Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

In Memoriam: Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri (1900?-1997)

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

In Memoriam: Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri (1900?-1997)

Article excerpt

Muhammad al-Jawahiri's poetry is highly charged with emotion and the explosive nature of his violent and often original imagery has an almost physical impact on his reader, with the result that the poet's anger at social injustice, political corruption and the degradation of man becomes infectious and reaches a degree of intensity that is at times truly terrifying.

M.M. Badawi

He [al-Jawahiri] played an important role through his poetry in the political scene of his time, inciting public emotions against political decadence and compromise, and subsequently suffering oppression and exile.... His best poetry, much along classical lines, has an ardent tone, vivid imagery, a grand rhythmic sway, intensity, and compression.

Salma Khadra Jayyusi

The poetry of Muhammad Mahdi al-Jawahiri has penetrated the Arab soul, in Iraq, gradually and with ease for more than forty years of Iraq's modern history. It has become a part of the emotional, intellectual, and political experience of the entire nation no matter how much individuals differ in their attitudes toward the poet himself.... He is more like the voice of the nation's conscience.

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra

With Al-Jawahiri's passing on 26 July 1997 in Damascus, the Arab World lost a great poet who was noted for his resolute revolutionary spirit and his relentless commitment to the national aspirations of his people in Iraq as well as to other Arab causes. Perhaps no other modern Arab poet has captured in his poetry the tribulations of the entire Arab World in this century as faithfully and vividly as al-Jawahiri. His voluminous poetry alone reads as a monumental register of crucial events, social upheavals, wars of independence, and revolutions which both Iraq and other Arab countries have experienced since the 1920s. Apart from countless poems he dedicated to major events of the century, al-Jawahiri was known for addressing his social and political themes in many of his elegies, panegyric or commemorative poems which revolve around national figures, heroes, major writers and poets of different periods. What is remarkable or unique about al-Jawahiri is the fact that he has steadfastly preserved, revived and enriched the classical poetic form and demonstrated at the same time its great appeal and its relevance to the modern age. His poetry, deeply rooted in the classical tradition, brings to memory the finest features, allusions, imageries and voices which span more than fourteen centuries of Arabic language and poetry. The fact that he has adhered to the classical form in spite of all the modernist trends which have radically transformed Arabic poetry represents in itself a great literary achievement unsurpassed in the history of modern Arabic poetry. It is no wonder that he was held in high esteem as both "sha'ir al-Arab al-akbar" (the Arabs' greatest poet) and "sha'ir al-Arabiyyah" (the poet of the Arabic language), and was, to use M.M. Badawi's words, "fully accepted by the neoclassicists as one of them while even extreme modernists claim him as their mentor."

In persisting, until the time of his death, in the course he chose for himself, al-Jawahiri was subjected most of his life to different measures of persecution. True, many, regrettably countless, Arab poets and writers have suffered, and are still suffering, from one form of oppression or another in pursuit of their ideals. However, al-Jawahiri's share of ordeals since 1927 (dismissal, imprisonment, deprivation, and many years of exile) has few parallels. His life was, as he suggested in his own words, an endless series of adversities. To quote him, "As soon as you rid yourself of an adversity/from its ruins erupt new adversities." Even when he had interludes of peace with the authorities, he was unable to maintain them for long because of his inherently uncompromising temperament.

Al-Jawahiri was born in Najaf at the turn of the Twentieth Century to a family of poets and traditional learning. …

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