The Ahmed Shawki Museum
Ahmed Shawki is a pivotal figure in Arabic literature. A poet of astonishing range and sensitivity, he was blessed with a good heart that earned him the love of thousands and patriotism that earned him the hatred of the British, who exiled him after the outbreak of World War One.
This museum was his home. It’s a beautiful building that he first acquired in 1914 and named ‘Karmet Ibn Hani’ in or Ibn Hani’s Vineyard, after the poet Abu Nawwas. Set in generous gardens, the white building is guarded by bronze cherubim and a bronze statue of the poet, commissioned by the Italian government in 1962. The Mohamed Abdel Wahab Suite on the ground floor showcases many of the singer’s works – Abdel wahab was discovered and championed by Shawki. For fans, there is an excellent audio library of his works.
Upstairs, you can see the poet’s bedroom and study. They have not changed since he was there, the antique furniture is all his. On the same floor is his wife’s bedroom also containing original furnishings.
This is a beautiful house, rich with history and well worth an afternoon’s visit.
Traditionally, a museum is known to be a place where objects of antique and historical nature are displayed. However, the modern concept of a museum has been developed so as to reflect, as well, all aspects of modern and contemporary life.
In the light of this concept, a museum is now envisaged as a centre of comprehersive and extensive cultural dissemination that aims at cultivating man's feelings and stimulating creativity in all fields. A museum can, therefore, be a melting pot, providing a tasteful and pleasant cultural mix, that reflects the unity and integrity of arts. Poet - Laureate Ahmed shawki's Museum, originally named by the poet " Karmat Ibn Hani'e ( Ibn Hani'e's vineyard), was the first of a series of museums to be yet renovated.
Karmat Ibn Hani'e was not merely the Poet - Laureate's house but also the hub of men of letters, poets, playwrights, musicians, singers as well as a meeting place for statesmen, pressmen and other dignitaries.
With the inauguration of this museum, the Karma is re-created anew in order to resume its older role, but with new and fresh potential. The ultimate purpose of this cultural enterprise is to achieve the sublime goal of elevating arts and stimulating man's creativity and noble feelings.
Karmat Ibn Hani'e: Past and Present
Karmat Ibn Hani'e was the name given by Ahmed shawki to the house he bought in 1914. The house was located in a quiet suburb of Cairo; El Matariya. In an air of romantic serenity and calm, the house lay in the middle of a spacious and gorgeous garden, strewn with ever-green trees, the oldest of which is a willow with intertwined branches. The real reason for the selection by shawki of this location was its proximity to the Qubba Palace, the royal seat of Khedive Abbas of Egypt. Both the Khedive and the poet were very close friends and shawki really enjoyed passing most of his leisure time in the company of the Khedive.
shawki named his house after Ibn Hani Al Abbasi, commonly known as Abu Nuwwas, a famous Abbasite poet ( 756-814 AD). shawki was highly infatuated with this great poet, whose real talent and rich achievements had not been duly evaluated and rather unjustly criticized. He was commonly, but not fairly, portrayed as a wanton and frivolous legendary figure. By naming his house after Ibn Hani, shawki had in mind to commemorate, redress and do justice to this great early poet.
Although the house was already too big, particularly for shawki's family, consisting of the poet, his wife, one daughter and two sons, an annex was added. In this annex, shawki stored antique furniture and other objects, acquired by the poet from public auction sales, being one of his favourite hobbies. The house comprised numerous rooms: three dining rooms, five sitting rooms with different colours such as the red, green or white room etc...
The house was further expanded, when he acquired an adjacent house to accommodate his daughter " Omniya ", married at hardly the age of fifteen.This house was appended to the Karma .
The house also contained a spacious service building ( Selamlik). Part of the area was assigned as a garage for two horse- driven carriages; a victoria ( Hantour) and a phaeton. There was also a horse stable, where two horses were kept. Although shawki had a liking for automobiles, and was one of the first who aquired cars in Egypt, yet, out of fear of speed, he did not like using them.
