Mahmoud Darwish

179 ratings - 4.27* vote

Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim and Adonis are amongst the leading poets in the Arab world today.Victims of a Map presents some of their finest work in translation, alongside the original Arabic, including thirteen poems by Darwish never before published – in English or Arabic – and a long work by Adonis written during the 1982 siege of Beirut, also published here for the f Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim and Adonis are amongst the leading poets in the Arab world today.Victims of a Map

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Book details

Paperback, 168 pages
June 2005 by Saqi Books

(first published January 1st 1990)

Original Title
Victims of a Map
0863565247 (ISBN13: 9780863565243)
Edition Language
Multiple languages

Community Reviews

B. P. Rinehart

"My era tells me bluntly:
You do not belong.
I answer bluntly:
I do not belong,
I try to understand you.
Now I am a shadow
Lost in the forest
Of a skull.
" - First stanza of The Desert (The Diary of Beirut Under Siege, 1982) by Adonis.

I usually don't go about dedicating my reviews, but this book is a special case at I read it after a conversation on Goodreads a year ago between myself and the person who (indirectly) recommended this book to me. After expressing my frustration of never learning about writers outside of "The West" in school and especially poets from the middle-east (an area that, as far as literature was concerned, has specialized in poetry since forever) I was given an extensive list of poets and after some quick searching I came across this book which was surprisingly designed to address the very frustration I felt. This book is a straight-forward introduction/sample of 3 of the most significant contemporary (in a relative sense) Arab poets of the last 40 years or so.

This book was published during the mid-1980s when the big conflict in the middle-east was The Lebanon War (I will get back to that later when I talk about Adonis). It features three poets: 2 Palestinians and one Syrian. I will go ahead and briefly review all 3 before giving my opinion on who stood out to me and what I thought of the book overall.

The first poet featured was Mahmud Darwish of Palestine.
"A Gentle Rain in a distant autumn
And the birds are blue, are blue,
And the earth is a feast.
Don't say I wish I was a cloud over an airport.
All I want
From my country which fell out of the window of a train
Is my mother's handkerchief
And reasons for a new death."
- first stanza of "A Gentle Rain in a Distant Autumn."
Two things that the above quote features that I think all 3 poets like is precise use of repetition and use of symbolism and to make a point. What Darwish was a very prominent left-wing poet whose political activism and literature has drawn recognition and criticism across the Arab-Israeli divide. His poetry was unique to me in its use of the senses and memory. I have gotten so use to poets aiming for my psyche that it was amazing to read a poet who so impacted my senses and could describe something and make me see, smell, and taste it. He is also very fond of using nostalgia and memory in his poems in-which he wants you to remember something that happened to him.

The second poet featured is Samih al-Qasim of Palestine.
"On the day you kill me
You'll find in my pocket
Travel tickets
To peace,
To the fields and the rain,
To people's conscience.
Don't waste the tickets.
" - "Travel Tickets"
Sometimes, less is more. No poet so exemplifies the previous statement like Samih al-Qasim. Like Mahmud Darwish he is a Palestinian, but unlike Darwsh, he has lived most of his life inside Israel in the town of Hafia and rarely leaves Israel or the Palestinian territories. Both al-Qasim and Darwish were involved in political causes and ran afoul of the Israeli government, but when it comes to poetry things are very different. Where Darwish writes in very descriptive long-form, al-Qasim is sparse, minimal and to the point. His poems may be only two lines, but you will read them over and over because of his mastery of symbolic expression makes you keep wanting to pick up something you thought you missed. His poems are so open to interpretation that you don't know if he is being darkly-comedic or tragic (or both).

And now the man who is basically the headliner of this collection (and for good reason), Adonis (a.k.a. Ali Ahmad Said Esber) of Syria.
"The street is a woman who says
The Fatiha when she's grieved
Or makes the sign of the Cross.
Under her breast
The hunchbacked night
Fills his bag
With grey whinning dogs
And snuffed out stars.
" First stanza of "A Mirror for Beirut (1967)"
Maybe the most famous Arab poet of the post-war 20th century, Adonis is definitely the "strongest" poet of the three featured in this book. I would guess that if a contemporary Arab poet is anthologized in "The West" it is him (or maybe Mahmud Darwish). His poetry, while sharing many traits with the two previous poets, is very intentionally styled after modernist poetry. Now I can start using names like T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and etc., but he also has a connection to the older mystic poetry of Rumi and Kahil Gibran. His poetry reflects the wider Arab world (with an obvious bias towards Syria) and recognizes the presence of Christians in the Arab world (or at least in Syria/Lebanon). The centerpiece of this book is his poem "The Desert" which premiered in the first edition of this collection (which came out in 1984) and is a poetic "diary" of the Siege of Beirut which he was caught up in. If I had to recommend one poem from this book for a first time reader of Arabic poetry "The Desert" would be my choice hands down.

I don't have any real criticism of any of these poets, all of them are the cream of the crop. My personal favorite was Samih al-Qasim whose style and tone nearly hypnotizes me. If pressed I would say that Adonis is the most "mature" of the three and his style may be the most familiar to a western audience, but when it comes to quality I think any of these poets would do nicely. Again, thank you Hend for steering me in the direction of good literature and I hope to one day return the favor.


