Tara Burhan Mohammed's Essay: Women in Nizar Qabbani’s Poetry

This essay was written in Fall 2017 for Dr. Choman's Feminism (LIT 400) class. We were asked to analyze the writings of a male author from the middle east and know how are women portrayed in their work. The student who wrote this essay is Tara Burhan Mohammed, who also happens to be CGDS's Media Monitor.


Women in Nizar Qabbani’s Poetry


Nizar Qabbani is considered one of the most influential Arab Poets in the 20th century. He was born on 21st March 1923 in the city of Damascus. He studied law in the university of Damascus and graduated in 1945. While he was a student in college he wrote his first collection of poems with the name of “The Brunette told me”. In this collection Qabbani stepped into the world of taboo by writing about women’s body. When Qabbani was 15, his sister who was 25, committed suicide because she refused to marry a man she didn’t love (Britannica). This accident influenced his poetic career. Although Qabbani is considered a feminist poet and a fighter for women’s liberation, but he fails to articulate women’s full entity and experience in his poems. He relates women only to the object of romantic love, and he uses this romantic love to numb women’s resistance.

Even though in most of his collections and poems Qabbani refers to women’s body as objects, and he debilitates their resistance by referring to them as the objects of love, but he has a few poems that can be considered feminist. He criticizes the inequality between men and women in some poems, for example, A letter from a stupid woman. In this poem, Qabbani speaks as the voice of a woman sending a letter to a man. This woman starts by saying that her name does not matter, as names are the silliest thing women have. Then she says that she’s afraid to speak freely because “Your east” meaning the Middle-Eastern culture confiscates dreams from women’s treasure chests. And “It uses knives…and cleavers…to speak to women[13]” she goes on to say: “Don't criticize me, Master. If my writing is poor. For I write and the sword is behind my door 13”. In this poem Qabbani emphasizes on women’s oppression in the Middle-East, and how they are not free to speak about their emotions and dreams. He mentions that the culture creates the thin crown of honor by using women’s skulls. How men do not understand women unless they’re under the sheets. He further admits that it’s a myth that women have freedom “For there is no freedom. Other than, the freedom of men13”. In another poem, he criticizes the society and says it’s too coward to do justice. If a woman commits adultery she’s questioned but compulsive adulterers are not “the same bed they share, but only the woman falls while the man is protected[14]”. Nizar lamented the double standard of Arab society. If the son and the daughter commit the same sin, the parents discriminate in favor of the son. Our society thinks of boys as a gift from God as they treat them more special and they spend more money on their education. On the other hand, girls are treated differently as if they were a curse from God.

Qabbani’s focus in his  poetry was on viewing women’s beauty and body in a sensual manner. In many of his poems he sketched the image of his ideal lover. According to him she’s a tall girl with a small mouth, and a long hair. She has small soft hands and feet. He praises her and say she’s the most beautiful masterpiece in the world. He goes on in one of his poems saying that if she (his lover) was not in his life, he would have carved a woman like her, a woman that would be beautiful and tall “Who would be tall in height like a sword[1]. We can relate this to Pygmalion the sculptor who made a statue of his ideal woman. He also implies the beauty of her hair “I asked the wind to comb the locks of your dark black hair, but it apologized that as the time was short and your hair was long[2]”. He mentions searching the world but “I didn’t see a sculpture More overwhelming than your hands[3]”. All theses images of beauty implied in Qabbani’s poetry advocate women to look a certain way. This was the same case almost everywhere around the world and at different periods of time, and the 1950s in America is a strong example of this. Women dyed their hair blonde, and they went on crazy diets to look like the happy suburban wives in magazine pictures (Friedan 19). Furthermore, in one of his poems he mentions the beauty of small feet “The woman whom I love Has two very small feet Which resemble the speech of children[4]”. In the 17th century in China women were foot bound, they had to go through this painful process in order to have small feet because the patriarchal beauty standards required it. This also crippled women from running and walking fast. Clearly Qabbani agrees and resembles beauty to small feet.