In the house garden, there was a large number of domestic animals such as deer, turtles, peakcocks and parrots. There was also a basin, where a crocodile was kept. The reptile was brought, at the request of shawki's son, by an officer friend of the poet working in Sudan.
In view of shawki's close friendship with the Khedive , the latter often referred needy persons asking for help to shawki. He welcomed them and spent much of his time and money meeting their needs.
The house was also honoured with the visit of the Khedive and his Austrian wife on the occasion of the wedding of Ahmed shawki's daughter.
With the outbreak of World War I, Britain proclaimed Egypt a British protectorate. Khedive Abbas, who was in a visit to Turkey was dethroned and banned from entry into Egypt. He was then replaced by Sultan Hussein Kamel as Khedive of Egypt.
As a result of this reshuffle, Shawki was exiled abroad. He chose to take Spain as a place of exile. Throughout the years of the war, he lived with his family in Barcelon, suffering from the pains of estrangement and expatriation from home. In the poems composed during this
period, he gave immortal expression of his patriotic feeling and nostalgia for his home country. His poetry, mainly the Andalusian nostalgic poems, expressing the bitterness of exile and passionate love of and yearning for his home country still survive as rare and immortal masterpieces of poetry.
Early in 1920, shawki came back home from exile and was warmly and passionately welcomed by masses of the people in Alexandria and then in Cairo. He was strongly impressed by that welcome.
Shawqi was the first in Arabic literature to write poetic plays. He wrote five tragedies:
Majnun Laila (literally: the Crazy about Laila), his first play.
The Death of Cleopatra, his most famous play.
Ali bek al-Kabeer
and two comedies:
As-Set Huda (literally: Madam Huda)
Al-Bakhila (literally: the Miser)
in addition to a prose play: the Princess of Andalusia.
Ash-Shawqiyyat, his selected works, in four volumes, including Nahj al-Burda, a tribute to the Prophet Muhammed
A long poem about the History of Islam, named The States of Arabs and the Great Men of Islam.
Shawqi wrote several ill-written novels. A few survived. He also wrote chapters of prose, as he called them, about several and unrelated subjects, and collected them under the title: the Markets of Gold.
Shawki's New Karma
After his return home from exile, he no longer felt like living in El Matariya, although his house had remained intact, even unaffected throughout the period of exile. shawki believed that his house had remained safe and intact on account of a signboard hanging on the entrance bearing the phrase " There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah. "
For this reason, when he left his old house in El Matariya, he ensured that the signboard was relocated to the entrance of his new house in Giza.
In selecting Giza as a location for his new Karma, shawki had good reasons. In his survey of other suburbs of Cairo, he found out that Zamalek was too low-lying. Heliopolis was quiet, healthy and well-served by means of transport but too far. Qasr El Doobara was too
congested. As to Giza, there were many important considerations to justify selection. First, Giza overlooks the River Nile, which shawki adored and loved to live nearby. During his residence in EL Matariya, shawki aquired a dahabiya (a long light-draft houseboat) on the Nile so as to be able to enjoy the view of the river.shawki often cited a line of poetry by a Fatimide poet, recommending residence nearby the Nile: Albeit living in Egypt but not by the side.
Of the flowing Nile, say not you in Egypt reside
Another reason for selecting such site was its relative proximity to the Pyramids; another fovourite place of shawki's choice. Every Friday, shawki used to make outings to the Pyramids in the company of his family and friends including artists and literary writers. However, when shawki moved to his house in Giza gave up the habit of frequenting the Pyramids. He needed not travel that far to his favourite place, when he could easily enjoy the view of the Pyramids, with the naked eye, right from his house.
Throughout the ensuing years, shawki led a rich life teeming with literary achievements, glory and high renown. His eminent standing was further enhanced as he drew closer and closer to the innermost feelings of the masses, by truly expressing the agonies and aspirations of the Egyptian people and advocating and supporting their common causes.