This volume serves both as an introduction into Arabic poetry as well as into Arabic literature in general, as poetry is the most important and most widely read literary form in the Arab world. It is a both lyrical and political collection of poems by three of the best known and most popular poets of the Arabic language: Mahmud Darwish, Samih al-Qasim and Adonis.

The three authors are considered to be among the most modern and most innovative writers of their language. In a mostly laconic language they give voice to their fellow countrymen’s isolation, the bareness of their lives, both hope and hopelessness and, above all, their yearning for freedom. Some of these images may sometimes seem unusual or strange to a western reader (it was for me at least), but patience is rewarded as these poems depict a new and quite different (both geographically and figuratively) scenery and mentality.

This book is also a great resource for Arabic language learners. The Arabic text is vocalized in the most common way (most fathas and the diacritics for long vowels and for the most common words are left out; endings are always vocalized) and the simple sentence structures make it easy to follow the poem while still containing some particularities of the Arabic language.

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn and ask:
Is there room for another autumn in the field to rest our bodies like coal?
An autumn lowering its leaves like gold. I wish we were fig leaves
I wish we were an abandoned plant
To witness the change of seasons. I wish we didn’t say goodbye
To the south of the eye so as to ask what
Our fathers had asked when they flew on the tip of the spear. Poetry
And God’s name will be merciful to us.

“We are entitled to love the end of autumn” by Mahmoud Darwish, p. 18/19

Farhan Khalid

Mahmud Darwish

The earth is closing on us

The earth is squeezing us

Be the song of those who have no songs

We fear for a dream

We go on dreaming

I wish we were fig leaves

I wish we were an abandoned plant

Give birth to me again

I long for everything

I long for myself I long for you

We will live because life goes on

We travel like other people but we return to nowhere

As if travelling is the way of the clouds

We have a country of words

Speak speak so we may know the end of this travel

We are here and in a moment we'll explode this siege

In a moment we'll free a cloud and travel within ourselves

A gentle rain in a distant autumn

And the birds are blue are blue

And the windows are white are white

And the promises are green are green

The birds have flown to a time which will not return

My country is the joy of being in chains

Samih al-Qasim

On the day you kill me you'll find in my pocket travel tickets

Don't waste the tickets

A blue city dreamt of tourists

Don't kill us fire

We are young and pretty and we grew up together

Don't kill us Don't k...

They killed me once then wore my face many times

From the window of my small cell I can see trees smiling at me

Windows weeping and praying for me

From the window of my small cell I can see your large cell

Light the fire so I can see my tears

Light the fire so I can see myself dying

My suffering is your only inheritance

The house collapsed

The clock was still on the wall

The clock ticked on


The earth and sky trapped in a box of colours

He never slept in a bed of myths

The earth rises in my body

As distant as our souls

As distant as a journey into the space of the soul

A sun that kills and destroys appears over the bridge

Doubt is his home but he is full of eyes

His words are engraved in the direction of loss loss loss

Through a window of prayers we reached the sky

We have lost faith in tomorrow

Where we used to begin a new life

How can I walk towards my people towards myself?

How can I walk towards my passion my voice?

My era tells me bluntly you do not belong

I am a shadow lost in the forest

Am I full of contradictions?

I hung my death between my face and these bleeding words


A gentle rain in a distant autumn
And the birds are blue, are blue,
And the earth is a feast.
Don't say I wish I was a cloud over an airport.
All I want
From my country which fell out of the window of a train
Is my mother's handkerchief
And reasons for a new death.

Antonio Delgado

Geography is unnatural, and often oppressive. These poets create different maps in order to express their selfs into an approximation for an open geography.


I hated the English translation.

James F

Jan 23

8. Adonis, Mahmud Darwish, and Samih al-Qasim, Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry [1984] 165 pages

An anthology of three of the most important twentieth-century Arab poets, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari. Each is represented by fifteen poems, written shortly before the anthology was published; in fact many of the poems are published here for the first time in Arabic, and all for the first time in English translation. Mahmud Darwish (Palestinian, born 1942) is probably the best known; one of his anthologies is next month's reading for the World Literature group I belong to on Goodreads. Samih al-Qasim (born 1939) was also Palestinian. Both were represented by a small number of poems in the anthology by Alshaer (The Map of Absence) that the Goodreads group read for this month. Adonis (pen name of Ali Ahmad Said, born 1930) was the oldest of the three, and one of the pioneers in modern Arabic poetry; he was born in Syria, but after being imprisoned for his political activities (as were the other two as well) he went into exile in Beirut when he was 26.

As always, I have to begin by admitting that I am unqualified to review modern poetry, and particularly when I don't read the language of the original; however, I did find all three poets enjoyable and full of striking images -- although in some cases I think I didn't have the cultural knowledge to fully appreciate them. A highlight was the long poem "The Desert" written by Adonis during the 1982 siege of Beirut.


actual rating: 4.5⭐️.a great introduction into Arabic poetry. I particularly loved the work of Darwish, finding it greatly evocative and poignant. It’s also nice to see the original Arabic text side-by-side with the English translation. Will definitely go back to this

Carolyn Turcotte

Marshall gives nods to all the feels of Chi, and calls out the disparities the city tries to ignore. Powerful pieces about missing friends lost to gun violence and memories in a lyrical collection pulling on heart strings while saying the unsayable.

Julie Gray

I really enjoyed this collection, in particular, the poems of Samih Al-Quasim.