A Bridge between the East and the West
Dr. Janet Ayoub Al Maalouf
A Paper presented at a conference:
Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences- Branch II/March 20, 2019:
Jawdat Haydar – A Poet of Numerous Visions
Jawdat R. Haydar is a centenarian Lebanese poet thanks to his concepts, thoughts and writings, which are related to our time. He purports to teach the world the true meaning of love and liberty. Moreover, Jawdat Haydar is a humanitarian poet that resists categorization, encourages the interaction between people and civilizations, and emphasizes human rights, humanity, love and nature. Jawdat R. Haydar who was a modern Arab poet embodied the concept of “Iltizam” in his poetic compositions; however, when his book “Voices” came out, Haydar was associated with the Al-Mahjar poets not only because of his use of the English language but also because of the themes he tackled: nostalgia for the motherland and the past, and the love of nature, among others. This paper shows that through his poems, he articulates his bitterness and seems to look for his identity that is a bridge between East and West.
Keywords: Humanitarian, Love, Bridge between the East and the West
Jawdat Haydar is a humanist poet who published poems in Arabic and English. This paper focuses on his poetry to present him as a humanitarian, a love poet, and, most importantly, a bridge between the East and the West.
Haydar’s humanitarian spirit clearly appears to have been rooted both in his genuine respect for all religions and in his consideration of them equally. When Haydar refers to God, he could just be referring to a Christian God as well as to a Muslim God. Haydar is not a supporter of religious fanaticism. He is not narrow-minded. What he does believe, nevertheless, is that all religious beliefs should be respected and that goodness can only derive from the spiritual elements of one’s being (Badawi, 1988).
Haydar believed in God but refused to specify precisely what God he had in mind. Haydar willingly accepted all faiths as long as they acknowledged the primacy of the spiritual world and were dedicated to peace and mutual understanding. Therefore, he was able to celebrate Gandhi, a Hindu, whose faith is often shunned by Muslims because it has no “Book” or fundamental sacred text. It was not the designation of any particular religion that mattered to Haydar; it was its substance (Naimy, 1995). Haydar showed this in one of his poems, “But Why?”:
Listen to the sound of your inner self
Innately hidden in your blood pressure
A latent feeling of belief and doubt
The mute and dormant secret of your heart (Haydar, 2001, p.35).
Haydar’s poems do constitute a relatively consistent outlook on life, which may be summed up in fairly simple terms: peace should be mankind’s collective goal; love, informed by reason, should be its main aim; and man should be guided by God. These are the qualities he most admires in Mahatma Gandhi, whom Haydar seems to have sought most to try to be like. It is a view of life that is conditioned by love; and Haydar believes that as the sense of humanity must be pure and clear, far from racism and bias, so must be humans who are brothers, and so must be love for one’s country, love for nature and mankind, love for one’s family, and love for God. Haydar’s philosophy embraces the product of a lifetime, of a considered experience and of a deep thought, proved on his pulses and reflected upon in quietude (Haydar, 2005). As he says in “Guess”:
Look how the stars are in sight
And the slight moon beaming on the sea
But oh! For all the thoughts that come tonight
From a distance’cherished daring to me
At times she looms so near yet still afar
Like high Venus that in twinkles thus fall
Living coal leaving in my heart a scar
And I run everywhere searching I call (Haydar, 2001, p. 45).
Haydar also shows us that love is a main aspect in his humanitarian poems, as he believes that love, on a larger scale, is necessary for the proper functioning of our universe. In his later work, Haydar constantly takes issue with those who do not respect their environment, pointing out that when we seek to enslave nature or treat it thoughtlessly, our act is a form of abuse, for which we will pay dearly. Our world is depending on it and so is the movement of the sphere, and just as lovers are sometimes guilty of taking love for granted and treating it with less tenderness than it deserves, so mankind is guilty of a similar sin (Hastings, 1997).
Haydar, therefore, reminds us that sometimes we may destroy love simply by trying to understand it. Love is not something that can bear too much examination. By its very nature, it asks us to accept it rather than to analyze it, to prostrate ourselves in wonder and admiration. This is the theme of “Adam and His Progeny”, where Haydar censures those who seek to know love by intense intellectual probing, and concludes with an admonition to scientists, “ busy with their test-tubes”, to look up (Bloom, 1997; Munroe, 2016).