Karmat Ibn Hani': A National Musem
In recognition of the outstanding achievements of Poet-Laureate Ahmed shawki and his
far-reaching impact on Arabic literature, the Republican Decree No. 540/1972 was issued, converting "Karmat Ibn Hani' ", together with all the surrounding grounds into a national museum. This conversion was consummated in June 17, 1977.
Since then, Karmat Ibn Hani' has been, as ever before, during the poet's lifetime, the hub and
meeting place of literary writers, poets, artists and musicians. Every month, two evening poetry
recitals are regularly conducted in the museum Many artistic events, were provided and televised on air. In addition, several cultural events were held in the museum, including symposia, plastic arts shows, book and philatelic exhibitions and musical and vocal concerts .
Karmat Ibn Hani, once the-home of Poet-Laureate Ahmed shawki has become, after a major
face-lifting operation, an outstanding cultural centre that now plays a central role in enriching the cultural and intellectual scene and promoting letters and arts.
Components of the Museum
Ahmed shawki Museum is located on the Nile Corniche in Giza. The snow-white palace is
surrounded by a green garden. Bronze statues of torch-bearing cherubim representing messengers of thought and culture bearing torches of enlightenment, are placed here and there in the garden. Once in, you are faced with a large statue of the poet, created by late Egyptian sculptor Gamal El Seguini. This statue was placed in this location in Karmat Ibn Hani' 14 years ago in a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the poet's death.
This statue is a replica of a bronze statue of the poet, the Italian Government ordered in 1962 to be erected in the Bourgese Park, Rome, Italy side by side with statues of a number of world top geniuses. The statue was made in recognition of the eminent standing of Poet-Laureate Ahmed shawki and his high reputation not only in Egypt and Arab World but also all over the world. It was unveiled in an official grand ceremony, attended by the then Egyptian and Italian Ministers of Culture, the Mayor of Rome, sculptor Seguini and a host of Arab and foreign artists, poets and writers.
Ground Floor: Mohamed Abdel Wahhab Suite The ground floor comprises Ahmed shawki's library with 332 books covering various areas of arts and letters. Some volumes contain draft manuscripts of poems hand-written by the poet on plain paper and book covers. This floor also contains the suite of the then emerging singer and composer Mohammed Abdel Wahhab. Abdel Wahhab's talent was truly appreciated by the poet. He believed that wealth was the proper environment for good art. For these reasons, he acted as the artistic and social patron of Mohammed Abdel Wahhab and actually hosted him in his house. This suite was the brithplace of seveal great songs created by both the poet and composer. Often, rehearsals of those songs were made in the suite.
This floor also comprises a high-quality audio library, that contains recordings of all songs written by shawki and vocalized by Abdel Wahhab, in addition to those by the great singer "Star of the Orient" Umm Kalthoum. In this floor, there lie reading and listening rooms, a reception lounge as well as the palace entrance, with sofas, carpets and mirrors with gold-plated frames, all characterized with grandeur and wealth.
Insignias and Manuscripts
The upper floor comprises the Poet-Laureate's bedroom which still remains intact. The wall paper which has been in place for more than eighty years now, still maintains its original colours. The seats still lie in the corners. The Poet's bed with its high brass poles, a dressing table, photographs of the shawkis are all in display. The place is so suggestive and representative that a visitor can easily get the feel of the old house, One can even visualize the poet's actual life at home. One time you see him relaxing on the sofa in a room corner, writing poetry, another, in a mood of deep meditation looking at the ever flowing Nile from his window.
The same floor contains the room of Mrs. Khadija Hanem Shaheen, the poet's wife. Centrally located, against the staircase there lies the poet's study, with its invaluable old-style furniture; an elegant desk arm-chair with a semi-circular base, and a harp-shaped ornamental unit on the back. The corners of the desk are ornamented with brass effigies of cherubim. The desk itself is raised on animal-shaped brass feet. All the furniture items are made of mahogeny. Against the wall, a glazed wooden bookcase solemnly stands.
Next to the study, there is a room where insignias and badges of honour awarded to the poet are displayed. Included also are some gifts and documents presented to the poet on the occasion of his coronation as poet-Laureate. His elegant gala uniform is still kept in a glazed showcase, reminiscent of the honours associated with the occasions and events where the uniform was used.
