Biography of Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Tawfiq Qabbani (Arabic: نزار توفيق قباني, ALA-LC: Nizār Tawfīq Qabbānī, French: Nizar Kabbani; 21 March 1923 – 30 April 1998) was a Syrian diplomat, poet, writer and publisher. He is considered to be Syria's National Poet. His poetic style combines simplicity and elegance in exploring themes of love, eroticism, feminism, religion, and Arab empowerment against foreign imperialism and local dictators. Qabbani is one of the most revered contemporary poets in the Arab world.


Early life

Nizar Qabbani was born in the Syrian capital of Damascus to a middle class merchant family. His mother, Faiza Akbik, is of Turkish descent. Qabbani was raised in Mi'thnah Al-Shahm, one of the neighborhoods of Old Damascus and studied at the National Scientific College School in Damascus between 1930 and 1941. The school was owned and run by his father's friend, Ahmad Munif al-Aidi. He later studied law at Damascus University, which was called Syrian University until 1958. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in law in 1945.While a student in college he wrote his first collection of poems entitled The Brunette Told Me, which he published in 1942. It was a collection of romantic verses that made several startling references to a woman's body, sending shock waves throughout the conservative society in Damascus. To make it more acceptable, Qabbani showed it to Munir al-Ajlani, the minister of education who was also a friend of his father and a leading nationalist leader in Syria. Ajlani liked the poems and endorsed them by writing the preface for Nizar's first book.

Diplomatic career

After graduating from law school, Qabbani worked for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, serving as Consul or cultural attaché in several capital cities, including Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Madrid, and London. In 1959, when the United Arab Republic was formed, Qabbani was appointed Vice-Secretary of the UAR for its embassies in China. He wrote extensively during these years and his poems from China were some of his finest. He continued to work in diplomacy until he tendered his resignation in 1966. By that time, he had established a publishing house in Beirut, which carried his name.

Poetic influences

When Qabbani was 15, his sister, who was 25 at the time, committed suicide because she refused to marry a man she did not love. During her funeral he decided to fight the social conditions he saw as causing her death. When asked whether he was a revolutionary, the poet answered: “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.” He is known as one of the most feminist and progressive intellectuals of his time.The city of Damascus remained a powerful muse in his poetry, most notably in the Jasmine Scent of Damascus. The 1967 Six-Day War also influenced his poetry and his lament for the Arab cause. The defeat marked a qualitative shift in Qabbani's work – from erotic love poems to poems with overt political themes of rejectionism and resistance. For instance, his poem Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat, a stinging self-criticism of Arab inferiority, drew anger from both the right and left sides of the Arab political dialogue.

Personal life


Qabbani had two sisters, Wisal and Haifa; he also had three brothers: Mu'taz, Rashid, and Sabah. The latter, Sabah Qabbani, was the most famous after Nizar, becoming director of Syrian radio and TV in 1960 and Syria's ambassador to the United States in the 1980s.

Nizar Qabbani's father, Tawfiq Qabbani, was Syrian while his mother was of Turkish descent. His father had a chocolate factory; he also helped support fighters resisting the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon and was imprisoned many times for his views, greatly affecting the upbringing of Nizar into a revolutionary in his own right. Qabbani's grandfather, Abu Khalil Qabbani, was one of the leading innovators in Arab dramatic literature.

The family name, Qabbani, is derived from Qabban (Arabic: قبان) which means Steelyard balance.


Nizar Qabbani married twice in his life. His first wife was his cousin Zahra Aqbiq; together they had a daughter, Hadba, and a son, Tawfiq. Tawfiq died due to a heart attack when he was 22 years old when he was in London. Qabbani eulogized his son in the famous poem "To the Legendary Damascene, Prince Tawfiq Qabbani". Zahra Aqbiq died in 2007. His daughter Hadba, born in 1947, was married twice, and lived in London until her death in April 2009.His second marriage was to an Iraqi woman named Balqis al-Rawi, a schoolteacher he met at a poetry recital in Baghdad; she was killed in the 1981 Iraqi embassy bombing in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War on 15 December 1981. Her death had a severe psychological effect on Qabbani; he expressed his grief in his famous poem "Balqis", blaming the entire Arab world for her death. Together they had a son, Omar, and a daughter, Zainab. After the death of Balqis, Qabbani did not marry again.