Haydar constantly expresses his faith in the overriding importance and power of love, which focuses on his humanitarian self, because he considers the universe from a very far scope as if all nations are brothers in humanity. From this point, Haydar exposes the importance of love with regards to both: the health of nations and the health of the universe (Munroe, 2016). In “We shall ever be yearning for Beirut”, for instance, he successfully combines these two themes to a considerable effect. First, Haydar addresses those who have made a mockery of Beirut’s historical heritage, peace and intercommunal harmony:
Adamites be timely timing your time
To quit a vile world of bloodshed and crime
Immorality pollution and shame
A world of a tarnished honor and name
Look how the angels are roving in space
In a world of peace and love without hate
A world of devotion and ever sane
A world of virtue sanity and grace
God willing on his ladder we might climb
The seven skies to choose one for our fate
The one preferred by Adam lost to reg’in
And live back in our old and sweet home ‘gain
Paradise where the sacred rivers run
Where the birds sing and we enjoy to hear
Where there’ll ne’er be an eclipse of the sun
And where there’ll ne’er be pollution to fear
There we promise never to touch the fruit
Though we shall e’er be yearning for Beirut (Haydar, 2001, p.37).
Although it is possible to identify a range of themes in Haydar’s poetry, it is significant to recognize that the poet’s intention is not to impact a particular philosophy of human life, except in a very general way. So, Haydar, for instance, sets out a coherent philosophy of human life embracing the teaching of some of the world’s greatest spiritual thinkers. Haydar’s poems are essentially an apercus or an insight into various aspects of human conditions (Wahebeh, 1992).
Thus, Haydar like Milton is a great poet who would see Lebanon, or the East, with his own eyes, and pass on the image to the West, thus creating a Paradise for both sides. In fact, Haydar goes beyond a paradise of an East and a West united in love. The particular quality of Haydar’s mediation between the East and the West is a philosophical one, based on his humanism and on transcending the petty differences of immediate greed and ineptitude, as well as borders and divisions (Hastings, 1997). In one poem entitled “Superpowers” he addresses the West:
Nip in the bud your disguised quarrels and be friends
The world’s waiting for your nuclear accord
Make Irish and spit on your palm and shake hands
To endorse your word and attain your reward
Otherwise the lips of time for ever ‘ll speak
About the murd’r of your common sense in jail
Be careful and stop your game to hide and seek
To avoid being the cocks who crow and fail
(Beirut April, 1987) (Haydar, 2001, p.25).
What Haydar is calling for is an end of greed, wars and senseless deaths. His poems represent a universal call for peace, preaching love and brotherhood instead of destructive competition (Osman, 2005). Again, in his poem “Countrymen”, he expresses a hope for a better future for the whole world:
A light house for those astray to gain the light
A palace of justice for the rights of man
A peace keeping force with full powers and might
To indicate to the whole world that we can
Teach the people how to climb the highest slopes
To build on top a love nest for all to dwell
In a world of democracy full of hopes
A paradise inside this our present hell (Baalbeck
January, 1984) (Haydar, 2001, p.17).
Addressed primarily to Lebanese people during the civil war, the message is a universal and a visionary one, which transcends local and temporal concerns, whether it is the Lebanese civil war or the Arab Israeli conflict, and goes beyond borders and artificial boundaries, to encompass all humanity. The present may be a hell, Haydar is telling humanity, but if we put aside our differences, if we dare to dream, we can live in a love nest in a world of democracy and hope. This then is the vision of Jawdat Haydar: a mediation not between East and West only, but between the citizens of the world, based on an ideal of democracy. This is the Paradise that Haydar envisions for the world, for Haydar is not just a poet of a particular place or time (Naimy, 1995).
He chose to write in English for many reasons. First, he considered classical Arabic too stilted to deal with modern themes. Second, the English language was his way to transcend the East and the West so that he could reach a wider audience. Third, his literacy English was close to impeccable due to his being exposed to English Literature (Osman, 2005).
