Saif al Rahbi is amongst Oman’s most well-known and prominent contemporary poets. Born in 1956, he lived abroad during his youth for over two decades.
Seeking knowledge and occasionally practicing journalism, he moved into a number of Arabian and Western cities, such as Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Paris, London, Amsterdam and Bonn.
Upon his return to Oman, he founded a quarterly cultural magazine 'Nizwa'. At its outset, the magazine showcased (and still does) articles, research studies, reviews, translations and literary works, both fiction and prose.
Drawing upon his exposure to these cultural centres and upon the Arabic cultural and literary heritage, Al Rahbi has played a pioneering role in ushering in a new poetic diction in Oman. Formally, he champions a form of poetry free from traditional musical patterns and a vocabulary accessible to a wide audience. Thematically, he elevates the everyday, the common and the down-to-earth by bestowing upon the small details of life subtle philosophical touches.
He’s published a number of poetry collections such as Jabal Akhdar (1981), One Knife Is Hardly Enough for Slaughtering a ِSparrow (1988) and The Soldier that Saw the Bird in His Sleep (2000). He has won several regional awards (including the highly prestigious Sultan Qaboos Award for Culture, Arts and Letters). He still supervises the magazine in his capacity as its editor-in-chief.
At the beginning of every day
As I pluck out my first steps
To the jungle
The east dawns from my blood
Like a strange sun
I see horses rushing
With manes touching the sky.
(To Imro al Qais)
A night you can't cut with a saw
Or arrest in a cup
A foxy, moody night
It sometimes seems like a clown before a crowd
And slips sleekly like a bridegroom's fur
The night of diviners and truck drivers
Hasn't yet loosened its curtains
But insidiously made its creatures gossip
Strangers loom on their sea-facing balconies
Ships sink in sailors' memory.
An unassailable night
A rugged night
It's loosened its curtains on the world's neck.
This man who takes us to his distant lands
Unfolds on his bed and the table
The heaps of faces and places
Traces the borders of his days
Hill after hill
A tower, a deserted village, a city devoured by war
Bites on an apple, smokes, remembering:
The graveyard of his grandparents
His mother in rags sleeping between sand dunes
The glass grabbed by hands
Before he sips its dregs and sleeps.
The wind hisses outside like a wolf
(Truly, he'd seen a wolf-pack in childhood)
The stranger heaps on his table faces and destinies
Tries to write
O soul of winged carriages
O soul of rains and dawn's trains
The soul of a stranger weeping at the start of the road!
A man living in a bag
His feet are crossways
At every cross there's a gloomy sky.
He once on a horizon saw ewes
Remembered his grandfather
Lit a candle in a cave
Kept roaming around
Century after century
Till his shadow cracked
And his days overflowed with tears.
A Special Sky
This eagle that redesigns the sky
Along with his peculiar mood
Sometimes stoops to see
The beauty of the painting he drew away from God.
With a beak carrying storms like rabbits
Sways into ecstasy and memory:
A spring where he descended with his mate
Plains and valleys he crossed with an old friend
Peaks of the Himalayas
And Jabal Alakhdar (2).
Dreaming of eagles to fill solitude's expanse.
The sky's wild scapegoat remembers too the glory of his personal wars
And offspring on the edge of extinction.