The Romantics’ Departure

"Laila Al-Nihom"

I remember that corridor, and the windowsills where we sat waiting outside the lecture halls; faces rush past like tattoos, inked into my memory.

These were the halls where our vocabularies were conceived, where we first glimpsed the vast sea of language, where we dreamed of writing and of poetry, seeking shelter in the romantics' forest, where nature is the sanctuary of every outcast. We dreamed, and remembered, beneath the calm canopies; memories reappear in tranquility. 

That corridor with the girls and boys, our fellow students, and our unrivaled teachers, who cast a wide net of language that dizzied us–each of its threads leading us into the poetic trance of Wordsworth, Byron, and Milton. 

Shelley stands before Ozymandias, asking his remains about the vanished kingdoms. On a raft, lost like we are today in a boundless darkness, they mourn their beloved homeland. 


O Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire

To grasp the sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would not we shatter it to bits -- and then

Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

― Omar Khayyam


How right was Omar Khayyam? Did we know it then, as we translated the text? 

Our desks and that blackboard on which we showcased our beautiful penmanship before the lectures began. The joy that ignited our young, rosy cheeks. The way the guard would rise from his slumber, annoyed, and expel us from the corridor mid-afternoon. 

Our footsteps were faster than the wind of Qaryounis at every peril or obstacle; we were untouchable by wind or shepherd’s crook. 


Did these days really exist? Did we really live as brothers and sisters, respecting our campus and our innocent friendships? In our current disheveled era, replete with taboos, who can believe it? 

Dearest corridor: did you really catch fire? And as you burned, did our days and memories burn too? Did the echoes of the oud dwindle, leaving behind only a trace of Mohamed Abdo’s heartbreaking music in the green mountain?

And the oud blares with the songs of Ahmed Helmi and Oum Kulthoum. 

And the oud imitates Farid Al-Atrash’s melodrama, and his agony before he sings. The necks stretch out and the hands rise to clap to the rhythm. 

Can photographs convey laughter and joy? And the smell of the mountain, and the firewood smoke. 

The photos hailing from Scotland, Ireland and England, documenting our beautiful moments and our teachers' pride in our distinguished class. 


Is there enough time for all my stories? Are photos enough to keep me from forgetting? 

Have our papers scattered, have our scribbles disappeared from our desks, our test scores vanished from the department walls, and with them, the sounds of our breathing, our footsteps– tense or slack–in the examination halls? 

After university, everyone dispersed, and life no longer held us together. Everyone is on a path of their own, and as we scattered, our language has scattered with us, like heather in the prairie blown by a raging wind. I stand beside Emily Bronte, lamenting my school, as the fire-smoke overtakes my memory–O God, give me peace.

Born in Benghazi, a journalist, poet, editor, and translator. She was the first Libyan author to join the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. She published a collection of short stories and her poetry collection “A Turn from Dewolf Street” was released in 2021.

Laila Al-Nihom
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