Jawdat R. Haydar (1905-2006)
A Life in Poetry

“Haydar speaks with the confident tones of a man conscious of his humanity.” John Munro, former Professor of English Literature, American University of Beirut (AUB)

“He told me when I last met with him, on the eve of his 100th birthday, that his greatest wish was for humanity to one day learn to be at peace with itself and with its environment. Everything he said was articulated with the acumen of a man half his age, and it revealed that, though he is a man from before our time, he is also a man far ahead of our time.” Jayson Iwen, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, AUB

Perpetuating the tradition of 20th Century Lebanese writers who have contributed world literature directly in the English language, Lebanese poet Jawdat R. Haydar continued this legacy, publishing his first anthology Voices (Vantage Press, New York) in 1980. It was followed by Echoes in 1989, and Shadows in 1998. In 2006, he published his last book 101 Selected Poems at the age of 101.

Haydar was instrumental in reviving the literary scene in the aftermath of 15 years of civil war in Lebanon. He was the founder and President of Wahat al Adab (Oasis of Literature) in the Bekaa Valley, and a member of the Union of Lebanese Writers. His poem The Temple in Baalbek has been incorporated into the official curriculum for the Lebanese national baccalaureate, while a copy of the said poem currently hangs at the Museum of the Temple of Baalbek. More recently, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the Lebanese University also passed an official decision incorporating Haydar’s poetry into its national curriculum at the university level.

Haydar has been honored with the Lebanese Order of the Cedars, the Gold Medal of Lebanese Merit and the Medal la Croix de Grand Officier of France. He has received several other awards, including the papal medal from Pope John XXIII for humanitarian work.  

A Multifarious Career

Haydar commenced his studies at the American University of Beirut, after which he transferred to North Texas State University from which he holds a B.S. in education.

It was during this epoch in the US that Haydar first started writing poetry. His first published poem Dear Old Texas was released in the Dallas News University paper. Diverging from the post 9/11 Arab-American literary trend, Haydar wrote of America not as a “hyphenated” immigrant but as a native who held no qualms in adopting it as his own:

There’s no land but dear old Texas for me,

Tis paradise, tis the home of the free,
That’s why I long to cross the ocean bar,
To dwell in my country to hail its star.

On his poetic style, Jayson Iwen, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at AUB writes, “He [Haydar] boldly fuses the poetic styles and sentiments of the Romantic, Victorian, and Modern Periods of Anglophone Literature, while exploring issues of common interest to people living in regions as far apart as Texas and Iraq.”

Upon his return to Lebanon, Haydar kicked off his career as Principal of the Universal College in Aley, Lebanon after which he assumed the directorship of the Najah National School in Nablus, Palestine.

In 1932, Jawdat Haydar became the first national staff employee in the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), initially appointed as Assistant Employer Officer in Syria. He successfully rose up the ranks until he became Industrial Relations Adviser in 1956. Haydar subsequently served as General Manager of the Mid-East Auto and Trading Company until his retirement in 1965.

The Poet Intellectual

Reflecting on his writings, John Munro, former Professor of English literature at the American University of Beirut, states “Haydar’s poetry is not escapist; rather it is committed and concerned, but in no way partisan.” Though not a-political, Haydar’s verse is intolerant of intolerance, and unsympathetic to sectarianism and partisan allegiances. Through his verse, Haydar advocates resistance of the pen over the sword, believing in the pen to set the record straight, and speak “truth to power.”

Addressing Arab politicians and leaders, Haydar reminds them that the real fear resides not in the “Other,” but rather in the division of the nation against itself. Haydar warns of the magnitude of the problem, urging leaders of the need to multiply their efforts and not cave in to defeatism and lethargy:

Deserts of despair lie ahead
Stand up and be doing again
No sands were watered by tears shed
To yield a hopeful crop of grain

Nevermind a shot fired astray
Another the target may attain
Yesterday’s dead, my friend, drill today
Tomorrow aim well and shoot again.

At the height of the Lebanese civil war, the Cedar poet is infuriated at the destruction of Beirut, a city he describes as “the precursor of religious pride in the east, where the origins of thought opened the purdah(1) of mind to teach the world the true meaning of love and liberty.” In his poem Beirut, he bitterly reflects:

And so we gaze at our calamity
Waiting for the world to give us a hand
But the world was cockeyed, deaf and blind.
Never mind, history will record the crime.

Haydar again puts to question the remaining humanity of man In O World wondering:

Is there no world in this world to care?

He galvanizes his countrymen to take control of their own fate instead:

Yes friends tonight the cup tomorrow the blade

Heaven born heroes of the old Cederland
Be ready to stand unyielding unafraid
To grasp the reins of your destiny in hand.

Having witnessed the Ottoman and French mandates, the First and the Second World Wars, the post-independence civil wars of 1958 and 1975, September 11 and its aftermath, Haydar writes not as an artist who escapes through verse, but rather as a poet intellectual, an engaged citizen of the world.  

In expressing his views, Haydar does not attempt to camouflage his defiance, even when against the mainstream. In Beirut, the poet takes no shame in confessing to “spitting” at man’s rusting humanism, in a crude attempt to re-awaken the world’s empathy in the face of injustice:

And I stand here now on the highest mound

To spit now and every year once on the whole world,
To lubricate the tools of its mechanism;
Perhaps it will wheel right
To the palace of justice
So that the people on earth
May enjoy their safety tomorrow.