Qabbani took advantage of the sexual lust found in men and used women’s body for the purpose of attracting a male audience. In most of his poems he uses a sensual language where he evoked women’s beauty by mentioning parts of her body such as her breast and lips. In his poem The Bosom Lift he encourages women to take-off their bras and be gentle on their breast because the lace bra might hurt it’s feeling “This that you have over exaggerated in hiding is the most precious thing that came out of this world[5]” . Also, he further refers to women’s body in the poem Your Nipples. “thrust your bronzed breast into my mouth[6]”. According to a critique the breast for Nizar Qabbani resembles a space for revolution to challenge social norms (Lazreg 21). Nizzar’s attempt to free our minds about sexuality can be resembled to that of Henry Miller. According to Kate Millett in the Sexual Politics, Miller didn’t free us from the traditional ideas about sexuality, but he had the honesty to express them (Millett 295). The same case can be applied to Qabbani. He articulated the hostility which our culture, specifically the masculine, surrounds women and sexuality. While in fact we can feel Qabbani’s own sexual burdens. All the previous poems show that Qabbani never praises women for their intelligence or success or beings. He only praises their beauty and body. We can conclude that Qabbani followed the tradition of objectifying women to only a body.

     Furthermore, the role of women in Qabbani’s poetry can be seen only as a lover. According to Joanna Russ women’s role in literature is limited to a love object, she mentions that we come to the one occupation of a female’s role in literature “she is the protagonist of a love story” (Russ 84). “My beloved my love to your eyes is huge[7]” “My beloved if they once asked you about me” we can see in the previous verses from his poems that he only refers to women as his ‘beloved’. By this Qabbani limited women’s role in his poetry to the object of love. Moreover, a feminist activist said “Love has been the opium of women, as religion for masses. While we loved, men ruled.” (Kate Millett). Male writers use romantic love to numb women’s resistance. Love makes them accept the oppression because in the end the most important thing is that they are loved. Qabbani clearly shows this in his poems as they are all romantic approaches to women. In one of his poems he tells his beloved not to worry because “You might grow old in years, but you are forever young in my pages[8]” this implies that as long as his lover is mentioned in his poems and she’s loved by him, she doesn’t need to worry of getting old. Qabbani describes her love as something holly “Your love is like birth and death, it’s impossible to be repeated[9]”. The issue of power is obscured thoroughly by the romantic love or by “the invocation of an abstract” (Fetterley XV). The notion of love is used to seduce women into submission, they don’t need to resist the inequality because they’re loved. Qabbani advocated the notion of romantic poetry, and by doing so he distracts women’s attention from the inequality.

     Sexist aspects show up in Nizar’s poem To a Visitor. In this poem he describes a woman he sleeps with in a way that he equates her with a prostitute. He says to her stop huffing and puffing like a snake “You crept unashamed from your family on your belly to my room, the poets room[10]”. In the previous verse he implies that the woman broke into his room like a snake on her belly. He strips her down to a wicked animal and calls her unashamed, the way he describes this woman he slept with shows her as a prostitute. Furthermore, in the same poem he resembles the woman’s breast with white rabbits “like a white rabbit leaping oh god I have tried so many times to draw it[11]”. Again Qabbani strips women down from a being to an animal, and this can derive from the idea that women are identified with nature. Women are universally devalued and that’s because they are associated with nature, while on the other hand, men are associated with culture (Ortner 71). Not to forget, Qabbani in this poem tells the woman to be aware because he’s a jinni she shouldn’t brake his flask “You, your breast is nothing if my storms shake, if my lust is mined my raging flood does not know what god allowed and what god forbade[12]” . In this verse Qabbani sees himself superior to the woman, and he reminds her that her body is nothing if she made his lust rage. He will no longer consider what’s allowed and what’s not. “culture” asserts itself to be more superior than nature, and Qabbani clearly sees himself as the culture more superior by controlling the nature.

     Qabbani stated after his sister’s death “Love in the Arab world is like a prisoner, and I want to set (it) free. I want to free the Arab soul, sense and body with my poetry. The relationships between men and women in our society are not healthy.”[15]. It’s clear that Nizar Qabbani defended women’s right for love, but he didn’t emphasize his poetry on all the other aspects and rights that are missing. He viewed women only in relation to men in the romantic love. Woman had a role in his poems because she was viewed as a body not a full human being. All that he praised was her beauty and the sexual parts of her body. He never praised women’s experience as intellectuals, independent, and successful beings. This led women to feel their powerlessness because they didn’t see their full experience articulated in his poems.

