The Romantics and the Orient: What English Poetry owes to the Middle East

Samar Attar in Informed Comment:

Borrowed-imagination-british-romantic-poets-their-arabic-islamic-samar-attar-hardcover-cover-artMany times I have asked myself how can I concentrate on the British Romantic Poets when people in Syria, the country of my birth, have been killing each other for the last four years, supposedly in the name of liberty and freedom? Thousands of men, women and children have been killed, maimed, or made homeless. Historical monuments that stood there for centuries were erased from the ground. Was I trying desperately to forget my misery and immerse myself in a mythical world? If so, I did not entirely succeed.

Ironically, even in the poetry of the Romantics, I cannot escape the haunting images of past such paroxysms of violence in my homeland. Coleridge much admired Hulagu,the brother of Kublai Khan (the Mongol Emperor of China), but Syrians remember him as a tyrant who sacked northern Syria in 1260, and attempted to destroy the latest traces of civilization. Byron greatly admired Timur Lang (Tamerlane), who destroyed Aleppo and Damascus in the fourteenth century, leaving behind him mountains of skulls out of which hundreds of towers and pyramids were built. But neither of these icons of the romantics can be blamed for the current destruction. It is the Syrians themselves who are engaged in self-destruction, not, as in former times, intruders.

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