He is a passionate reader of the Romantic Poets. This is clearly shown in his poems demonstrating the spirit of many Romantic poets: Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Blake, Coleridge and Byron (Munroe, 2016). For instance, Wordsworth’s effect is shown clearly in many of Haydar’s poems, as “In Memory of Wordsworth and his Sonnet upon Westminster Bridge”:
Wordsworth I stand where once you stood before
On this bridge of antiquity and fame,
Where emperor tourist and troubadour
Have come to London in honour of your name .
Never a star was so much glorified
During the remote ages of our race,
When diviners and sages deified
The stars and lived empowered by their grace.
What a mental conquest, what a crusade,
Across the lofty fields of poetry!
What armies of deathless thoughts you have made
Across the living wilds of poesy!
Wordsworth, your words worth being a tableau,
Pranked by the life-like hue of your sonnet
With the stately views of the world that show
Old London wearing a gray sky bonnet
Here, on this Westminster Bridge I cry,
Do you hear my far yawp through the years loud,
The Thames meandering to the sea to die,
And again into being from a cloud?
Although you fell silent long ago,
You are enlivened by your poesy,
To remain time honored in your chateau
Bearing the legal crown of prosody.
(London September 3, 1982) (Haydar, 2001, p.65).
Moreover, the Mahjar poets appear not to have been able to accept their diversity fully, and this appears to have separated Haydar from their company. Though he may share some of their characteristics, Haydar is no split personality. In this regard, he has more in common with the kind of person Amin Maalouf describes, “Someone who is able to mediate between cultures, while retaining his sense of personal identity.” (Munroe, 2016).
Indeed, it was precisely because he was able to step aside from himself and view humanity with a dispassionate eye, that Haydar was unique. In the world of another one of his favorite poets, Matthew Arnold, Haydar was able to see life steadily and see it while he belonged neither to the East nor to the West. He was a man of the world in the true sense of the term and he took pride in being so. He also claimed: “Despite their global direction, my English poems are rooted in my origin as an Arab Eastern man, who feels the hardship of his nation and suffers with it deep inside.” (Hastings, 1997, p.50). He says in “Walk Straight”:
The world has become the home of despair
Countries full of scorpions and baneful snakes
Mad cows pigs goats sheep and still unaware
Of the most bloody future and earthquakes
Often I’ve tested the nature of man
In the big laboratory of my mind
I found that he’s the only one who can
Oft shake his long ears kick back and walk blind
Look folks how the fire is grazing our lives
By the flame of our recent techn’logy
What a shame we are killed by our own knives
Since we’ve neglected our theology
O God! Knock into our heads to walk straight
To love the whole world and forget our hate (Haydar, 2001, p.50).
Moreover, Haydar said on an occasion: “It is a pleasure for me to know that my poetry is characterized by its universalism and distinguished by the fact that it does not belong to any particular place and time.” (Khairallah, 2008, p.34). He also confided that his poems are English roses and Arabic roots and that there is a philosophical quietude in his poems, as well as an attempt to approach a spiritual and meditative life. However, he declared, “I’m not an adherent of escapism from reality or lounging.” (Khairallah, 2008, p.36).
Once again it should be noted that Haydar has often been linked to Mahjar poets, most probably because he wrote in English. It is true he also expressed a deep sense of alienation, but Haydar’s alienation was not the same kind of emotion experienced by the Mahjar poets.
