Arabic Translation Workshop

After publishing Adham Smart’s translations of Moroccan poet Adil Latefi’s work in the Summer issue of MPT, The Illuminated Paths: Focus on Poets of the Maghreb, we are looking forward to hearing Adil read during our mini-tour of Maghreb poets in September, in London and at the Contains Strong Language festival in Hull. We have been asked to run a ‘Translation Lab’ workshop in Hull on Saturday 28th 13:00 – 15:00, with our editor Clare Pollard and Adil Latefi working with participants to create a new translation of this poem, ‘Debate’.

It would be wonderful to see you there, but if you can’t make it to Hull there is also a chance to participate online. The translator John Peate has very kindly given us this literal translation along with notes so that you can have a go yourself beforehand – we’ll be sharing the best during the workshop, and hope to talk about them on The Verb that weekend. Or you can participate in ‘real time’! Our digital editor Ed will also be tweeting live from @MPTmagazine at the event on the 28th at from 13:00 – 15:00, so if you have any questions for Adil do send them to us on Twitter.

Please submit your translations to this workshop by October 1st.


Workshop closed for entries

Original Poem


Original poem by ADIL LATEFI


في الجَدَلِ النازلِ
بيْنَ النارِ و بيْنَ فَراشَة :

حُمرَةُ خدَّيْكِ الفِكرَة
بَسْمَتُكِ نَقيضْ
و القُبْلَةُ تَرْكِيبٌ ناريٌّ لَهُما

فِي الجَدَلِ الصَّاعِدِ
بَيْنَ النّارِ وَ بَيْنَ فَرَاشَة :

لاَ شَيْءَ سِوَى عيْنيْك
عيناكِ سماءْ
عيْناكِ المُطْلَقْ

Literal Translation


Literal translation by JOHN PEATE


In the falling debate
between the fire/hell and a butterfly/moth:

the redness of your cheeks [is] the idea
your smile is [an] opposite/contradiction/antithesis
and the kiss is a fiery assembly/instrument of them both

in the rising debate
between the fire/hell and a butterfly/moth:

[there is] nothing but your eyes
your eyes [are] sky/heaven
Your eyes [are] the absolute

Help on translating this poem

A literal translation is provided on this page, along with notes from the translator John Peate, to help you create a version of the piece in English. We welcome all kinds of translation – versions which cleave to the original and render it as ‘faithfully’ as possible as well as ‘freer’ translations.

You can also read more poetry by Adil Latefi in MPT The Illuminated Paths: Focus on Poets of the Maghreb. Adil Latefi’s poem ‘Laughing Blue’, published in MPT The Illuminated Pathsis available to read on the MPT website, alongside further notes by translator Adham Smart.

About Adil Latefi and John Peate

ADIL LATEFI (1983) from Fez is considered a leading voice in the new generation of Moroccan zajal poets. He published his first collection Views of the Mind in 2013, his second, Snowfire, was a collaboration with zajal poet Abderrazak Boukebba. He won the inaugural Guerçif Prize for Zajal Literature.

JOHN PEATE is a UK-based professional translator and media analyst who has taught in a number of universities. Among many other works, he has translated Ezzedine Choukri Fishere’s novel Embrace on Brooklyn Bridge.


Notes from the translator

  • As a General note, his poem is written entirely in formal Classical Arabic. There is a clear division in the Arabic-speaking world between Classical and even standard Modern Arabic on the one hand and the vernacular dialects of each community on the other. Some artists chose nowadays to write in the vernacular or to even blend the formal with the vernacular. While English does not have such a division to quite that extent, the fact that the writer has chosen classical language to express himself ought to be taken into account in translation. The poem is also evidently written with economy of language in short lines. There is some parallelism in the rhythm of the original. The first and third stanzas are made up of two lines (three syllables/four syllables); the second and fourth stanzas are made up of three lines with the first two in each case being (three syllables/two syllables). However, the third line in stanza 2 has six syllables, while the third line in stanza 4 has four. 
  • There is ambiguity as to whether to use the indefinite article in the title (‘a debate’) since formal Arabic does not have such an article. The Arabic word ‘jadal’ here has a range of possible translations each with different connotations (quarrel, argument, controversy, debate, discussion).
  • Please note that the obliques (fire/hell and so on) are not in the original text but are used to represent possible translation alternatives
  • In the first line I have translated the word as ‘falling’ and I suspect it is meant as such to contrast with the ‘rising’ in stanza three. The Arabic word ‘nāzil’ can also be translated – and in fact, more often is – as ‘living, resident’.
  • The Arabic word can apply to both butterfly or moth, but the alternative translations in English obviously have different resonances/associations. The Arabic word ‘farasha’ can also be used metaphorically to describe a flighty, fickle person. 
  • The Arabic word ‘an-nār’ can be translated as ‘the fire’ in the ordinary sense but is also one of a number of established expressions in Arabic for Hell in the theological sense.
  • Similarly the word for ‘sky’ is also an established expression for ‘heaven’.
  • The Arabic word ‘tarkīb’ is highly polysemous and can mean ‘arrangement, instrument, device, assemblage’ as well. The full noun-adjective phrase ‘tarkīb nārī’ here could be translated as ‘firearm’
  • The last line could just possibly mean ‘your eyes [are] the absolute’ though not in strictly formal Arabic.