Next, there is a room containing more than 713 manuscripts and drafts of the poet's prose and poetry writings.
The museum contains also a collection of oil paintings, antique objects and photographs of the poet, his family, relatives, some friends and important dignitaries.
The Centre for Criticism and Creativity A distinctive feature of the new Karmat Ibn Hani' is the Centre for Criticism and Creativity. Through this centre, the museum can ideally perfrom its role as a source of cultural dissemenation, in continuation of the role that was perfomed during the poet's lifetime. Under the completed renovation scheme, a centre for criticism and creativity was set up in the basement. It comprises a conference room, a lecture room, a waiting area and a large library easily accessible to readers. Visitors can also attend seminars and symposia involving critical analyses of works of art, letters and poetry. The centre, which is actually a meeting place for writers, intellectuals and artists in Egypt and the Arab world, works for the advancement of arts and letters as well as the integration of arts.
Ahmed shawki : A brief Biography
Birth and Education
Ahmed shawki was born in Cairo in 1868 AD, to a family of an Arabian, Turkish , Greek and Janissary origin. His was a wealthy family with strong connections to the Khedive's palace. His grandfather came to Egypt, bearing a recommendation from Ahmed Pasha Al Jazzar, the Ruler of Acre to Mohammad Ali Pasha, the Ruler of Egypt. Being well-versed in both Turkish and Arabic, the ruler admitted him in to his entourage. With the passage of time and succession of rulers, the poet's grandfather was promoted to several outstanding posts, until he was last appointed by Khedive Said Pasha as Secretary of the Egyptian Customs House. When his grandfather died, he left behind a large estate. Unfortunately, shawki's father squandered this estate and had to live on his own labour.
The refore, his grandmother (on his mother's side) took the new-born child away right from the cradle and sponsered him on behalf of his parents. In order to keep him away from hardships, the kind grandmother bestowed on the child more parental care and love than his parents could.
When he reached the age of four, shawki was admitted to "Kuttab Al Sheikh Saleh" in Sayeda Zeinab District in Cairo, a one-class, one-teacher school for teaching juniors mainly to read and memorize the Qur'an. He then moved to Al Mobtadayan Primary then Secondary School where he was exempted from tuition fees in reward for his distinction. He later joined the School of Law. After completing two years of study, he was awarded a certificate in translation. As soon as he graduated the Khedive employed shawki in his Royal Private Property Bureau. One year later, the Khedive decided that shawki should be sent to Europe to complete his education. shawki chose to study law, being the discipline most closely related to letters and largely dependent on eloquence and mastery of language. He tried as hard as he could to study also French literature in addition to his major subject of study. After three years of study, he graduated in July 18, 1893.
To complement shawki's formal education, the Khedive ordered that he should spend more six months in France to acquaint himself with life and people in Paris, a luxury which shawki could not afford, due to time constraint during his study. shawki accepted many invitations by his French classmates to visit their towns and villages in the North and South of France. shawki enjoyed French hospitality and commended the French farmer.
In 1894, shawki returned home where the Khedive admitted him into his entourage. In 1896, shawki was delegated by the Khedive to represent the Egyptian government in the Orientalists' Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland. shawki enjoyed the opportunity of sightseeing this country. Hence, he proceeded to Belgium where he visited Brussels and attended an exhibition in Anvers. One year later, shawki contracted an eye disease (ophthalmia) and therefore, travelled to Constantinople for treatment and convalescence along the Coast of the Posphorus. There, he stayed for forty days and returned home fully recovered.
shawki's Poetry: "Al shawkiyat"
Since his college days in Paris, shawki was a close friend of Emir (Prince) Shakeeb Arsalan, a lebanese political leader and poet. Oftentimes, shawki would read out his poetry to the Emir who admired and regularly read his published writings. The Emir expressed to shawki a wish to see in print someday a collection of shawki's poetry, bearing his name;"Al shawkiyat".
