“Canticles of the life” by Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

This article is also available in: Italiano

The Tunisian poet par excellence, Aboul-Qacem Echebbi has confirmed himself over the years as a true soul of the land of Tunis, coming to represent his country and the entire Maghreb. Some verses of him are even present in the Tunisian anthem.

Canticles of the life

Canticles of the life – for the first time in Italian – are the masterpiece of Aboul-Qacem Echebbi (1909 – 1934), the greatest Tunisian poet of the twentieth century, renowned and appreciated throughout the Arab world, yet extremely uncomfortable and opposed in his own milieu of origin. Ash-Shabbi was kept in the shadows for many decades, almost unpresentable, having dared to criticize and contest, with rare audacity, the backwardness and limitations of the culture and customs of his time in Tunisia and in other Arab countries, with words that are still very current.

Abu Qasim ash-Shabbi

“People do not appreciate the living ones, except to repent when they die! Woe to the people comes from their own desires! The more time passes, the stronger the sea wind blows.” Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

He was even openly accused by some of having suffered the satanic charm of the West. The brave rebellion of the Maghreb writer is also present in his famous essay “The poetic imaginary of the Arabs”.

Against immobility

At the same time hated and adored by critics, the young Tunisian poet managed to gain a role of incredible value in Tunisian literature, thanks to an initiative that often proved lethal. As already mentioned, in fact, he often and willingly sided against the immobility of the Tunisian society of the time, reproaching his compatriots for excessive nostalgia for the past. According to Shabbi, in fact, the Arab world at the time had almost stopped, still too in love with the glories of the past to be able to innovate.

“If a person’s soul is small, his dream will also be tiny, then he will not tire or suffer; but whoever has great ambitions will be welcomed by life with the ferocity of a lion.” Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

This condition, however, almost suffocates the poet who, precisely by reaction, begins to write down his frustration, lighting the hearth of a cultural revolt destined to grow more and more with the passing of the years. Shabbi is in fact one of the first to realize the end of “the golden age of the Arab world”, his intent is, consequently, to wake up, not to criticize his own people. Precisely for this reason, there will be no problems in using both forms linked to tradition and others linked to the “Western world”.

Maghrebian landmark

His innovation, and the topics dealt with, immediately led him to be considered one of the country’s symbolic poets, a condition that will consolidate over time, making him a point of reference for many other Maghreb writers. A clearer example of this is to be found in Mohamed Choukri’s “For Bread Alone”, the work that, in a certain sense, was more than all conditioned by the poet’s work. In fact, in his autobiography, the Moroccan author tells us how, desperate and without any good, Shabbi’s poems helped him rise from his ashes, writing his own destiny for the first time, literally. Choukri at the time was even illiterate and the verses of the Tunisian prompted him for the first time to deepen reading and writing.

Bust of the poet in Raʾs al-ʿAyn (Ras El Aïn), Tozeur

“If one day the people want to live, fate will have to go along with them, the night must dissipate and the chains must break.” Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

The “Arab springs” then ensured that, even in our century, this author can be appreciated and studied. In fact, his verses praising the liberation of the people from chains are very strong, a text that became flesh in 2011. Not only recent rediscoveries, the role of Shabbi in Tunisian history was so strong that the latter even composed some lines of the national anthem , forever consolidating in the imagination of its people.

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