Fadwa Tuqan has taken her place as one of the most important poets of the 20th century and one of the most beloved Arab poets of all time. A legend in her own time, schoolchildren across the Arab world memorized her verse as soon as it was published. She embodied a politically turbulent time and expressions of loss and dispossession became emblematic of much of her poetry. Fadwa Tuqan introduced me to A Prayer to the New Year two years before her death in 2003. The poem has stuck with me for the better part of a decade. It’s one of Tuqan’s most simple, beautiful and lyrical works.
Some of Tuqan’s work can be terribly bitter but in all of the tumult and turmoil, A Prayer to the New Year expresses hope and aspiration with the same defiance and passion as her darkest poems. The work opens with the clamorous sounding of bells that my teta (Arabic for grandmother) described to me as resounding through the air from Jerusalem to Nablus (Tuqan’s hometown) to Bethlehem at Christmas-time and into the New Year. The first song ends with a repeated question of what is to come and hopeful anticipation for the best.
The second song is filled with an excited, exultant sense of the power of love while the third, showcasing the darker mezzo-soprano sound, repeats the plea for love as it hints at the devastation of the surrounding world.
The final song is a prayer to be raised on the wings of angels from the darkest depths to the heights of joy. It answers the questions of the first song with resounding affirmation, piercing light and, above all, defiance in the face of despair.
— Mohammed Fairouz (2012)
In our hands is a fresh yearning for you,
in our eyes songs of praise and unique melodies,
into your hand as choral offerings we will thrust them.
O you who emerge as a sweet fountain of hope,
O you who are rich with promise and desire.
What is in store for us that you hold?
What have you got?
Give us love, for with love the treasures of bounty within us burst forth…
With love our songs will grow green and will flower
and will spring with gifts
Give us love, so we may build the collapsed universe within us anew
the joy of fertility to our barren world.
Give us wings to open the horizons of ascent,
to break free from our confined cavern, the solitude
of iron walls.
Give us light, to pierce the deepest darkness
and with the strength of its brilliant flow
we will push our steps to a precipice
from which to reap life’s victories.
— Fadwa Tuqan