Samih al-Qasim: "While I Walk"

One of my favorite songs of Marcel Khalife's is " منتصب قامتي أمشي " -- the words, by Samih al-Qasim, of course. Going back over his work this past week, I am struck by how important death was to his writing and thinking. It's easy to think of this song as a nationalist ballad, glorifying sacrifice, death the redeemer. Yet, listen to this song next to other nationalist songs -- or contemporary jihadist ballads -- and the differences show clear. Also, Khalife arranged this as a duet between a men's chorus and a women's chorus, back and forth. Death here is much sadder than in most songs about revolution, and the struggle for life against death reduced to a set of stark images -- an olive branch, a coffin, a red moon, a garden, rain and fire. 

Here are the words:

آه آه آه آه.... 
منتصبَ القامةِ أمشي مرفوع الهامة أمشي 
في كفي قصفة زيتونٍ وعلى كتفي نعشي 
وأنا أمشي وأنا أمشي.... 
قلبي قمرٌ أحمر قلبي بستان 
فيه فيه العوسج فيه الريحان 
شفتاي سماءٌ تمطر نارًا حينًا حبًا أحيان.... 
في كفي قصفة زيتونٍ وعلى كتفي نعشي 
وأنا أمشي وأنا أمشي

Translated, this falls flat:

Strong of stature, I walk. Head raised high, I walk.

A burst of olive in one hand, and my funeral bier on my shoulder...

The power of the poem/song lies in the repeated refrain "and I walk," whose punch comes the work being done by the letter " و " (waw). As any student of Arabic knows, "waw" means "and" though in this particular construction -- followed by an imperfective verb -- it describes an action that is ongoing, what is called a "hal clause." "Waw" means "and," but here it is better translated as "while." The refrain affirms the action of walking onwards, standing tall, carrying peace and death at the same time. It also suggests that the hero is walking on despite everything else. This sense of "carrying on despite all this" is how the song/poem articulates its unique sense of resistance, contained within the single letter "waw."