Faces & TracesAl-Baradoni, the last great Arab classical poet [Archives:2007/1106/Culture]

November 26 2007

Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Yemeni poet, intellectual and writer Abdullah Saleh Al-Baradoni was born in Dhamar governorate's Al-Baradon village in 1929. Having contracted smallpox at age 4, by age 6, he had lost his vision entirely.

After receiving his preliminary education at his village's kuttab, where he memorized a third of the Qur'an, he moved to Al-Mahalla village in 1935 to live with his sister.

In 1938, he went to Dhamar city to complete memorizing and studying the intonation of the Qur'an, attending Al-Shamsia School, where he studied jurisprudence, Arabic grammar and other sciences. Al-Baradoni spent nearly 10 years in Dhamar city, during which time he began writing poetry at age 13, in addition to obtaining a certificate in sheikhdom from Al-Shamsia School.

Like many other Yemenis, Al-Baradoni suffered social, political and economic tragedies during Imamate rule in Yemen. He satirized the regime in some of his poems, which were published and distributed as confidential pamphlets. In 1948, he was arrested and imprisoned for nine months at Dhamar city's Al-Qashla Prison.

After his release, Al-Baradoni moved to Sana'a where he continued his religious studies at the Great Mosque, after which he attended the House of Sciences in Sana'a, obtaining a certificate in Islamic law and Arabic Language Sciences in 1953, the same year he was appointed an Arabic literature lecturer at his alma mater.

Al-Baradoni practiced law from 1954 to 1956, arguing court cases related to divorced women; consequently, he was dubbed, “The Divorcees' Lawyer.”

Following the outbreak of the 1962 revolution in Yemen, Al-Baradoni was assigned to Sana'a Radio and began writing his weekly program, “Majallat Al-Fikr wa Al-Adab” (“The Magazine of Thought and Literature”), which was broadcast until his death in 1999. He was appointed manager of Sana'a Radio in 1969, as well as being a cultural supervisor for The Army Magazine from 1969 to 1975.

For political reasons, he was removed from his governmental position at Sana'a Radio in 1970 when he was elected the first president of the Yemeni Authors and Writers Union. However, he returned to Sana'a Radio as program manager until 1980. He also was a member of the advisory council for The Culture Magazine and The New Yemen magazine.

Al-Baradoni is described as the last great Arab classical poet who versed and renewed classical rhymed poetry. With 12 poetic divans (a collection of poems, especially Arabic poetry) and eight published books on contemporary cultural, political and social Yemeni history, he also has hundreds of essays, studies and research comprising a great cultural and literary encyclopedia.

His first divan was 1961's “Min Ardh Bilqis” (“From the Land of Bilqis”) published by the Supreme Council for Arts and Literature in Egypt. It was dedicated to supporting Palestine and denouncing colonization and Zionism.

Al-Baradoni's second divan, “Fi Tariq Al-Fajr” (“On the Dawn's Way,” 1965), represented the Baradonic renewal of the classical form of rhymed poetry. The third divan of his works entitled, “Madinat Al-Ghad” (“The City of Tomorrow,” 1970) was where he dreamed of a utopian society characterized by love, peace and sympathy.

His other poetic divans include: “For the Eyes of Bilqis's Mother” (1972), “Smoky Faces in the Night's Mirrors” (1977), “The Ages' Reply” (1991) and his last divan, “The Return of the Wise Man, Ibn Zayed” (1994).

Among Al-Baradoni's other literary and critical books is “A Journey through Ancient and Modern Yemeni Poetry” (1972), which is a historical study of the development and deterioration in Yemeni culture and literature summarizing Yemen's poetic period from the pre-Islamic age until modern times.

His other books include “The Art of Popular Literature in Yemen” (1982) and “From the First Poem to the Last Shot” (1993), which is a study of Mohammed Al-Zubairi's poetry. Al-Baradoni's last work was 1994's “Ashtaat” (“Fragments”).

Al-Baradoni's works translated into English include “The Popular Culture” and “20 Selected Poems,” in addition to his poetic divans translated into French, “La Ville de Demain” and “Le Yemen Republicain.”

Al-Baradoni also has unpublished works, such as his novel, “Uncle Maimon,” which he mentioned in interviews, the poetic divan, “Love in the Moon's Harbors,” and “Al-Baradoni's Autobiography,” which is considered the largest book he ever wrote.

Al-Baradoni received numerous local and Arab literary awards. He received his first Arab award during his first appearance outside of Yemen in 1971 when he participated in the Abu Tammam Poetic Festival in Mosul, northern Iraq, by reciting his famous poem, “Abu Tammam and the Arabism of Today.”

He won the award at Cairo's 1981 Shawqi and Hafiz Poetic Festival, as well as the 1983 Jerash Poetic Festival in Jordan. He also won the 1993 Al-Awais Cultural Award for poetry.

In his Yemeni homeland, Aden granted Al-Baradoni its Medal of Literature and Arts in 1982, followed by the capital city of Sana'a awarding him the same medal in 1983. Additionally, UNESCO minted a silver coin in 1982 bearing Al-Baradoni's portrait as a disabled individual who overcame his disability via his literary career.

On August 30, 1999, Al-Baradoni passed away on his 70th birthday, after immortalizing his name as one of the 20th century's greatest and most famous Arab poets. He was a blind genius who enriched Arabic literature with his distinctive works and his great poetic masterpieces.