Poetry Collected by Patrick Mac Manus Humanist Activist and Friend of Humanity

Poems of Political Prisoners

by Patrick Mac Manus on Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 10:25am


Fadhil Al-Azzawi:  In my spare time

José Rizal: Mi último adiós

Qiu Jin:  A violent dancing spirit

Nazim Hikmet: Invitation

Habib Jalib: The Right to Resistance

Ho Chi Minh: Autumn night

Ey Raqîb:  An Anthem of Kurdistan

Yannis Ritsos: Concentration Camp

Patrick Pearse: The Mother

Fadhil Al-Azzawi:  In my spare time

Fadhil Al-Azzawi:  In my spare time

During my long, boring hours of spare time

I sit to play with the earth’s sphere.

I establish countries without police or parties

and I scrap others that no longer attract consumers.

I run roaring rivers through barren deserts

and I create continents and oceans

that I save for the future just in case.

I draw a new coloured map of the nations:

I roll Germany to the Pacific Ocean teeming with whales

and I let the poor refugees

sail pirates’ ships to her coasts

in the fog

dreaming of the promised garden in Bavaria.

I switch England with Afghanistan

so that its youth can smoke hashish for free

provided courtesy of Her Majesty’s government.

I smuggle Kuwait from its fenced and mined borders

to Comoro, the islands

of the moon in its eclipse,

keeping the oil fields intact, of course.

At the same time I transport Baghdad

in the midst of loud drumming

to the islands of Tahiti.

I let Saudi Arabia crouch in its eternal desert

to preserve the purity of her thoroughbred camels.

This is before I surrender America

back to the Indians

just to give history

the justice it has long lacked.

I know that changing the world is not easy

but it remains necessary nonetheless.


Fadhil al-Azzawi is one of those poets who have spent much time in prison and in exile, one of those who confronted the self-portrait of power. He is born in Kirkuk in 1940, a town and a people speaking and singing in Arabic and Turkish, in Kurdish and Assyrian. It fills his mind with the deep and simple reality of human life. A simple reality that often is so difficult.


The utopian geography of this poem speaks for itself. Perhaps especially for us in Europe, a continent of empires and inhumanity. Fadhil al-Azzawi gives ‘history the justice it has long lacked’, knowing, too, that changing the world is not easy.

José Rizal: Mi último adiós   

Pray for all the hapless who have died,

For all those who unequalled torments have undergone;

For our poor mothers who in bitterness have cried;

For orphans, widows and captives to tortures were shied,

And pray too that you may see your own redemption.

And when the dark night wraps the cemetery

And only the dead to vigil there are left alone,

Don’t disturb their repose, don’t disturb the mystery:

If you hear the sounds of cittern or psaltery,

It is I, dear country, who a song to you intones.

And when my grave by all is no more remembered,

With neither cross nor stone to mark its place,

Let it be ploughed by man, with spade let it be scattered

And my ashes then to nothingness are restored,

Let them turn to dust to cover your earthly space.

Then it doesn’t matter that you should forget me:

Your atmosphere, your skies, and your vales I’ll sweep;

Vibrant and clear note to your ears I shall be:

Aroma, light, hues, murmur, song and moaning deep,

Constantly repeating the essence of the faith I keep.

My idolized country, for whom I most gravely pine,

Dear Philippines, to my last goodbye, now listen,

There I leave all: my parents, loves of mine,

I’ll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen

Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.

Farewell, parents, brothers, beloved by me,

Friends of my childhood, in the home distressed;

Give thanks that now I rest from the wearisome day;

Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, who brightened my way;

Farewell to all I love. To die is to rest.

These are just six verses from the long, last poem by José Rizal. ‘I’ll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen…’ This  poem he writes during the night while awaiting execution the following day. It had no title; a friend called it ‘Mi último adiós’, ‘my last farewell’. Others have given it the title ‘Adios, patria adorada’, ‘farewell, beloved land’.

