Saloua Ali Ben Zahra


In the past, I have written both about the portrayal disability in Arabic literature and about problems of translation from Arabic into English, so when I came across the poem "The Ghoul" by Tunisian poet Moncef Ghachem, I was interested in translated. Part of what peaked my interest is that the word ghoul in English is of Arabic origin. Here is the poem as it appears in the original Arabic.

Arabic text of the poem The Ghoul

One of my dilemmas in translating this poem is that classical Arabic poetry tends to follow a very exquisitely beautiful rhyme pattern. In translating the poem I wanted to be able to preserve the rhyme since it is characteristic of the Arabic language and much more important to its poetry than it is in contemporary English poetry. Nevertheless, after consulting with Arabic scholar William Hutchins, I made the decision that the poem would be better served in not trying to retain the rhyme scheme. This is my translation of Ghachem’s poem. It appears with permission of the poet.

The Ghoul

The ghoul evicted and exiled me
Since the death of my father
And before my birth to mother
Who in soil threw me
To my blindness and poverty
The ghoul evicted and exiled me
From my heaven and tree
Exiled and evicted me
From every trajectory
The Ghoul, the hunger, the wanderlust and the helplessness
How much I plowed you oh olive tree
To be plundered by my high master
I wasted my lifetime on you oh beauty
My life and hopes
When famine came upon us
It found us with no resources
The days passed me and my offspring
And the ghoul evicted and exiled us
From our heaven and our trees
Evicted and exiled us
Bearing misfortune upon misfortunes
The ghoul over my neighborhood and streets
The ghoul is my antagonist next to my fears
The ghoul penetrated into my country
The ghoul and oppression
those who exiled and evicted me.
The ghoul and oppression are my peers

My interest in the "The Ghoul" was not only its mention of disability but also its portrayal of the predicament of a large segment of the Tunisian population at this time in their history.


Here is another poem from Moncef Ghachem called "The One Who" that expresses this theme even more fully.

To The One
Who carries a heavy sack
Fifty hours
A week
And does not know the deal.
All day he loads
The trucks
His sweat running over his undergarment
His mouth panting
A loaf of bread and handful of little olives
As if he were serving a life sentence
And he were the criminal himself.

The one waiting for the passport
And on top of it the visa
And nor will he "burn" tomorrow
Nor does he know where to go
Or on whose door to knock.
A life of misery –
One pain goes
Another haunting pain comes.
Only the sad one sings "Aroubi"
And counts on his two hands
The missing fingers
And the cost of the ticket to France.

The one carried by Western banishment
And swallowed by exile
In the cold and dark blindness.
Absence dragged and his mother died
He fails to escape and his day is stagnant
in the land of the Europeans.
His night's dream is a summer and a siesta.
His night's dream is a gathering of famiglia.
He left me his dream on a table.
I pen a word on the pain of exile.

The one who utters a word
In the heart of darkness
The word-star that defeats darkness,
The free word
Not the bitter word
Not the classical Arabic sequence
The free word.
I kiss her on the mouth.
I cover her with the light of my tongue.
I turn it into the most delicious of words
The word of life.
When she passes
I catch her.

Moncef Ghachem was born into a family of fishermen in 1946 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Mahdia and is a Tunisian contemporary French and Arabic languages writer and poet. The environment into which he was born by the sea and the mariner cemetery has marked his imaginaire. He completed his university education in Tunis as well as in France at the University of Paris IV. Ghachem has published numerous and diverse journalistic articles in newspapers as well as artistic journals in France and Italy. He is especially a cultural journalist in Afrique Asie. Ghacem is the author or many collections of poetry. English translations of some of the titles incude A Hundred Thousand Birds, Because to Live is a Country, and Cap Africa. Orphie published in 1997 is a collection of poetry singing the praise of the sea, its fishermen and mariners. His collection titled Nouba, published the same year the echoes martyr poets in Algeria.


Saloua Ali Ben Zahra is Associate Professor of Arabic culture, language and literature in translation and Director of the Arabic program at Appalachian State University where for three years she was Faculty-in-Residence at the Learning and Living Center She obtained her Masters' and Doctorate degrees from the University of Minnesota where she was a recipient of Fulbright scholarships twice. For her doctoral project she worked on representations of disabilities in Arab / Islamic post-colonial literatures, cultures and societies. She is originally from Tunisia where she was educated at the university of Tunis-Carthage and taught at various Tunisian universities.