Late life and death

After the death of Balqis, Qabbani left Beirut. He was moving between Geneva and Paris, eventually settling in London, where he spent the last 15 years of his life. Qabbani continued to write poems and raise controversies and arguments. Notable controversial poems from this period in his life include When Will They Announce the Death of Arabs? and Runners.

In 1997, Nizar Qabbani suffered from poor health and briefly recovered from his sickness in late 1997. A few months later, at the age of 75, Nizar Qabbani died in London on 30 April 1998 of a heart attack. In his will, which he wrote in his hospital bed in London, Nizar Qabbani wrote that he wished to be buried in Damascus, which he described in his will as "the womb that taught me poetry, taught me creativity and granted me the alphabet of Jasmine." Nizar Qabbani was buried in Damascus four days later in Bab al-Saghir. Qabbani was mourned by Arabs all over the world, with news broadcasts highlighting his illustrious literary career.

Awards and tributes

1992–1993 Al Owais Award for Cultural & Scientific Achievements.

On 21 March 2016, Google celebrated his 93rd birthday with a Google Doodle.



Qabbani began writing poetry when he was 16 years old; at his own expense, Qabbani published his first book of poems, entitled The Brunette Told Me (قالت لي السمراء), while he was a law student at the University of Damascus in 1944.

Over the course of a half-century, Qabbani wrote 34 other books of poetry, including:

Childhood of a Breast (1948) طفولة نهد

Samba (1949) سامبا

You Are Mine (1950) أنت لي

Poems (1956) قصائد

My Beloved (1961) حبيبتي

Drawing with Words (1966) الرسم بالكلمات

Diary of an Indifferent Woman (1968) يوميات امرأة لا مبالية

Savage Poems (1970) قصائد متوحشة

Book of Love (1970) كتاب الحب

100 Love Letters (1970) مئة رسالة حب

Poems Against The Law (1972) أشعار خارجة على القانون

I Love You, and the Rest is to Come (1978) أحبك أحبك و البقية تأتي

To Beirut the Feminine, With My Love (1978) إلى بيروت الأنثى مع حبي

May You Be My Love For Another Year (1978) كل عام وأنت حبيبتي

I Testify That There Is No Woman But you (1979) أشهد أن لا امرأة إلا أنت

Secret Diaries of Baheyya the Egyptian (1979) اليوميات السرية لبهية المصرية

I Write the History of Woman Like So (1981) هكذا أكتب تاريخ النساء

The Lover's Dictionary (1981) قاموس العاشقين

A Poem For Balqis (1982) قصيدة بلقيس

Love Does Not Stop at Red Lights (1985) الحب لا يقف على الضوء الأحمر

Insane Poems (1985)أشعار مجنونة

Poems Inciting Anger (1986) قصائد مغضوب عليها

Love Shall Remain My Lord (1987) سيبقى الحب سيدي

The Trilogy of the Children of the Stones (1988) ثلاثية أطفال الحجارة

Secret Papers of a Karmathian Lover (1988) الأوراق السرية لعاشق قرمطي

Biography of an Arab Executioner (1988) السيرة الذاتية لسياف عربي

I Married You, Liberty! (1988) تزوجتك أيتها الحرية

A Match in My Hand , And Your Petty Paper Nations (1989) الكبريت في يدي ودويلاتكم من ورق

No Victor Other Than Love (1989) لا غالب إلا الحب

Do You Hear the Cry of My Sadness? (1991) هل تسمعين صهيل أحزاني ؟

Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat (1991) هوامش على دفتر النكسة

I'm One Man and You are a Tribe of Women (1992) أنا رجل واحد وأنت قبيلة من النساء

