Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level



Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies


Adnan Haydar

Committee Member

Sean Dempsey

Second Committee Member

Robert Cochran


Influence, Isolation, Lebanon, Modernism, Romanticism, Shi'r


Fundamental changes in the form and content of Arabic poetry occurred rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century, resulting in the development of free verse and prose poetry as well as the jettison of traditional requirements including end-stopped two-hemistich long lines, strict adherence to meter, and monorhyme. These changes draw from innovation within Arabic poetry, competing nationalist agendas, increased translation of European texts into Arabic, and the productive engagement of Arab poets with Western literatures. In 1957, Syrian poet Fu’ād Rifqa embarks upon a five-decade poetic project of intentional intertextuality that acknowledges these sometimes collaborative, sometimes competing narratives. Rifqa’s poetry creates a dialectic between literary and cultural influences through shifting metaphors drawn from the natural world and Mesopotamian and Greek mythology while also reflecting the evolution of form and content from both Arab Romanticism and Modernism as well as his extensive engagement with German Romantic and post-Romantic poets Friedrich Hölderlin and Rainer Maria Rilke.

This dissertation examines the interplay between influence and innovation throughout Rifqa’s self-aware poetry by first examining the development of Rifqa’s preferred combination of landscape and character, the forest-philosopher, in Arab Romantic poetry. Romantic Mahjar poets writing from Lebanese and Syrian diaspora communities in the Americas quieted the declamatory tone of poetry as they transformed the poet from rational orator into questioning youth in the setting of the forest, rather than urban or desert settings of classical import. Alongside his avant-garde contemporaries, Rifqa’s early work mobilizes natural and mythological metaphors from the first-person perspective in service of the ideological agenda of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. After breaking with the party in 1961, Rifqa’s forest philosophers complete the Romantic move away from the oratorical mode through their silence and narrative distance. Rifqa’s revisions on this theme demonstrate the role of the poet as reflective mediator of modernity through the synthesis of influences from German Romanticism that resonate with his experience of transition. Engaging contemporary structural innovations in Arabic avant-garde poetry, Rifqa underscores poetry’s role in individual and cultural transformation, and cultural exchange’s role in poetry, through a poetic based largely in landscape.