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Badr Shakir Essayyab: A Profile from the Archives

[Badr Shakir Essayyab. Image from the archives of Assafir Newspaper.] [Badr Shakir Essayyab. Image from the archives of Assafir Newspaper.]

[”A Profile from the Archives“ is a new series published by Jadaliyya in both Arabic and English in cooperation with the Lebanese newspaper, Assafir. These profiles will feature iconic figures who left indelible marks in the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa.]

Name: Badr

Name of father: Shakir

Date of birth: 1925

Name of wife: Iqbal Taha Abduljalil

Children: Ghaida/Ghilan/Alaa

Major: Degree from the High School of Teachers

Profession: Poet 


Badr Shakir Essayyab

  • Iraqi.
  • One of the pioneers who renewed modern Arabic poetry. He is considered to be, along with Abdul Wahab Al-Bayati and Nazik Al-Malaeka, the first who attempted to write the new form of the Arabic poem, what is called "Al-Taf'aila poem."
  • Born in the town of Jaikour, south of Basra. He was the oldest of his brothers, Abdullah and Mustafa. His father was so happy about his birth that he wrote down his date of birth but forgot it later. The researcher, Mahmoud Al-'Aabta, checked the records of Al-Mahmudiya school, where the poet studied, and found out that his date of birth was in 1925.
  • His father, Shakir Abdul Jabbar bin Marzouk Assayab, used to work at the Bureau of Dates.
  • His mother, Kareema, was an illiterate woman and his father's cousin. She died in 1932. His father remarried, so he and his brothers moved to live with his paternal grandmother, Ameena.
  • He married Iqbal Taha Abdul Jaleel on 19 June, 1955 and had three children: Ghaida, Ghailan and Aala.
  • He studied in Bab Suleiman School, and Al-Mahmoudiya School in Abi Al-Khaseeb, and then he joined Al-Basra high school.
  • He finished his high school studies in 1943. He suffered from anemia due to the extremely poor life he had, which caused malnutrition. He also suffered from tuberculosis in his youth, which made him thin.
  • He joined the High School of Teachers in Baghdad in 1943, where he received his academic degree and met with Baland Al-Haydari, Suleiman Al-Esa, Ebrahim Al-Samarae, and Nazik Al-Malaeka. At that time, he joined the Communist Party and was elected President of the Student Union of the High School of Teachers.
  • Between 1944 and 1945, a group named "Abqar Brothers" was established in the High School of Teachers. This group addressed issues about poetry with unrestricted freedom relying on the support of the dean of the school, Matta Aqrawi. Essayyab was a member of this group.
  • He was fired from the High School on 1 August, 1946 because of his political activism as a member of the Communist Party.
  • He moved later to work as a clerk in the Bureau of Imports.
  • He met with Lamea Abbas Amara in 1948 and fell in love with her but certain social circumstances ended the relationship. He graduated in the same year from the High School of Teachers and was appointed as English teacher in Ramadi High School.
  • He was fired on 25 January, 1949, from the Ministry of Education and banned from teaching for ten years. He was arrested and sent to jail in the same year.
  • He travelled to Basra where he worked as a date taster in the Iraqi Dates Company.
  • He worked as a clerk in Basra Oil Company.
  • He returned to Baghdad and suffered from unemployment until he found a job as a warehouse manager for a roads paving company in Baghdad.
  • After the political turbulence In Baghdad in 1952, he feared arrest and fled to Iran and later to Kuwait using a forged Iranian passport with the name of "Ali Arting" on board a sailing ship from Abadan in 1953. He described this trip in his poem "Al-Firar" or "Fleeing."
  • In Kuwait, he found an office job in Kuwait's Electricity Company.
  • In 1954, Adab magazine hired him and published his work.
  • A few months later, he returned to Baghdad and cut his ties with the Communist Party. He was given a position in the General Bureau of Imports and Exports.
  • In the winter of 1957, he was introduced to the Lebanese newspaper, Alshi'ar, published by Yousif Al-Khal, and Essayyab soon became one of its writers alongside Adonis and Unsi Al-Haj. At that time, he ended his relationship with Adab magazine which previously hired him.
  • On 7 April, 1959, a ministerial order fired him from government service for three years.
  • He visited Beirut in 1960 to publish a collection of his poetry and met with Yousif Al-Khal, Unsi Al-Haj, Khaleel Hawi and others. A poetry competition for the best poetry collection organized by Shi'ar magazine coincided with his visit. He won the first prize (one thousand Lebanese Lira then) for his collection "Unshudat Al-Matar" or "The Song of the Rain," that was published later by Shi'ar.
  • He returned to Baghdad after his dismissal was overturned and he was appointed in the Iraqi Ports Bureau, which drove him to move to Basra.
  • He was arrested on 4 February, 1961, and released on 20 February of the same year. He then returned to his work in the bureau.
  • His financial situation forced him to translate two American books for The Franklin Institution in 1961.
  • He received an invitation in 1961 to join "The Contemporary Literature" convention in Rome under the patronage of the International Organization for the Freedom of Culture.
  • His health started to detoriorate in 1961 and he became unable to walk.
  • He returned to Beirut in April 1962.
  • On 18 April, 1962 he was admitted to the hospital of the American University of Beirut. Some of his friends, including the poet, Yousif Al-Khal, helped him pay the costs of the hospital.
  • His health deteriorated badly, so he returned to Basra in September 1962. The International Organization for the Freedom of Culture paid his expenses for a whole year after arranging for a scholarship for him.
  • He traveled to London to seek treatment. He could not join the PhD program in Oxford University, but Mr. Albert Hurani succeeded in securing a place for him in Durham University in Northern England.
  • After a short stay in Durham, he left to Paris on 15 March, 1963.
  • He feft Paris on 23 March, 1963 on a wheelchair on his way to his homeland.
  • Two weeks after his arrival to Basra he was fired from government service for three years starting 4 April, 1963.
  • He worked as literature correspondent in Iraq for Hiwar magazine. He used to send reports about the literary movement in Iraq to the editor of the magazine in Beirut, Tawfik Zayegh, for forty dollars a piece.
  • He agreed to be treated by a Bedouin from Zubair who cauterized Essayyab's legs and back but this treatment did not improve his condition.
  • He returned to his government work in the Bureau of Ports on 11 July, 1963.
  • His health deteriorated suddenly on 9 February, 1964, which required his immediate transfer to the port's hospital in Basra after his temperature reached forty degrees celsius. Medical checkup showed that he had double pneumonia and the beginning of heart failure, along with severe diarrhea and vomiting. He also suffered from a twenty-five centimeter septic ulcer in the iliac area, in addition to the spread of  the hardening of his spinal code, which caused paralysis in his limbs.
  • On 1 April, 1964, his sick leave reached its maximum limit and the Society of Iraqi Writers and Authors, in which he was a member, asked the ministry of health to treat him.
  • Kuwaiti poet, Ali Al-Sabti, published an appeal to the Kuwaiti minister of health, Abdul Latif Muhammad Al-Thanyan, asking him to treat Badr in Kuwait at the expense of the Kuwaiti government. The minister agreed and Essayyab was transferred to Al- Amiri hospital in Kuwait on 6 July, 1964.
  • Essayyab published some poems while in Al-Amiri hospital in Kuwait in Al-Raed Al-Arabi magazine for a good compensation.
  • He died on 12 December, 1964 in Al-Amiri hospital in Kuwait after a long battle with a disease that he tried to treat in Beirut and London.

