The poet Naim Araidi 1950 – 2015 passed away last Friday, October 2nd. I love his poetry, especially the poems about the land and his home at the Druze village of Maghar in the North of Israel.Those poems are so vivid, that I could see the sights and almost smell the special scent of za’atar in the Galilee air.
In the late 1980s, I translated several of his poems into English and in 1990, two of them appeared in the prestigious journal Translation (volume 23, Spring 1990).
On Friday, when I heard about Araidi’s untimely death, I meant to present here, in my blog, some of those translations. For that end, I consulted Google to refresh my memory about his career and to see what has happened since 1990.
Some of the details of his biography I remembered well, for example, the fact that he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the poetry of Uri Zvi Greenberg in Hebrew Literature. At the time, it intrigued me that a Druze from the Galilee would choose to devote so much time and effort to a right wing poet, the hero of the Revisionist movement, and one of Jabotinsky’s favorites.
I also wondered whether Araidi wasn’t bothered by all that blood and excessive force in Greenberg’s poems, for example:
“Your Rabbis taught: A land is bought with money
You buy the land and work it with a hoe.
And I say: A land is not bought with money
And with a hoe you also dig and bury the dead.
And I say: A land is conquered with blood.
And only when conquered with blood is hallowed to the people
With the holiness of the blood.”
(From One Truth and Not Two
translated by Laurence Cramer)
Apparently Araidi was able to separate between Greenberg the man, and his ideology, and the literary merit of his poetry. On the other hand, on Friday, after I had discovered some new and disturbing information about Araidi’s biography, I was unable to do the same.
In 2012, although he had no prior experience, Araidi was appointed by Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister at that time, to be the Israeli ambassador to Norway. Unfortunately, in 2014, he was called back to Israel, and had to resign his post, because of allegations of sexual harassment.
It was shocking to read that the man who saw his mission as an ambassador to “build bridges between Israelis and Norwegians” could abuse this position and harass women who were in subordinate positions at the embassy.
In spite of my previous admiration to Araidi’s poetry, rereading poems such as “My Wife” (“You hoped that I/would grow up/and be a/husband who is not such/a poet ) gains another more sinister meaning. So why didn’t the poet grow up? Does being a poet mean that you take liberties and do whatever you want?
Araidi’s fall is sad, and I am angry at him, not only because of what he did to women, but because he ruined his poetry for me. I know that I will never be able to simply enjoy his poems again.
But, to be fair, I cannot end this post without some taste of Araidi’s poetry, so here is a short poem in my translation:
If only we were
on our way and spoke our language
And rode on a camel
And were hungry and thirsty
And made love
And that’s all
(From Translation, vol 23, p. 230)