Poetry Lives On: An Examination of the Past Leads to the Present

Poetry Lives On: An Examination of the Past Leads to the Present

Maha Al-Adba, a graduate of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, analyzes the work of Shaikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, founder of Qatar.

[Poetry Lives On: An Examination of the Past Leads to the Present]

These cultural references are prominently on display as the State of Qatar celebrates its most revered day of the year -- the Qatar National Day (QND).

Every year, on December 18, aspects of Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani’s poetry form an intrinsic part of the QND emblem, resonating in each corner of what has today become modern-day Doha, and clearly interlinking heritage with present. 

Al-Adba, who graduated from the Master of Arts in Translation Studies program -- a unique offering by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences which is delivered by the Translation and Interpreting Institute -- believes that connecting with her country’s roots is especially imperative as Qatar continues to embrace other cultures.

“Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani -- besides being the founder of Qatar, a leader, and a wise judge -- was also one of the most popular Nabati poets in Qatar in the 19th century. Moreover, he represents a heroic figure to the Qatari people as he led his country past potential turmoil and the greediness of its enemies and neighbors. His poems are considered to be an important reference for historical and regional events in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and an eternal source of inspiration. However, a full-fledged translation of his works has never been documented to-date,” she said.

Nabati poetry -- a form of literary work that has been historically popular in the Arabian Gulf -- is typically rich in cultural references. It has been used in the past as an effective communication tool to declare war, encourage peace, or resolve inter-tribal conflicts.

As part of her thesis, Al-Abda investigated the linguistic and cultural challenges of translating Sheikh Jassim Al Thani’s poetry into English. Working with two groups of graduates in translation studies -- both Qataris and non-Qataris -- she sought to understand the strategies translators use to overcome obstacles in the translation process. 

“There was a sense of responsibility stemming from within -- I wanted to contribute and convey our precious culture to those who want to understand it,” she said. 

She has found that translators can be faced with several barriers; some can be linguistic, others may be cultural. Ultimately, Al-Adba’s study produced relevant recommendations to aid translators who wish to continue in her path to promote a better comprehension of Sheikh Jassim’s work.

“As a professional translator, I understand that poetry translation is an extremely challenging job. The translator strives to understand a poem in one language, and then rewrite it in another. Unlike regular scripts, poetry often contains metaphorical expressions, cultural references, altered sentence structures, and variable word choices that seek to convey a series of emotions. These can all create an additional set of challenges,” said Al-Adba.

“Ideally, the translation should include more than literary interpretations and should also seek to present a veritable investigation of the history, sociology, culture and ideology within. Without these, a full understanding of the work on-hand might not be possible,” she said.

Beyond the classroom, Al-Adba, who graduated last May, believes the prospects for Qataris seeking to specialize in their country’s cultural aspects are very promising.

“There’s definite demand for this area of specialization in Qatar. As the country grows to become more diverse, many of its national institutions continue to be cognizant of the need to remain deeply rooted, and to preserve its origins. Without our past, we would not be able to sustain civilization,” said Al-Adba.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Master of Arts in Translation Studies is one of two programs that are validated by the University of Geneva. The program equips its graduates to work as in-house translators in various sectors and international organizations, and as qualified professionals in their chosen fields.

Last month, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences launched its first Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in Humanities and Social Sciences. Applications to the program are now possible via admissions.hbku.edu.qa.

Maha Al-Adba is joining a growing network of HBKU alumni who are shaping tomorrow.


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