May, the first Sindebada

I have always heard about May Ziadeh. Many talked about mental status, why she wasn’t married, her platonic relationship with Jubran Khalil Jubran… etc. And when I was interested to learn more about the whirling dervishes here in Cairo, I heard that she had an interview with them and it was published in el ahram most probably in the 1930’s! (I am trying to hunt for this piece, but so far reached nothing) …. I heard so many things, but still, for me, she remained a mysterious figure. I saw some of her pictures, and by the way I think she looked pretty with her expressive eyes and calm composure. Then, at last I read a couple of articles she wrote… WOW. what an amazing mind! her style is beautiful. Her passion for knowledge and her concern with Oriental women are beyong inspiring……She is a very special woman. was born in Palestine to a Lebanese father and a Palestinian mother on February 11 in 1886. Her family moved to Egypt in 1908 (she was 22 years old). She was particularly interested in learning languages. She was also known in the Arab literacy circles, receiving famous writers like Taha Hussein,  Khalil Moutrane, Loutfi as-Sayed, Antoun Gemayel, Abbas Akkad,,, She maintained a correspondence with Gibran from 1912 till his death in 1931 (they never met in person!!!). (wikipedia)

In the course of time, a thick tissue of legends has been woven around her.  The historical relevance of May Ziadeh, the salonnière, got lost in mere anecdotes and appraisals of contemporaries and the myth of the fallen muse, once established, predominated to such an extent as to nearly obliterate the image of the prolific early female writer.  Still to be contemplated is a serious discussion of May Ziadeh’s contribution to the emancipation and modernization of Arabic literature during the most crucial period of al-nahda, a period of extensive social and cultural change in which her salon served as a forum for the intellectual avant-garde of Egypt and beyond.” May Ziadeh Rediscovered 

Her works were written and published largely in Arabic, apart from a poem composed under the pen name Isis Copia in 1912, entitled, “Fleurs de Reve.”

The titles of her works in Arabic include:

Al Bâhithat el-Bâdiyat (Beginning Female Researchers)
Sawâneh fatât (Platters of Crumbs)
Zulumât wa Achi’ât (Humiliation and Rumors…)
Kalimât wa Ichârât (Words and Signs)
Al Saha’ef {The Newspapers)
Ghayat Al-Hayât (The Meaning of Life)
Al-Mûsawât (Equality)
Bayna l-Jazri wa l-Madd (Between the Ebb and Flow)

By chance I discovered her last book (بين المد و الجزر) in my family’s library! I was so excited about it,, I started reading it yesterday and I really like it. The book is dated 1924. She wrote her first name only,,, just May!

I found an interesting website with parts of her articles. I advise you to read el sindebada el bahareya el thaneya 🙂 I really liked it, especially the part she is talking about the moment of departure:

عذبةٌ ساعة السفر بما فيها من المرارة بنت الفراق والوداع. ولكم اعتليتُ سطوح السفن وهي على وشك الرحيل. أنظرُ إِلي الثغور وإِلي ما وراءها من مروج وجبالٍ ومدنٍ, وإِلي ما يتخلل هذه من آثار مخلّدة المجد لا تزيدها نوائب الزمان إِلاَّ عظمة وجلالاً. أنظرُ إِلي كل هذا الذي لا يُري وكأني بتأمُّلى فيهِ أفقدُ إِحساسى بذاتى وبما يحيط بى. حتى إِذا ما رفعتْ السفينةُ أثقالها, وشدّت حبالها, وضمّت إِليها مرساها, ومضت في مسيرها تشق المياه العميقة انطلقتْ من نفسي صلاةٌ حارَّة: (يا مصر حنّى علينا بالرجوع إِليكِ!). وإذا كنتُ مودّعةً سوريا ناجيتُ الوطن القديم قائلة: (إِلي الملتقى يا سوريا الحبيبة الجميلة!). وما وصلتُ عرض البحر إِلاّ صرتُ كلّى غنيمةً شاردة لا يقيّدني مطلبٌ ولا مطمع, ترعى في نفسي الأحلام, وينبهني قلبًا وعقلاً التأثيرُ المنطلق من تلك الأناشيد المستديمة التي لا تفتأ تعزفها البحار في الفجر وفي الغروب, في النور وفي الظلام.

I will finish my post with Jibran words in a letter dated 7th February 1919:

“Do you know, my friend, that I used to find solace, companionship and comfort in our much interrupted dialogues? And do you know that I used to tell myself: “There is, in the distant East, a maiden who is not like other maidens, who has entered the temple even before she was born, has stood in the Holiest of Holies, and has come to know the sublime secret guarded by the “giants of the dawn.” She has since adopted my country as her country and has taken my people as her people”?



2 responses to “May, the first Sindebada

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