José Rizal is born in 1861, in the town of Calamba, Laguna, and lives through colonial discrimination under Spanish rule. In hope of political and social reform he had written, while in Europe, ‘Noli me tangere’ (Touch me not), a satirical novel on the arrogance and despotism of colonial  power, of its officials and its clergy. He had also published ‘El Filibusterismo’ (The Reign of Greed), a work mirroring the difficulty of continued belief in a  non-violent strategy as the way to change.  


José Rizal’s reaction to the injustice of colonial officials provokes the emnity of power itself. Spanish agents shadow him and he is imprisoned in Fort Santiago in July 1892. From there, they send him into exile in Dapitan.


When the Philippine Rebellion begins on August 26, 1896, José Rizal is linked to the revolt by witnesses whom he never is allowed to confront. From November 3, 1886 to the day of his execution, he is again imprisoned in Fort Santiago. 


Convicted of rebellion, sedition and of forming an illegal association, José Rizal is shot in the cold morning of December 30, 1896 at Bagumbayan Field.


The Spanish Empire  gives way to a new empire which seldom accepts the term. Mark Twain, outraged by American military intervention in 1899-1902, writes his own ‘War Prayer’:


“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle, be Thou near them! With them – in spirit – we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.


O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells, help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead, help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain, help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire, help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief, help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.


For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!”


Rejected as too radical, ‘The War Prayer’ is first published in Harper’s Monthly, November 1916, after Mark Twain’s death. He had already written to a friend: ‘I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth’. 

Ho Chi Minh: Autumn night

Before the gate, a guard

with a rifle on his shoulder.

In the sky, the moon flees

through clouds.

Swarming bed bugs,

like black army tanks in the night.

Squadrons of mosquitoes,

like waves of attacking places.

I think of my homeland.

I dream I can fly far away.

I dream I wonder trapped

in webs of sorrow.

A year has come to an end here.

What crime did I commit?

In tears I write

another prison poem.

Clear morning

The morning sun

shines over the prison wall,

And drives away the shadows

and miasma of hopelessness.

A life-giving breeze

blows across the earth.

A hundred imprisoned faces

smile once more.

Cold night 

Autumn night.

No mattress. No covers.

No sleep. Body and legs

huddle up and cramp.

The moon shines

on the frost-covered banana leaves.

Beyond my bars

the Great Bear swings on the Pole.

Good days coming

Everything changes, the wheel

of the law turns without pause.

After the rain, good weather.

In the wink of an eye

The universe throws off

its muddy cloths.

For ten thousand miles

the landscape

Spreads out like

a beautiful brocade.

Gentle sunshine.

Light breezes. Smiling flowers,

Hang in the trees, amongst the

sparkling leaves,

All the birds sing at once.

Men and animals rise up reborn.

What could be more natural?

After sorrow comes happiness.

Ho Chi Minh is a poet and far more than a poet. He even writes that poems must wait until better times; there were so many other things to do. Not least the liberation of his land, Viet Nam. His life is a long life of intelligence and care, of pain and gratefulness, of conflict and regret. 


He writes these poems while imprisoned and they are part of his ‘Prison Diary’. After release, Ho Chi Minh leads the independence movement, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945. The so-called French Union is defeated in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu.


He leads his people until his death in 1969. Six years later, the conflict – now with the United States of America (USA) as the external power – ends with the unification of the people. It is a war that has been costly for their lives and for their land. Not only a conflict with an external power but also, as so often in our history, a civil war. It takes years and years to heal the wounds of a people, of their fields, their forests and their minds. 