Moreover, shawki himself was surprised to find, after the death of his father, a small note, among his father's personal effect, reading : " This is what I could collect of my son's writings, while he was a student in Europe." shawki then realized how interested his father had been in collecting his writings, whether published or not. Intent on executing his father's will, he had part I of his collection "Al shawkiyat" first published in 1890.
Conscious of his moral and social responsibility as a poet, shawki intentionally execluded from this collection many of his early poems which smacked of self- conceit and arrogance, which, he felt, would be more detrimental than beneficial to the rising generation. However, in memory of his glorious youth, he maintained in the collection a few specimen poems.
At the end of every Hijri year, shawki regularly pursued the practice of publishing in serial parts, all his prose and poetry writings completed during the year, no matter how short or long.
Ahmed shawki: Poet-Laurent
After a series of popular uprisings and civil resistence to British occupation of Egypt, the colonial power was forced to accept the principle of negotiation. The British announced their willingness to receive an Egyptian delegation in London. shawki played a significant role in this situation. He wrote a supplication, no less exquisite than his poems, expressing the hopes and aspirations of the people. The supplication was recited simultaneously in the mosques and churches alike, following Friday prayers on June 4 , 1920 ( Ramadan 17, 1338 A.H) .The supplication was commonly Known then as the" Supplication of Global Prayer".
The reward received by shawki was exile. He voluntarily chose Spain as a place of exile. All through the five years of his exile, he was singing the praise of his home country and Arab civilization. It was during this period that he wrote his reputed Andalusian nostalgic poems expressing his deep longing for home. When he returned from exile, he was warmly and passionately welcomed by masses of people in Alexandria and later in Cairo. He was deeply impressed by this welcome. He became closer and closer to popular feelings and more concerned and involved in the causes and problems of the people. He thus truly deserved to be known as the "Poet of Arabism and Islam."
Upon the publication of the second edition of shawki's collection "Al shawkiyat", a celebration was held in his honour on April 2, 1927, where shawki was proclaimed as Poet- Laureate. Delegations from various Arab and Islamic countries came to voice their pledge of allegiance. This came as a response to a call addressed by a committee representing the Arab nation, expounding the favourable impact of shawki's poetic achievements on the rejuvenation of the Arabic language, which constitutes a strong common linking bond for all Arab countries .
The call also pointed out that shawki's production of poetry has never been forced out, but rather came as a free and spontaneous expression of his own innermost feelings as affected by events in the Arab World. As an evidence, much of his poetry had been circulated far and wide and frequently recited by all Arabic-speaking people. He, thus, well deserved to be crowned as the prince of poetry and poets (Poet-Laureate).
shawki's Last Day
Thursday, October, 13, 1932 was, at the outset, quite as regular as any other day in his life. He met his friends, had his lunch and then his siesta up to sunset. Later, he made an evening ride in the company of his manager and his literary secretary, who used to be always in his company during the poet's late years.
They drove to Heliopolis desert, where the poet took a walk in fresh air. He then went to Ismail Shereen Pasha's house, to enjoy the fun of the regular evening gathering of friends. As usual also, he had his dinner at Solicino Restaurant. To complete his day schedule, he
proceeded to "Al Jihad House" at about 9 p.m.
As the newspaper owner's office room was full of visitors, he preferred to wait at the senior editor's room. The former took the visitors' leave and went out to see shawki.
He noticed that he had a pale face and some light cough. shawki then left for home, which he reached at 11p.m. At 3 a.m., the paging bell was roaring for help. shawki's servant hurried to his master, who was suffering from a fit of asthma. As no hot water or camphor leaves were available, shawki asked one of his treating physicians Dr. Presca or Dr. Gallad to be immediately called in. Feeling, however, that doom was knocking at his door, he asked his servant to send his love to his friends and soon passed away in the presence of his wife Khadija. The physician was soon in, but the poet's soul had faded away, leaving behind for the Arab Nation an immensely rich legacy of immortal poetry.
shawki wrote a large number of beautiful lyrics which were performed by several top singers such as Mohammed Abdel Wahhab, Abdo El Hamouli, Youssef El Manialawi, Malak and Umm Kalthoum. It is interesting to note that shawki's lyrics written in colloqual Egyptian
Arabic are no less elegant and fascinating than his classical poems.