Some of his work:

  • “Azhar Thaabila” or “Wilting Flowers” was his first collection of poems published in 1947 by Al-Karnak publishing company in Cairo.
  • “Asatir” or “Legends” published in 1950.
  • “Fajr Assalam” or “The Dawn of Peace” published in 1950.
  • ” Haffar Al-Qubur” or ” The Grave digger” published in 1950.
  • “Al-Asliha Walatfal” or “Weapons and Children” published in 1953.
  • “Al-Mumis Al-‘Aamyaa” or “The Blind Prostitute” published in 1953.
  • “Unshudat Al-Matar” or “The Song of the Rain” published in 1960.
  • “Al-Ma’abad Al-Ghariq” or “The Drowned Temple” published in 1962.
  • “Manzil Al-Aqnan” or “The House of Slaves” published in 1963.
  • “Shanasheel of  Bint Al-Chalabi” published in 1964.
  • “Iqbal” was published in 1965.
  • “Al-Hadaya” or “The Gifts” was published in 1971 after his death.
  • ”Qitharat Arrih” or “The Violin of Wind” was published in 1973 after his death.
  • “A’aasir” or “Hurricanes” was published in 1973 after his death.
  • “Al-Bawakir” or “The Beginnings” was published in 1974 after his death.

Prose Translations:

  • Three Centuries of Literature, multiple authors - The Library of Al-Hayat, Beirut. Two volumes, the first volume has no date and the second was done in 1966.
  • The Poet, The Inventor and the Colonel, Peter Ustinuv - One chapter play in Al-Usbu’a newspaper, Baghdad. Volume 23 in 1953.

Poetry translations:

  • "The Eyes of Elsa" or "Love and War."
  • "Poems about the Atomic Age."
  • Selected poems from the "International Modern Poetry."
  • Poems by Nadhim Hikmat in Al-‘Aalam Al-‘Aarabi magazine, Baghdad in 1951.

[This article was translated from the Arabic by Ali Adeeb AlnaemiClick here for the Arabic text.]


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