Poetry is Invincible

by Abdellatif Laâbi (2022)

Translated by Howard Slater


I can attest to it

poetry is invincible

I know it

I have seen it

I have verified it

a hundred times more than once


Nothing stops it

not the cruelty of men

not that of the gods

not the hyperbolic ravings [rodomontades] of the powerful

not the irrevocable verdicts of death


From man to his humanity

poetry is the shortest path

the surest


From madness to reason

and vice versa

it offers the journey

and guided tours


Poetry is proud

facing the worst storms

It neither bends

nor breaks






always mutinous

It doesn't mince its words

and refuses itself no license

Amoral? Immoral?

It is indifferent to what people say


In its hanging gardens

poetry cultivates



the thrill before the gaze

before touch

It uncovers

the sixth sense

then the seventh

the eighth


Poetry quenches thirst

cleanses the eyes

unclogs ears

softens the tongue

perfumes the mouth

and when the belly is full

it says to the head



Foremost art

poetry is the secret

of origins

and of the future

It already has memories



sometimes hurts

sometimes does good

sometimes it does good

by hurting


Poetry is part of every battle

It is a modest victory

a placid defeat

It learns more from


than from good fortune


Poetry does not forget

don't be fooled

by the tricks of memory

It is the last bastion

of fidelity


Between the living and the dead

poetry has no preference

It assiduously attends

the one and the other

and between them

becomes a messenger

and if needs be an advisor


Poetry walks

among the multitude of migrants

Through snow

and heatwave

on rough seas

by barbed wire walls

with the dogs let loose

It keeps the register of those who fall

along the way

the disappeared

the suicides

and receives the testimony

of those who

crazed with sorrow

consumed by despair

continue on their way



Poetry roams

wherever there are

refugee camps

In the rain

The slush

In sandstorms

On mounds of trash

Its attention is focused

On prioritising children

on children's eyes

and sometimes the smile

which miraculously illuminates

a face


What it sees

renders it speechless

and it remains mute

long after it has left

the scene of the crime


by the human race

against itself


After the shock




It invariably ends up

speaking out

It accuses

The supporting evidence

distributes its copious maledictions

screams until its lungs burst


on the verge of fainting

it falls to its knees

wipes away a tear

and prays ... prays

in its sacred language



Poetry knows by heart

the prison layout

the secret torture centres

It has its own entrances to the cells

the coolers

the caves

where robots of flesh and bone

work day and night

to break

body and soul

the rebellious


Poetry stands beside

all of the crucified

at the most unbearable times

of the Question

at the critical hour of agony

If they survive by miracle

it is the first

to visit them

And for sure

It doesn't come empty-handed


Poetry has long since deserted

the palace

the courts of tyrants

of enlightened despots

and other satraps

renounced their largesse

fled like the plague

from their graces and disgraces

This is how it conquered

its liberty

its most cherished possession

its greatest distinction


Since then

poetry can neither be bought

nor sold

It offers of itself

or does not exist


When the statue

of a bloodthirsty despot

an unrepentant slaver

a famisher of the people

is knocked off its pedestal

and crashes nose to ground

poetry does not ruminate

about its pleasure



Poetry inhabits

each of us

every animal

every plant

every stone

every grain of sand

Poetry inhabits

every drop of water

every ray of sunlight

every object shaped

by the natural elements

or the hand of man


In all sureness

poetry is here

at the moment of birth

of passing away

of the revelation of love

of the pact of friendship

of the epiphany of beauty

always unexpected

always disconcerting


Of all languages

poetry is the intrinsic melody

the flute or cello solo

of zither or bafalon

Of every language

it is the Bacchic feast of words

their carousing

the awakening within them of some

of the famous seven deadly sins

and others

discovered thanks to it

and consumed with as much

if not more



Of every form of life

on earth as in heaven

and far beyond

in the Universe

poetry takes an atom

a drop

a snippet

and then collates

the elements of the whole

concentrates it

and makes it legible


Of flesh

of blood

and spirit

Of fire

and water

and silt

Of the visible

and invisible

poetry is also

in large part

dark matter


Poetry speaks to the ear

to the heart

and makes the best use

of silence

When by misfortune

or the stale air of time

poetry becomes plethoric

it withers away



is to this day

the only success of alchemy

its Great Work

so to speak

With, however, the caveat

that it works both ways:

from a common metal

it obtains gold

and gold

which it does not really appreciate

it transforms

into vile metal


Poetry beats the call

of life

of its necessary

and sufficient reasons

It names

its enemies

its auctioneers

its gravediggers


Poetry does not waver

does not negotiate

does not compromise

doesn't pull its punches

doesn't give up



We take risks

big risks

in trying to define poetry

But the temptation is too great

to try

Even if it means losing feathers [plumes]

let's try this:


is the word given

and kept

whatever the cost


How many poets have been defeated

by life


the disappointments of love

the sadism of despots

the pain of having returned

to the worst country

at the worst time

How many poets have left us

without having known during their lifetime

the slightest recognition

the realisation

of even one

of their just dreams

of anything even remotely

close or far

to happiness

What have martyrs not given

so that poetry


does not surrender


it never surrendered



Spread the word

high and loud

here and everywhere


and in the centuries

 of centuries:


 poetry is invincible!



From Abdellatif Laâbi, La Poesie est Invincible, Le Castor Astral, 2002