Ey Raqîb:  An Anthem of Kurdistan

Hey enemy, the Kurdish nation is alive with its language

Can not be defeated by the weapons of any time

Let no one say Kurds are dead

Kurds are living

Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

Ey raqîb her mawe qewmî Kurd ziman,

Nay sikên danery topî zeman

Kes nelê Kurd mirduwe

Kurd zîn duwe,

Zîn duwe qet nanewê alakeman

We, the youth are the red colour of the revolution

Watch our blood that we shed on this way

Let no one say Kurds are dead

Kurds are living

Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

We are the children of Medya and Keyhusrew

Both our faith and religion are our homeland

Both our faith and religion are Kurd and Kurdistan

Let no one say Kurds are dead

Kurds are living

Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

The Kurdish youth have risen like lions

To adorn the crown of life with blood

Let no one say Kurds are dead

Kurds are living

Kurds are living, their flag will never fall

The Kurdish youth are ever present and

Forever will be ready to sacrifice their lives

Sacrifice each life they have, each life they have

Lawî Kurdî hazir û amadeye,

Giyan fîdan e, giyan fîda her giyan fîda,

Giyan fîdan e, giyan fîda her giyan fîda


‘Ey Reqiîb’ is an anthem of Kurdistan written by Yonis Reuf, who is also called ‘Dildar’. Yonis Reuf is born in 1917 in the city of Koye. After finishing school in Kirkuk, he moves to Baghdad and here he studies law. ‘Ey Reqîb’ is written in 1938. At the time, he is in jail in the Kurdistan province of Iran. 


‘Ey Reqib’ means literally ‘hey guard’, the title is more often translated as ‘hey enemy’. It is the song of the short-lived republic of Mahabad in Iran in 1946 and is still sung across all the borders of Kurdistan.


 It has also become the song of the Partiya Karkarén Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in its struggle against the Turkish state. In Turkey and across all the borders of the Kurdish people, their rights have been denied. The language and culture of the people, their right to self-determination has suffered under continual state denial and prosecution.


This time must end. The Kurdish people must have the right to be themselves: to speak and to write and to work and sing their own song.


Qiu Jin: On Request for a Poem

Do not tell me women

are not the stuff of heroes,

I alone rode over the East Sea’s

winds for ten thousand leagues.

My poetic thoughts ever expand,

like a sail between ocean and heaven.

I dreamed of your three islands,

all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.

I grieve to think of the bronze camels,

guardians of China, lost in thorns.

Ashamed, I have done nothing

not one victory to my name.

I simply make my war horse sweat.

Grieving over my native land

hurts my heart. So tell me:

how can I spend these days here?

A guest enjoying your spring winds?

Crimson Flooding into the River

Just a short stay at the Capital

But it is already the mid autumn festival

Chrysanthemums infect the landscape

Fall is making its mark

The infernal isolation has become unbearable here

All eight years of it make me long for my home

It is the bitter guile of them forcing us women into femininity

We cannot win!

Despite our ability, men hold the highest rank

But while our hearts are pure, those of men are rank

My insides are afire in anger at such an outrage

How could vile men claim to know who I am?

Heroism is borne out of this kind of torment

To think that so putrid a society can provide no camaraderie

Brings me to tears!


Riding a white dragon up to the sky,

Striding deep in the mountains on a fierce tiger.

I am born in a roaring storm with a violent dancing spirit

I shall be holy on the earth.

How could I ever be satisfied with settling down!

Without witnessing Commander Xiang win his great battles,

Or hearing Liu Xiu rumbling war drums

They were only twenty years old but could make their countries flourish.

Don’t blame them for bloodshed but admire them for bravery.

Shame and failure!

I am already twenty-seven

Yet have no glory to my name.

I only worry for my country and do not know how to expel these invaders.

I am glad my great ambitions will not rot and waste away,

Not when I hear the roar of war drums.

Deep inside I am outraged

I cannot get help from my own people

I feel so helpless, so weak.

It is for that reason alone that I am going

to Japan: to rally up aid, to look for assistance.

On July 15, 1907 at the age of 32, Qiu Jin is publicly executed in her home village, Shānyīn, beheaded after a failed uprising.

In the short life of a ‘violent dancing spirit’, she speaks out for women’s rights, their right to education and choice of marriage, and against the forced binding of their feet. Her own feet had also been bound.


