The Advocate of Lyrical Attentiveness
Fuad Rifka's primary literary influence was not the English or French canon, but the German. In the late 1950s he arrived at the University of Tübingen to study philosophy, and gained his doctorate there in 1965 on the subject of Heidegger's aesthetics.
His numerous translations were the first to acquaint Arab readers with the poetry of Hölderlin, Rilke and Trakl, writers who also influenced Rifka's own work.
Exponent of quiet observation
This background seems to have made Rifka's poetry particularly well suited to translation into German. There are four volumes of his work available here, including Das Tal der Rituale [The Valley of Rituals], published by Straelener Manuskripte, and the Tagebuch eines Holzsammlers [Diary of a Wood Collector] by Heiderhoff Verlag.
Rifka's poetry is far removed from the bombastic rhetoric of many other Arab poets of his generation. He was always an exponent of quiet observation, an advocate of lyrical attentiveness who combines profundity and simplicity in texts that are immediately intelligible: October: / birds migrate, / faithful boughs wave, / their leaves in the wind / are tears. (from the poem 'Painting')
Influence on the younger generation
Since the 1990s, German readers have also come to know Rifka's work. He was often invited to give readings in Germany, and was a corresponding member of the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung [German Academy for Language and Poetry]. Last year, already apparently in ill health, he was awarded the Goethe Medal for the mediation of German literature abroad at a ceremony in Weimar.
Numerous obituaries across the Arab world have paid tribute to his remarkable literary stature. The fact that he was an outsider in his own generation made his work all the more influential for younger poets, who were striving to develop a new, unpretentious language and style. Rifka's poetry will continue be read for many years to come, both in Arabic and in German.
© Qantara.de 2011
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de