Haydar’s feeling of displacement had its roots in his keen awareness of the follies and harmful impulses of mankind, which he recognized all around him, not just in the Western world. He did not feel estranged from the society around him because of race, religion or nationality, but for far deeper reasons. He was an existential angst. He experienced alienation because he believed that mankind had failed to live up to its potential for goodness. Rather than strive to make the world a better place, a place where peace of human decency and honorable conduct were the norm, man had surrendered to the destructive impulses within himself and had sought to destroy when he should have created, hurt when he should have appeased. Haydar confronted life not only with honesty and a sense of realism but also with a feeling of compassion. The overall message never changed because turbulence in the Middle East led him to uphold freedom and democracy, and to denounce the injustice of the war-mongering super powers. Yet, he never lost sight of the essential topic. He could rail at Uncle Sam, initially acclaimed to be the poet who called for East/West reconciliation, and is now increasingly being studied as the prophet for universal peace. Haydar explored the two aspects of human nature – the capacity for destruction and for goodness – and believed that man’s better side would win (Funk, 2004). Salvation is possible through forgiveness, as he says in “Shiva”:
Shiva enough graves and enough headstones
The Middle East has become a graveyard
Where the rights of man are found fetid bones
And the bones of lib’rty in the junkyard
Stop your ugly destr’ction and your jaywalk
Your timely triumph but a shameful crime
I’m talking to you now cock of the walk
Take heed of the lethal patience of time
No creation shall live fore’er to last
Walking all the distance of tomorrow
The walker walking falls un’ware and fast
Shrouded by the mourning wails of sorrow
Shiva come to God who’ll forgive your crime
It’s time to become pen’tent, it’s your time (Haydar, 2001, p.43;
Baalbeck, January, 1997).
Haydar’s God refers to a universal God of peace and forgiveness, a God who, like Haydar’s creed, transcends race, ethnicity, boundaries and limitations. The ability to forgive, to love all God’s creatures equally, as Coleridge’s the Ancient Mariner declares, gives us inner peace. Forgiveness and peace go hand in hand. Fittingly, Haydar dedicates 101 Poems to all peace lovers in the world (Haydar, 2005).
Munro (2016) wrote, “Haydar has experienced too much suffering, other than the painful truth that Man is bound to follow the path of stoical fortitude” (p.176). Indeed, much of Haydar’s poetry is entangled with his personal history. Soberly reflecting on his personal loss of both wife and only son, Haydar writes in “The Prince of Youth”:
Yesterday I was the prince of my youth;
Today I’m the emperor of my years.
My empire but a domain of the truth,
A smile in the spring in winter but tears.
Withal still out looking for what I’ve lost
And counted the years like eggs in a tray,
I found all were empty shells, tempest-tossed,
Dreams that pass without a permit to stay.
I would that I could hark back one fullday,
She beside me talking about our future;
But alas! I was wounded by fate to stay
With a surgeon without a suture.
Youth and age without love naught but despair,
So why should I hence worry or care. (Haydar, 2001, p.32).
Haydar’s philosophical quest for meaning is a constant theme which reverberates throughout his poetry. He is here speaking about the ephemeral passage of man through life, where beyond sand scribbles, man is unable to leave a relic.
In his book “The Voice from Baalbek”, Munro (2016) also presents Haydar as a bridge between the East and the West, and this is portrayed in the way Haydar saw the Western countries, especially when he went to the United States. Haydar went there full of anticipation and excitement, and, on his arrival, he was impressed by the open-hearted generosity with which he was received. After he had returned to Lebanon, Haydar remembered his time in Texas with great affection and recorded his love for the Lone Star in a poem entitled “Dear Old Texas”:
There’s no land but dear old Texas for me,
Tis paradise tis the home of the free
That’s why I long to cross the ocean bar
To dwell in my country to hail its star
I love thee old Texas, I love thy land
I love the plains, rivers, rocks, hills and sand
I love thy flag, heaven, nature and sea
God keep you, God safe guard your liberty (Haydar, 2001, p.77).
So, Haydar recognized that both East and West have their virtues. Layoun (2009) maintains that “Haydar sought to liberate himself from the restrictions of a single identity. His concern was humanity and the impact of human actions on civilization” (p.56). He belonged neither to the East nor to the West; Haydar belonged to the world; he said: “I am a believer in freedom and universal citizenship of the world. I have no boundaries. The entire world is my home country. Tell me why I should go to heaven from the East while I can go from the West” (Layoun, 2009, p.60).
Finally, Jawdat Haydar’s poetry is important since he is a Lebanese poet who wrote in English and Arabic. Haydar’s life is full of experience which has enabled him to view the world as a universe shared equally by all humans. Thus, his role is to spread love and teach people how to interact and communicate with each other as if they are all brothers in humanity. This is a noble aim that has made Jawdat Haydar a universal centenarian Lebanese poet.
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