She herself stands in a Western male dress and demands an end to the Qing dynasty. As principal at a school for girls, she works to unite the secret revolutionary societies in the overthrow of government, for its return to the people.


For some time she has been in Japan, ‘your three islands’, where friends and allies live in exile. She returns in 1906 for the last months of her life.


Her poems are full of the legends of China: the great generals of myths and the wandering poet-warrior who protects the innocent and the poor. But now the ‘bronze camels’, symbolic guardians of the land, are ‘lost in thorns’. 


Her poems are also driven by a recent past: the so-called Eight-Nation Alliance invades China in 1900 and crushes the ‘Boxer Uprising’ in a campaign of slaughter, rape, and pillage. The proper name of the rebels is not ‘Boxer’ but ‘I-he quan’, the ‘Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’. 


 In another poem at the time she writes:


“Our skulls pile up in mounds;

 our blood billows in cresting waves

and the ghosts of all the millions massacred

still weep…”


The Qing dynasty falls in 1912 with the declaration of a republic. Decades of conflict, of civil war and invasion follow. The life and death and the poems of Qiu Jin are still remembered and recited.

Nazim Hikmet: Invitation



Galloping from Far Asia and jutting out

into the Mediterranean like a mare’s head

this country is ours.

Wrists in blood, teeth clenched, feet bare

and this soil spreading like a silk carpet,

this hell, this paradise is ours.

Shut the gates of plutocracy, don’t let them open again,

annihilate man’s servitude to man,

this invitation is ours..

To live like a tree single and at liberty

and brotherly like the trees of a forest,

this yearning is ours.

Some have called Nazim Hikmet a ‘romantic communist’. He loves his land, a Turkey of poverty and oppression, of arrest and exile. He loves it more that its rulers love it. For years, he is imprisoned in Bursa and Cankiri. Nazim Hikmet dies in exile in Moscow in 1963, still yearning for his land.


In the statistics of poets, imprisonment is more common than among other labourers. Language is a dangerous factory. In their own way, poets have been miners, mining the earth under the feet of power, mining the shafts and tunnels with the explosives of their poems.


For power it seems rational: if the poets are silenced then millions will be mute, millions will loose their tongue. 

Habib Jalib: The Right to Resistance

That lamp that only shines in palaces

and cares only for the joys of a chosen few

which breeds the protection of their gains

such a system, like a dawn bereft of light

I refuse to accept, I refuse to know

I am not afraid of the ones on thrones

I too am Mansoor, the martyr, go tell the enemy

why do you try to scare me with prison walls?

This kind of oppression, like darkness of the heart

I refuse to accept, I refuse to know

Flowers are blooming on the branches, so you say

every drinker’s cup overflows, so you say

wounds within chests have healed themselves, so you say

these bare-faced lies, this insult to the mind

I refuse to accept, I refuse to know

For centuries you have robbed us of peace

no longer will your false promises fool us

why do you pretend to be the healer of those in pain?

You are no healer, even if some accept, but…

I refuse to accept, I refuse to know

 Habib Jalib, a renowned Pakistani revolutionary poet, is born in 1928, spends much of his life in prison and homeless on the streets. Expressing his beliefs openly, he pays heavily for it: a constant refusal to accept the policy of power leads to imprisonment year after year.


In 1988, when Benazir Bhutto came to power, Habib Jalib is released. Even then, he still says:


Haal ab tak wahi hain ghareeboan kay

The status of the poor is still the same


When Habib Jalib passes away in 1993, his family refuses a government offer to pay for funeral expenses. A voice of dissent still echoes in the world: ‘your power over us is coming to an end’.