Selections of shawki's Sayings
shawki's prose writings, such as Aswaq Al Thahab "Gold Markets" contain many thoughtful statements which have been since then widely known as wise sayings. Following are examples of these sayings:
An Anecdote from shawki: During his exile in Spain, he took a bus together with his son Hussein, when a tall, heavily-built and apparently well-off man boarded the same bus. The man, with a gold chain hanging on his chest and a big cigar between his lips, soon fell asleep in a corner of the bus and went snoring boisterously. Then, a young pickpocket came on board. When he was about to pick the gold chain, he realized that shawki was watching him. The pickpocket shook his head interrogatively as if asking permission from the poet to do so. shawki nodded to him in acquiescence. Immediately the young thief picked the chain and left off.
- -He who oppresses with a rightful weapon will be oppressed with a wrongful weapon.
-When people brag, they lend to a cat a tiger's mustache.
-Doomed to perdition is a nation that by an individual survives and dies.
-Underwater, all depths are alike.
-Valour may require one be a coward for an hour.
-A woman- half learnt-looks prettier, a man-half ignorant-looks uglier.
-A wise man, while unforgetful of life is mindful of death.
-You may be cured of illness by protection, but cannot escape death until you have met it.
-He who delves deep in human souls, will never again rise.
-Brimful prisons are doomed to burst out.
-Right will never fade out in a nation as long as it has a single man alive.
As soon as the pickpocket got off, shawki's son turned to him wondering: "Is it right to let the pickpocket lift the man's chain while asleep?"
shawki said" How strange son! If you were assigned to distribute men's lots, who will you give the gold chain to? - Will you give it to an ugly giant or a smart youngman?" The son replied, "To the smart youngman."
Then shawki commented simply, "O.K, he did take it."
shawki's Works in First Edition
- 1.Al shawkiyat (shawki's poems) were issued in four parts: Part I was published in 1898, containing poems written between 1888 and 1898. Part III (Elegies) was publishedin 1936 and Part IV in 1943.
2.Ali Bey Al Kabeer (The Great), a play written by shawki, while staying in Paris for study in 1893. The play was restructured and published in 1932. The new play was so different that it superseded the earlier version which never appeared in print again.
3.Athra' ul Hind (The Virgin of India), a novel published in 1897.
4.Del Whitman, a novel, published in 1899 and was never printed again. The novel was converted into a poetic drama that appeared under the name of Qambeez.
5.Ladias or the Last of Pharaos, a novel published in 1899.
6.Waraqat Al As (The Myrtle Leaf) published in 1904.
7.Nahg ul Burda, an eulogy to the prophet Muhammad, which is a variation on the theme of an earlier poem by Al Imam Al Bosairi, published in book form in 1910.
8.Masra' a Cleopatra (The Death of Cleopatra, poetic drama published in 1929.
9.Magnoon Layla (The Obsessed Lover of Layla or Layla's Maniac), a poetic drama published in 1931.
10.Qambeez, a poetic drama published in 1931.
11.States of the Arabs and Great Personalities of Islam, published in 1932. .
12.Ameerat Al Andalus (The Princess of Andalusia ), a poetic drama published in 1932.
13.Aswaq ulthahab ( Gold Markets), published in 1932.
14.Antara, a poetic drama published in 1932.
15.Al Sit Hoda ( Madam Hoda ) , a poetic drama, of which one scene was first published in 1933.
16.Shaytan Penta'our (Penta'our's Satan ) or Lubad Luqman wa Hudhud Solaiman ( The Seventh Vulture of Luqman and Soliman's Hoopoe), a poetic play that appeared in print only in 1953.
17.Al Bakheela ( The Miserly Woman ), first published in Al Doha Magazine, Qatar, then published by the Egyptian Book Organization.