To sum up, if we reverse the role of Qabbani and think of his poems written by a female the first thought that will come up in our mind is how funny and unusual. Because no women ever dare to speak openly about men’s body or her own sexual burdens. Nizzar Qabbani viewed women as an image of a beautiful being, a woman who’s only role is a lover in his poems. He uses the notion of romantic love to paralyze her resistance of oppression. Not to forget, he fails to address women for their intelligence, personalities, and beings. Qabbani relates women to nature and he objectifies her body. He further asks for the right of love, but he misses all the other rights that are not granted for women.


Work Cited

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Nizār Qabbānī.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 7 Apr. 2016, www.britannica.com/biography/Nizar-Qabbani. Accessed 22 October 2017.

Friedan, Betty. “The Feminine Mystique”. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1963. Print.

Lazreg, Houssem Ben. “A Woman Moving Within Me by Nizar Qabbani” Western Michigan University. Volume 4, Issue 1, 2017, pp. 17-21.

Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1969. Print.

Russ, Joanna. To Write like a Woman. Indiana University Press, 1995.

Fetterley, Judith. The resisting reader: a feminist approach to American fiction. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978. Print.

Ortner, Sherry B. Woman, Culture, and Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974. Print.




[1]لو لم تكوني أنت في حياتي آنت اخترعت امرأة مثلك يا حبيبتي قامتها طويلة كالسيف

[2]  أوصيت الريح أن تمشط خصلات شعرك الفاحم فاعتذرت بأن وقتها قصير وشعرك طويل

[3]زرت متاحف الدنيا من اللوفر الى المتروبوليتان الى البرادو ورأيت اروع الاعمال التشكيلية وأقدم المنحوتات والايقونات

لكنني لم اشاهد منحوتة بهرتني أكثر من يديك

[4] للمرأة التي أحبها قدمان صغيرتان جدا تشبهان كلام الاطفال


رافعة النهد.. احيطي به كوني له احنى من الخاتم

قد يجرح الدنتيل احساسه فخففي من قيدك الظالم..

هذا الذي بالغت في ضمه أثمن ما اخرج للعالم..


 سمراء.. صبي نهدك الاسمر في دنيا فمي

نهداك نبعا لذة حمراء تشعل لي دمي


 حبيبتي يا ألف يا حبيبتي

حبي لعينيك انا كبير

وسوف يبقى دائما كبيرا


 لا تقلقي.. يا حلوة الحلوات

ما دمت في شعري وفي كلماتي

قد تكبرين مع السنين وانما

لن تكبري ابدا على صفحاتي


حبك يا عميقة العينين




حبك مثل الموت والولادة

صعب بأن يعاد مرتين


 حسبي بهذا النفخ والهمهمة

يا رعشة الثعبان.. يا مجرمة

زلقت من اهلك لم تستحي

زحفا الى غرفتي الملهمة


كالارنب الابيض في وثبه

الله كم حاولت ان ارسمه


 شهية العطر انا مارد

فحذاري ان تكسري قمقمه

ما انت؟ ما نهداك؟ ان قهقهت

عواصفي وشهوتي الملجمة

لا يعرف الطوفان في جرفه

ما حلل الله.. وما حرمه..


فشرقكم يا سيدي العزيز

يصادر الرسائل الزرقاء

يصادر الأحلام من خزائن النساء

يستعمل السكين والساطور كي يخاطب النساء


لا تنتقدني يا سيدي إن كان خطي سيئا

فإنني اكتب والسياف خلف بابي


خرافة حرية النساء في بلادنا

فليس من حرية أخرى

سوى حرية الرجال


 تسال الانثى إذا تزني

وكم مجرم دامي الزنا لا يسال

وسرير واحد ضمهما

تسقط البنت.. ويحمى الرجل

[15] A quote by Nizar Qabbani found on the web