Yannis Ritsos: Concentration Camp

The whistle, the cry, the swishing, the thud;

the reversed water, the smoke, the stone, the saw;

a fallen tree among the killed men;

when the guards undressed them, you could hear falling

one by one from their pockets the telephone tokens,

the small pair of scissors, the nail-clipper, the little mirror

and the long, hollow wig of the bald hero

strewn with straw, broken glass and thorns

and a cigarette-butt hidden behind the ear.

Our Greek poet Yannis Ritsos lives through a hard history. The Metaxas dictatorship of the thirties burns his book ‘Epitaphios’, foreign occupation and civil wars are part of it. Years later, there is the time of the military junta lasting from 1967 to 1974.


He had also lived in times where there was song and there was hope. Yannis Ritsos is close to the resistance movement against occupation, the National Liberation Front (Ethnikó Apeleftherotikó Métopo/ΕΑΜ). Less with a rifle than with his songs and poems. EAM and its struggle for social change is defeated by the new regime with the aid of British tanks.


In 1948 Yannis Ritsos is arrested, spending four years in detention camps at Lemnos and later at Makronisos and Agios Efstratios. He hides his poems in bottles, which he buries in the ground, writing: ‘no one will silence our song’.

Patrick Pearse: The Mother

I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge

My two strong sons that I have seen go out

To break their strength and die, they and a few,

In bloody protest for a glorious thing,

They shall be spoken of among their people,

The generations shall remember them,

And call them blessed;

But I will speak their names to my own heart

In the long nights;

The little names that were familiar once

Round my dead hearth.

Lord, thou art hard on mothers:

We suffer in their coming and their going;

And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary

Of the long sorrow – And yet I have my joy:

My sons were faithful, and they fought.

Patrick Pearse, the son of an Irish mother and an English father is born at 27 Gt. Brunswick St. in 1879, (now Pearse St.) in Dublin and educated at the Christian Brothers’ School. He graduates from the Royal University and becomes a barrister, and is an enthusiastic student of the Irish language. He becomes a writer in both English and Gaelic. Patrick Pearse envisions a free Gaelic Ireland and founds St. Enda’s College.


After visiting the United States, he joins the Irish Volunteers and is commander-in-chief of the Irish rebel forces in the Easter Rebellion of 1916. He realises the rebellion is hopeless and orders the volunteers to surrender. He is arrested with other leaders and, together with his brother, shot. This is his last poem, written while awaiting execution. 


Fadhil Al-Azzahi, Miracle Maker (Selected Poems 1960-2002). Translated by Khaled Mattawa. BOA Editions, 2003.

José Rizal and the Asian Renaissance. Ed.: M. Rajaretnam, Institut Kajian Dasar and Solidaridad Publishing Home, 1996.

The Prison Diary of Ho Chi Minh. Translation: Aileen Palmer. Bantam Books, 1971.

Ho Chi Minh, Poems from the Prison Diary. Translation: Steve Bradbury. Tinfish Press, 2005.

Qiu Jin: A Chinese Poet and a Revolutionary. Women of China. 2006: http://www.womenofchina.cn

Nazim Hikmet, Selected Poetry. Translation: Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Persea Books, 1986.

Nazim Hikmet, Behind the Walls: Selected Poems. Translation: Ruth Christie, Richard McKane, introduced by Tâlat Sait Halman. Anvil Press Poetry, 2002.

Michael A. Mikita, A New Translation of Qiu Jin’s Crimson Flooding into the River. Comparative Literature Student Association at San Francisco State University (2005): http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~clsa/portals/2005/mikita.html

Qiu Jin: A Chinese Poet and a Revolutionary. Women of China. 2006: http://www.womenofchina.cn

See: Nita Awatramani, Habib Jalib: The Right to Resistance. http://www.urdupoetry.com (2006) and Malangbaba: awaam ka sha’ir-malangbaba.blogspot.com (2008).

Yannis Ritsos. Selected Poems. Translated by Nikos Stangos with an introduction by Peter Bien. Efstathiadis (Attikis), 1993.

Patrick Pearse, The Mother: See http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/poetry/PadraicPearse.html

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