Of Haydar’s poetry, Munro writes “Haydar has experienced too much suffering not for it to have left its mark. Nor does he offer too much in the way of consolation, other than the painful truth that Man is bound to follow the path of stoical fortitude.” Indeed, much of Haydar’s poetry was entangled in his personal history. Soberly reflecting on his personal loss of both wife and only son, Haydar writes in The Prince of Youth:

Yesterday I was the prince of youth

Today I am the emperor of my years

…Withal still out looking for what I’ve lost
And counted the years like eggs in a tray,
I found all were empty shells, tempest-tossed,
Dreams that pass without a permit to stay.

… But alas I was wounded by fate to stay
With a surgeon without a suture.(2)

Haydar’s philosophical quest for meaning is a constant theme which reverberates throughout his poetry. They Were Here speaks of the ephemeral passage of man through life, where beyond sand scribbles man is unable to leave a relic:

“Sir, I hear a fading sound,” Sam said

Where Sam?
“Behind the door, Sir.”
Open the door, Sam and call them in.
“They are not there, Sir.”
But how?
“They are gone and gone the sound Sir.”
That’s how successive generations pass,
Voices heard fading gone,
Nothing left but the scattered stones
And scarcely a scribbled name on sand.

Despite the absurdity of this passage, Haydar does not believe in relenting without putting up a fight. This existential quest for meaning echoes in much of his poetry, rendering him doubtful though not fearful. In I Rock and Roll he writes:

I rock and roll in a frenzy of shout

A bacchanal drinking the heathen wine
I meet the world without fear but with doubt

…The cup of hope frequently did I sip
And as frequent of despair did I drain
Both cups I emptied and smashed on my lip
And simply lost the which I seemed to gain.


At the peak of the Lebanese civil war, Haydar chose to retire in his hometown, Baalbek, where he spent the rest of his years. It was also in Baalbek that Haydar established Wahat al Adab (Oasis of Literature), a society of poets who strove to revive Lebanese poetry and enhance collaboration among the poets of the Bekaa valley. Under his presidency, Wahat Al Adab restored the statue of renowned poet Khalil Mutran to the entrance of the historic city, in recognition of the prominence of the native scholar, regarded as a symbol of Lebanese co-existence and diversity.

In resorting to a life in poetry Haydar ventured on a conscious gamble, of which he wrote:

Should I win my spurs today

I’ll cross the frontiers of time to write my
name on the walls of tomorrow.

Haydar dedicated the rest of his years to working the land, reading and writing verse. Insisting he is a “farmer” at heart, Haydar over ninety years older relates, “I still farm my land to get the fresh smell of the earth.” In an interview shortly before his death Haydar reflects, “My secret for long life is always being thankful. Life is a gift. Be happy when you can.”

(1) Purdah is the seclusion of women from public observation among Muslims and some Hindus.

(2) Material or a stitch for sewing a wound together.


Jawdat R. Haydar (1905 – 2006)



Born 23 April 1905 in Baalbek, Lebanon



Haydar’s family was expelled to Turkey (Anatolia)



Upon the death of his mother from Typhus, 9-year old Haydar  left Baalbek to join his

father and brothers in Yani (Turkey)



Returned to Baalbek with the family, where Haydar continued his studies



Graduated from the Syrian Protestant College, now the American University of Beirut



Traveled to France, to study at the Lycée du Park in Leon



Left France for the United States



Graduated with a B.S. in Education from North Texas State University



Appointed principal of the National College of Alieh in Lebanon



Appointed director of Al-Najah College in Nablus, Palestine and Member of the Board of Higher Education



Joined the International Petroleum Company (IPC) of Iraq, rising to the position of Industrial Relations Advisor



Resigned from IPC and returned to his hometown Baalbek, where he settled,  dedicating the rest of his years to writing poetry



Published his first anthology ‘Voices’, Vantage Press - New York



Published his second anthology ‘Echoes’



Founded Wahat Al Adab (Oasis of Literature) in the Bekaa Valley, serving as its first President



Under Haydar’s presidency, Wahat Al Adab restored the statue of Poet Khalil Moutran in Baalbek



The first documentary film about Haydar’s life and work was produced by the Lebanese National Television in partnership with the ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education



Published his third anthology ‘Shadows’



Published the trilogy ‘Voices’, ‘Echoes’ and ‘Shadows’



Haydar’s poem ‘The Temple of Baalbek’ was incorporated in the official curriculum for the Lebanese National Baccalaureate



Published his biography Mishwar el Omor in Arabic



Haydar’s poem ‘The Temple of Baalbek’ is permanently featured in the Museum of the Temple of Baalbek



Published his anthology ‘101 Selected Poems’ Vantage Press – New York, at the age of 101.

 Haydar passed away that same year on 4 December 2006




The Friends of Jawdat Haydar was established to celebrate Haydar’s poetic legacy and works, and harness Lebanese poetic talent. Since then the organization has launched numerous nationwide literary competitions at both the school and university levels



Haydar’s Medals and Awards


Haydar is the recipient of several awards, including inter alia the Gold Medal of Lebanese Merit in 1951, the medal from the Orthodox Patriarch of Damascus in 1954, the medal of Antakia’s Patriarch Alexander the Third in 1956, the Croix de Grand Officier of France in 1957, the Ninth Medal from his Holiness Pope John the 23rd in 1959, the Diamond Jubilee from the American University of Beirut in 1999, and the Lebanese Order of the Cedars in 2002.