Sa`di Yusuf

Translated by Salih J. Altoma


A Vision

This Iraq will go to the end of the graveyard 
It will bury its citizens in open country 
Generation after generation 
And will forgive its executioner. 
Iraq, as was known, will never come back 
And the larks will never sing 
So go on—if you wish—for a long time 
Beseech—if you wish—all the angels 
All the demons of this universe 
Beseech the bulls of Assyria, 
A soaring phoenix, 
Beseech them all 
And, through the smoke of nightmares, 
Wait for the censer’s miracle.



Sa`di Yusuf (Basrah, 1934- ), one of the most prolific and greatest contemporary Arab poets, has published more than thirty works of poetry and prose including his translations of selected poems by Walt Whitman, Giuesppe Ungaretti, Yannos Ritsos and Constantine Cavafy. Yusuf (known in American poetry journals as Saadi Youssef) has lived for decades in Arab and European exile due to his uncompromising leftist stance. He stands out in the words of a leading critic as a poet who has been associated with the Arabic political poem devoting himself to a political and an aesthetic vision. A collection of Yusuf’s poetry translated by the poet-translator, Khaled Mattawa is scheduled to appear late this year in the translations series of Graywolf Press.


Salih J. Altoma (translator) – Professor Emeritus of Arabic and Comparative Literatue, has been affiliated with Indiana University since 1964. He has served as director of Middle Eastern Studies (1986-1991) and chair of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures department (1985-1991). Altoma published a number of works in both Arabic and English on modern Arabic literature, and Arabic-American/Westem literary relations and edited recently the 2000 volume of The Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, volume 48(2000) which was dedicated to Arabic-Western Literary Relations.