Fifty Years of Praising Women (1994) خمسون عاما في مديح النساء

Nizarian Variations of Arabic Maqam of Love (1995) تنويعات نزارية على مقام العشق

Alphabet of Jasmine (1998) أبجدية الياسمين

Other works

He also composed many works of prose, such as My Story with Poetry قصتي مع الشعر, What Poetry Is ما هو الشعر, and Words Know Anger الكلمات تعرف الغضب, On Poetry, Sex, and Revolution عن الشعر والجنس والثورة, Poetry is a Green Lantern الشعر قنديل أخضر, Birds Don't Require a Visa العصافير لا تطلب تأشيرة دخول, I Played Perfectly and Here are my Keys لعبت بإتقان وها هي مفاتيحي and The Woman in My Poetry and My Life المرأة في شعري وفي حياتي, as well as one play named Republic of Madness Previously Lebanon جمهورية جنونستان لبنان سابقا and lyrics of many famous songs of celebrated Arab singers, including:

Mohammed Abdel Wahab (Ayazon: does he think?)

Abdel Halim Hafez (Qareat Alfinjan: The cup reader)

Fairuz (La Tasaalouny: Don't Ask Me)

Kadhim Al-Sahir (Madrasat Alhob: School of Love)

Umm Kulthum (Alan Endi Bondoqyah: Now I Have Rifle)

Latifa (Talomony Aldunia: The universe blames me)

Majida El Roumi (Beirut Sit Aldunia: Lady of universe Beirut)

Asalah (Egdhab kama Tashaa: Get angry as you may)

Najat Al Saghira (Matha Aqool Laho?: What shall I say to him?)

Nancy Ajram (Ila Beirut aluntha: To the feminine Beirut )And his verses would remain popular after his death, and put to song by Arab pop-music stars such as Kazem al-Saher and Latifa. However, such songs were introduced after filtering the original poems.

Other languages

Many of Qabbani's poems have also been translated into English and other foreign languages, both individually and as collections of selected works. Some of these collections include:

English"On Entering the Sea" (1998)

"Arabian Love Poems" (1998), translated by Bassam Frangieh and Clementina R. Brown

"Republic of Love" (2002), translated by Nayef al-Kalali

"Journal of An Indifferent Woman" (2015), translated by George Nicolas El-Hage, PhDItalian"Poesie", a cura di G. Canova, M.A. De Luca, P. Minganti, A. Pellitteri, Istituto per l’Oriente, Roma 1976.

"Il fiammifero è in mano mia e le vostre piccole nazioni sono di carta e altri versi", a cura di V. Colombo, San Marco dei Giustiniani, Genova 2001.

"Il libro dell’amore", traduzione di M. Avino, in Antologia della letteratura araba contemporanea. Dalla nahda a oggi, a cura di M. Avino, I. Camera d’Afflitto, Alma Salem, Carocci, Roma 2015, pp. 116–117.

"Le mie poesie più belle", traduzione dall’arabo a cura di N. Salameh e S. Moresi, postfazione di P. Caridi, Jouvence, Milano 2016.NepaliMany of Qabbani's poems have been translated into Nepali by Suman Pokhrel, and are collected in an anthology tilled Manpareka Kehi Kavita.

HindiMany of Qabbani's poems are translated into Hindi by Siddheshwar Singh, Arpana Manoj, Manoj Patel, Rinu Talwar and other translators.

RussianEvgeniy Dyakonov wrote his PhD thesis on the translation of Nizar Qabbani's poetry into Russian; Dyakonov's translations were published by Biblos Consulting, Moscow, in 2007.

See also

List of Arabic-language poets


The life and times of Nizar Qabbani, The Nation, Faizan Ali Warraich, 10-October-2018,

External links

Official website

Nizar Qabbani's books (in Arabic)

English Translation for some poems of Nizar Qabbani

Nizar Qabbani poems in Arabic

English translations of Nizar Qabbani poems

Qabbani in English at Poems Found in Translation

English translations of selected Qabbani works

Thoughts Inspired by PBS’s Two-Sentence Report on The Death of Syrian Poet Nizar Qabbani By Salman M. Hilmy, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 1998, pages 74–76

Nizar Qabbani Poems on

Nizar Qabbani Poems in The Other Voices International Project

English translations of Qabbani's poems I Decided, At Zero and I wrote on the wind.

English translation of Marginal Notes on the Book of Defeat

NYT article about Dec 1981 bomb attack on Iraqi Embassy in Beirut:

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